Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wicked: The Book and the Musical

Sorry I haven't blogged for a few days; by the time I've finished reviewing and editing for the night, it's been time to go to bed. Ah, the wild life of a writer. But at least I got some reading done this week too. I just finished Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. If you're not familiar with it, it's the biography of the Wicked Witch of the West from Oz, told from her perspective. The book came out a few years ago and more recently has been made into a musical. Eugene and I saw the musical last year, well before I read the book. They're very different from each other, and I thought it might be interesting to discuss the differences. Be warned; if you haven't read or seen the works, I'm going to provide spoilers. Let me provide some spoiler space...

OK, this should be enough. I'll start by discussing the musical, since we saw it first. The musical focuses on the unlikely friendship between Elphaba, who becomes the Wicked Witch, and Galinda, later Glinda the Good. They meet at school (Shiz) and are forced to be roommates. Galinda is very blonde and very popular, while Elphaba is already looked down upon by the other students because of her skin color. (She was born green.) Elphaba is also a champion of animal rights, and when she learns the Wizard of Oz has been persecuting them, she turns against him, separates from Glinda, and is hailed as wicked by all. Nonetheless, she manages to win the heart of a prince, Fiyero, away from Glinda. Although Dorothy also comes between Elphaba and Glinda, the two reunite one more time before Dorothy throws water on the witch--with less effect than in the movie. By the end, Elphaba and Fiyero are reunited but must leave Oz (since Elphaba is presumed dead), and Glinda must develop beyond her shallowness to truly do good.

The book version is much darker and more philosophical. Many plot points were changed for the musical. For instance, in the book, Elphaba has a sister named Nessarose, who is born without arms and is very religious. In the musical, Nessa can't walk (well, I guess most actresses really wouldn't give up an arm for a role) and is love with a Munchkin named Boq, who ultimately becomes the Tin Man. In the book, Fiyero dies, but he and Elphaba apparently have a son. (There's a sequel about him called Son of a Witch.) Elphaba is portrayed much more sympathetically in the musical than in the book, although in the book it's clear that much of her unhappiness is due to her environment and upbringing. The book also contains a lot of philosophy about the nature of evil; indeed, in the book, there are three different religions/philosophies in Oz which come up again and again. I'll admit I haven't absorbed all of that discussion, though.

Is one better than the other? I have to admit I like the musical more. I thought they did a fantastic job of developing the characters; the leads weren't just bad or good, but both. The plot also seems more connected (since it's over a shorter span of time) than in the book, which covers Elphaba's whole life. It also ties in well with The Wizard of Oz, although some things I had questions about were made more clear in the book. I would definitely recommend seeing the musical to everyone, but I'm not sure everyone would like the darker tone of the book, although that's worth reading too. I wondered for a while what the author thought of the musical, but I noticed today that he dedicates the sequel to the original cast. So give Wicked a try, and you will be changed for good.

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