Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What Makes Wicked So Popular?

Wicked is the 5th longest running Broadway show in history, and is only about a year and a half from surpassing Cats (thank goodness!) to become the 4th. It's the second highest grossing musical ever (Phantom of the Opera is the prima donna there), and is one of only three musicals to make over a billion dollars. Talk about defying gravity! So what makes Wicked so popu-ler ... lar?

Prequel, and Sequels, and Reboots, Oh My!
There is a craze in storytelling for fandoms to be expanded upon with remakes and reimaginings. The Wizard of Oz is one of the most popular, well-known stories ever. So to reimagine the story from the witches' points of view is clever and interesting. It's a good hook. Wicked remains faithful to The Wizard of Oz, but still manages to tell a completely different story. It never detracts from the 1939 film, but adds depth and expands on the characters with some seriously empathizing development. It breathes fresh life into an already beloved property.

Too Late for Second Guessing?
I asked my fellow Ozian buddy what he liked about Wicked. Plain and simple, he said, "Things aren't always what they seem". Truly, Glinda isn't always good. Elphaba isn't always bad. And you should still pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, but maybe not for the reasons you think. Wicked plays with your expectations, and delivers them in great, unexpected ways. When we find out about the Tin Man's origin, it packs an emotional punch, but not as much as the Scarecrow's identity. Just wow. Eleka nahmen nahmen, indeed.

The Most Swankified Place in Town
The production value of Wicked is top notch. Everything on stage is rich and colorful and full of magic. The staging, the lighting. The set design and set dressings. The costumes, makeup, hair. The whole aesthetic of Wicked is quite powerful. How could anybody forget seeing Glinda making an entrance in her giant bubble. Or the vivid greens of the Emerald City. Or the bubblegum pink in "Popular". And really, there's nothing like watching Elphaba defying gravity for the first time, enchanted broomstick in hand, lifted by hydraulics amid moving lights, smoke, and wind effects.

Dancing Through Life
Stephen Schwartz is a musical genius. He is responsible for the catchy and moving music of Godspell, Pippin, Children of Eden, and The Prince of Egypt. In Wicked, he uses fantastic leitmotifs, catchy riffs, and earworms that just won't leave your head. When I sat down to come up with my favorite songs from Wicked, the conversation in my head went something like this: "Nothing beats 'Defying Gravity'. Though 'Popular' is really my favorite. Actually, I have a soft spot for the emotional 'No Good Deed'. But then that romantic song 'As Long As Your Mine' really speaks to me. Oh wait, there's also 'I'm Not That Girl', 'What Is This Feeling?', and 'For Good'. Oh, and 'The Wizard and I' is also just so..." You get the point.

Bonus points for the first seven notes from "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" being used to create Elphaba’s “unlimited” theme! Okay, fine -- double bonus points for Elphaba's name being an homage to the author of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, since his initials kind of spell out "Elphaba".

Know the Slang You've Got to Know
Stephen Schwartz also wrote the lyrics to Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Enchanted. Man, he is prolific! Some of his best, most clever lyrics from Wicked include:
  • Let us rejoicify!
  • And since folks here to an absurd degree / Seem fixated on your verdigris / Would it be all right by you / If I de-greenify you?
  • I'll be so happy, I could melt!
  • There's a strange exhilaration / In such total detestation
  • Life is fraught-less / When you're thoughtless
  • Don't be offended by my frank analysis / Think of it as personality dialysis
  • She who's winsome, she wins him
  • Was I really seeking good / Or just seeking attention?
  • Who can say if I've been changed for the better? / But because I knew you / I have been changed for good

We've Found the Place Where We Belong!
I'm not green-skinned. I can't perform magic. And I'm not a witch. (Well, mostly not.) But I know what it feels like to be isolated and marginalized. I know what it's like to be an outcast because of my unprepossessing features. And I know what it's like to have a weird quirk that I've tried to suppress or hide, which ultimately helped me fly solo and fly free once I learned to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap. In the end, Wicked is relatable to all ages.

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