Something Wicked This Way Comes

WickedI read Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked a few years ago—or rather, I listened to it on audiobook—and I thought it was quite good. It wasn’t as fantastic and mindblowing as I had been led to believe, but it was more than enjoyable. When it was time for my Master’s comps reading list, I put the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum on my list, and while it was good, I thought that Maguire’s world was more interesting to read about. (I’m all about renewing old franchises with fresh material, though). So when my fiancée bought us tickets for Wicked the musical a few months back, I was ecstatic. I knew a little about the soundtrack, but not a lot.

The date finally rolled around after months of anticipation, and my fiancée and I went to see the traveling show of Wicked Saturday night in Nashville at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC). I was simply blown away by the show’s quality and spectacle. The story stayed close enough to the novel to be coherent, but was obviously much enhanced and adapted for the stage. We walked out of the theater with huge smiles on our faces and a few tears in our eyes, but I had a nagging thought about something I had seen earlier that day.

Apparently, 2009 is the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. The book has been out decades longer than that, for those of you caught unaware. I daresay that everyone alive is aware of the story of The Wizard of Oz, but if you’re not, I’ll spoil this for you: “good” prevails.

I put “good” in quotes because of the impact that Wicked has on the narrative. The musical starts out by framing the narrative around what happens after Elphaba’s (the Wicked Witch of the West) death as we know it in The Wizard of Oz. By the time Wicked’s narrative circles back to that point, the concepts of good and wicked are blurred so badly that the audience should, by all rights, question exactly how credible the original narrative’s perspective is.

Yeah, you heard me right: I said that an adaptation of a retelling can affect an original work’s narrative credibility.

The true power of a retelling’s narrative is to pay homage and enhance the original text by letting new audiences realize the depth and importance of the classic. Wicked does just that by having its parallel narrative never actually interact with Baum’s original plot; the only time one actually sees Dorothy and her crew are when they impact Elphaba’s story, not the other way around. Taken in concert, the story is exponentially enhanced and seems to be a little flat without considering both sides. Even though it could be considered commercialized fan-fiction (and if you don’t know my thoughts on fanfic, they’re not positive), taking either Wicked or The Wizard of Oz alone really feels like missing half the story now.

As far as the show on Saturday night goes, I think that we were privy to the most manic rendition of “Popular” that has ever been performed. Normally, Galinda primps and mocks Elphaba in stereotypical “I’m better than you” fashion, but Saturday night, the actress really played up the subtext of desperation that had to exist in Galinda. It came through loud and clear, and I’m going out on a limb to say that it worked better than the normal one. I just wish I had a clip of how understudy Michelle London did it so I could experience that vision of it again and again. If you guys and gals ever get a chance to see her in a show (Wicked in particular, obviously), spend the cash and take the evening. If her other performances are as quality as this one, you’ll be impressed. Her vocals were not the best in the cast, but it was obvious her heart was in the role. And to me, that means a great deal.

The only thing I really didn’t like about the musical adaptation of Wicked was the ending. I Wicked Bookwon’t say a lot on this for those of you who don’t know the differences between the novel and the musical (and even in the original The Wizard of Oz movie and book), part of the impact of Wicked comes from the emotional poignancy of some of final songs and the altered narrative takes some of that away. I just don’t think it works, but I suppose it could be considered necessary due to the medium and target demographic. If that’s vague enough, then good. If you get what happens anyway, oh well.

Wicked is very likely the best stage performance I’ve ever seen. I do what I can to see at least a few plays a year, one of which is professionally done, and Wicked easy beats out The Lion King, Putnam County Spelling Bee, and RENT, which was my reigning favorite, by far. I don’t know what I can see in coming years to beat it. It was that good. So if something Wicked your way comes, make sure you make time for it.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. "It wasn’t as fantastic and mindblowing as I had been led to believe, but it was more than enjoyable."

    50 lashes!

    I adored Wicked – I was sucked right into the world and just could not get enough of the novel. The characters were what really made it such an amazing piece of fiction, they were deep, lovingly details, and painfully human.

    My favorite section by far is Elphie's romance with Fiyero – that sub-plot was extremely poignant and has stuck with me.

    I read the sequel (Son of a Witch) a few months ago, and the next book on my pile is the third book "A Lion Among Men".

  2. What did you think about Son of a Witch? I have kind of avoided it because I never thought a novel about Llyr would have been incredibly interesting, but I want to get into A Lion Among Men sometime. It's on my list if I ever get a chance to knock any off the pile.

  3. Oddly enough, I just got a Kindle last week and the first book I put on it was "A Lion Among Men" having just finished "Son of a Witch" a month or so ago. I read Wicked a couple years back and followed that up with seeing the play when it came to town in '07. The soundtrack and my love for Kristin Chenoweth motivated me to read the book. I did enjoy both books that I've completed and can't say I'm far enough into Lion to have a read on it yet. The frustrating part so far is that the stories leave on cliffhangers that are unresolved in subsequent books. I do wish he'd commit to the land of Oz and just run with it, but apparently after one more book comes out he says he'll be done with Oz from then on. He claims he's staying away from Scarecrow and Tinman since the musical gave them both back stories that he won't tamper with (though the scarecrow's back story from the musical is obviously flawed and doesn't work in the book universe).

    Anyway, to sum up, the books were good, the musical was great, and it makes me sad when authors don't wrap up their stories.

  4. Didn't know you are so Broadway-savvy 🙂

    Sounds like I would enjoy it. How did they sing "Defying Gravity." That is a really tough song to sing and also my favorite piece in the musical next to "Popular." Idina Menzel does it well.

    They're going to cover this on "Glee," by the way. Also, Kristin Chenoweth will be guest-starring in two weeks. You should take a glance 🙂

  5. Llyr is an odd character. He's really easy to hate, and he's an object of pity…. especially near the start of the book.

    But he grows, and learns about himself, and ends up – in his own sadly pathetic way – being a hero.

    If you liked Wicked you'd be doing yourself a disservice to avoid Son of a Witch.

  6. Robert: Not sure if I'd say I'm Broadway savvy since I've never seen an actual show in NY. I do what I can to see traveling tours, though. I feel as though I've missed a show or two, actually, that I've seen. I'll have to run back through my playbills to see.

    I do look forward to seeing Kristin Chenoweth on Glee. I've seen none of the rest of the series, but she might just be what it takes to make me Hulu it.

    @Andrew: Llyr really does that well as a protagonist? I don't think anyone else has ever told me that not reading SoaW would be a disservice, but if it's that good, I just might have to audiobook it.

    @Drewbie: I don't know if I'd say he didn't wrap it up since he continues to write in the world. He might get to the point where he can finally conclude his narrative.

    But I agree. As much as I loved the musical, there is no way to reconcile the adaptive maneuvers used to make the musical tie together more pefectly than the novel.

  7. I didn't know if I was going to like our Glinda at first, because I had Kristen Chenoweth stuck in my head, but I was completely sold by her version of "Popular." She really brought out the deranged prom queen aspect of her character, and oddly enough, that made her more lovable. I think it was because you realized she wasn't the perfect girly specimen, but was actually goofy, silly, and not nearly as prim as she had seemed.

    I also really loved our Elphie (Marcie Dodd). She played the sarcasm dry instead of harsh. This affected the character in two ways to me: it made her seem a little more vulnerable, while also making her seem so much more calm, collected, and (no pun intended) comfortable in her own skin.

    Wicked was far and away the best live entertainment I've ever experienced. I'm glad we got to share it 🙂

  8. Wicked is definitely up there, but Spamalot and The Producers were pretty good too.

    Also, Lion Among Men takes place several years after Son of a Witch and doesn't seem to even touch on Llyr, even though the end of the book leaves a lot of questions. I would still say that SOAW is a worthwhile read, and really, a pretty quick read as well.

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