On October 30th, the mega-hit musical Wicked plays its 10-year-anniversary performance at the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway. The New York institution is pulling out all the stops throughout the month of October with a new marketing campaign that will culminate in the October 30th show, a night that is sure to be full of special surprises. Let’s celebrate by examining the wonder that is Wicked.
Dropped Like a House on Your Sister
When Wicked came onto the scene in October of 2003, there was a good deal of buzz surrounding the production thanks in no small part to its connection with The Wizard of Oz. But despite having every advantage, including composer Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell), Tony darlings Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, and a tie-in to the most beloved movie of all time, it did not fare very well with many critics. And new shows are often made or broken on their first reviews. The New York Times, the New York Daily News, Variety, Newsday, and more hated the show, with several reviewers calling it overblown, overproduced, preachy, and forgettable.
So how did this show become the hugely successful franchise we see today? Well, thankfully, most audience members are NOT critics, and this show began attracting a rabid fan base. Those involved with the show have often cited the universal themes of friendship, self-sacrifice, and morality as reasons for its nearly universal appeal. I would say that its diverse and emotional score also has a part to play, as well as a delightfully odd visual aesthetic. It’s an escape, but one many can still see themselves in. It may have only won 3 of the 10 Tony Awards it was nominated for (against stiff competition from Avenue Q), but it’s none the worse for it. It was soon selling out the 2,000-seat Gershwin Theatre (the largest on Broadway) on a regular basis.
As was inevitable with such a lucrative show, productions of Wicked popped up in London, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (where the pre-Broadway out-of-town tryout was staged). Two national tours currently roam North America while other companies tour the UK/Ireland and Australasia. Sit-down productions also play in Tokyo, Seoul, and Mexico City. Recent Broadway Elphaba Willemijn Verkaik played the role in German and Dutch before coming to New York in 2012. At this point, Wicked is a global phenomenon.
Meanwhile, the show has shot to the top of the musical theatre canon. Young Broadway fans and aspiring actresses used to fantasize about getting to play Eponine in Les Miserables or Christine in Phantom of the Opera. Now, it is just as common (or even more so) for actresses to list witches Elphaba and Glinda as their ultimate goals. Obsessed fans flock the theatre in droves hours before show times to enter the ticket lottery (they even give away buttons as mementos to those whose names are drawn). Wicked has become not only a global craze, but for many, a way of life.
Where Will the Twister Go Next?
Wicked has conquered the Broadway world and inserted itself into the pop culture landscape, so what’s the next step? It didn’t take long for rumors of a film version of the musical to begin circulating. After all, it is a huge show with a fantastic story. The world of Oz has already been interpreted beautifully in movies of the past. Oz the Great and Powerful recently took a page from the Wicked book by looking at things more from the witches’ points of view, but it does not have the thrilling songs audiences have come to adore from their favorite musical.
There is definitely an audience for a big-screen adaptation; the Les Miserables movie did very well, as have other musical films in the past decade or so. The online message boards are full of fans speaking passionately about their casting opinions: “They need to cast real singers!”; “Are Kristin and Idina too old?”; “Lea Michele is basically a mini-Idina…”; the list goes on. There’s a lot to consider, but here’s hoping it happens sooner than later. As long as it’s done right, I am just as excited as anyone to finally get a Wicked movie. I would be happy to add a DVD to my copy of the novel by Gregory Maguire, my four Wicked playbills, my “I won the Wicked lottery” button, my logo shirt with flying monkeys down the sleeves…