I missed the musical Wicked when it first came to Melbourne so when it returned I made sure I went. I decided not to read the book the musical is based on so I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised!
What a spectacular show! Everything about the production was brilliant. The colours, the lights, the sets, the steampunk iconography, the costumes, the characters, the acting, the songs, the story. I could go on but all I’ll say is if you get a chance, see it.
As blown away as I was by the spectacle, that small part of me that is an academic analyst was analysing everything I was seeing and hearing. Again, I wasn’t disappointed. Fourteen years ago I completed eight years of study – my topic – the image of the witch in film. I haven’t written much on witches since then. Happily, Wicked has ignited that part of me that has been waiting for a witchy spectacle worth writing about.
Warning – Spoiler Alert! If you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now 🙂
It’s Not Easy Being Green
It’s amazing what will stay with you most. For me it was the political story unfolding. While I expected Wicked to focus on the witches from The Wizard of Oz, I wasn’t expecting such a poignant analysis of politics and government. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, as witches and politics have been partners since the beginning of time.
The figure most affected by the politics of Oz is Elphaba, who is portrayed as an evil and wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. In Wicked she is wicked, but she is not evil. True evilness in this musical is left to the politicians, the rulers and their willing accomplices.
Elphaba is wicked because she won’t bow down to the power of the Wizard of Oz. She rejects his ideas for Oz and uses her magic to help the people and animals he is trying to oppress. Elphaba believes that animals are equal and is appalled at the political situation erupting in Oz that seeks to disempower animals by caging them and taking away their voice. Basically she challenges the wizard’s rule and authority and for that she is branded not just wicked but EVIL.
It is easy to scapegoat Elphaba as she is already different. Elphaba is born green and as she is the only green child in Oz, she becomes a hated and feared outcast. But the colour green has interesting connotations, not just in Oz, but in our world. Green is the colour of the environment movement and is associated with nature, animals, social justice and mother earth. What better colour for a witch who fights for these issues to be!
Green is an important colour for the wizard too. The wizard lives in the Emerald City where visitors and citizens of Oz wear emerald tinted glasses to view the world through false lenses. And that is the difference between Elphaba and the wizard. Elphaba is green on the outside and the inside. The wizard is just a fake charlatan seeking to control a world he has no real power over. His green credentials and green realm are as fake as his magical powers. And that is the true battle in Oz. The battle for power!
Ironically, Elphaba is born green because she is a melding of two worlds. Her mother is Ozian but her father is human. Elphaba’s real father is not the man who raised her but the man her mother had an affair with, a man with whom she drank a green potion. Elphaba’s father is the Wizard of Oz! But unlike her father, Elphaba has real, powerful magic.
Elphaba is feared not only because of her colour and her politics but also her magical powers. Elphaba is a very powerful witch – perhaps the most powerful in Oz. It is for this reason she is groomed by her tutor Madame Morrible and courted by the wizard. They seek to harness her power to help them continue to rule Oz. The interesting thing is the only people with any true, magical power are women – Elphaba, Madame Morrible and Glinda.
But for me the question has always been “why does Oz have a male, magicless ruler in the first place?” I don’t think it is ever really explained but perhaps it is a reflection on our world where women and power have a very uneasy relationship, particularly in politics! It would appear that the citizens of Oz would rather be ruled by a male figurehead with female power behind the throne rather than a female directly on the throne.
Regardless, at the end of the film, female power triumphs. But it is not Elphaba who ends up ruling Oz but Glinda the Good. Inspired by her best friend Elphaba, Glinda finally realises that she cannot stand the sickening, destructive and deadly machinations of Madame Morrible and the wizard. Glinda refuses to be their pawn. She draws on her own political and magical powers and casts the wizard out and imprisons Madame Morrible. We hope Glinda will be a wise and caring ruler. If she models herself on the Green Witch Elphaba, Oz will be okay.
Living In The Land Of Oz
I live in the land down under, Australia, sometimes called Oz. And while I can’t speak for other countries, there were moments in Wicked that struck home to me personally and politically.
We recently had our first female Prime Minister in Australia and to say that some parts of the country reacted badly is an understatement. For many she was a witch!
Julia Gillard took power from a man, toppling him while he was still leader and then becoming leader herself. An accusation often leveled at witches historically is that they use their evil powers to attempt to bring down rulers and leaders.
She is a redhead, unmarried and childless – attributes that have and would see many women labelled as witches. At one protest march banners were raised proclaiming “Ditch The Witch” complete with witchy caricatures.
Ironically one of the things that infuriated many Australians was that she eventually had to make an alliance with The Greens to hold power. In essence she made a deal with Elphaba. Consequently it wasn’t just the parliament that was hung but our own witchy leader was later (figuratively) hung too.
But the most chilling moment in Wicked is when Elphaba returns home after being declared a renegade. She asks her sister where their father is and is told that he died of shame because of what she has become. Unbelievably this is something that was said on radio about the death of Julia Gillard’s father. One of our more disgusting radio personalities suggested that Gillard’s father might have died of shame because of his daughter’s political performance. The only people dying of shame were Australian people with a conscience.
Sadly, some of us are still ashamed as the way our government treats some of the most desperate people in the world is the same as the animals were treated in Wicked. We are caging them and taking away their voice. I suppose it’s no surprise that the man who led this movement in Oz originated in our world.
Wicked gave the witches in the Wizard of Oz their voice. They spoke their own truths and gave us a new way to look at them. It is rare for witches to have their own voice, to have their story told through their eyes, but amazingly there is another witch on the horizon who is about to tell her own story and who will finally have her own voice: Maleficent! I am eagerly waiting to hear what she has to say.
Inspired by my friend Anne Belov’s cat Mehitabel and star of The Panda Chronicles.