When most people think of Halloween they think of trick or treating or massive amounts of sugary snacks, but when I think of Halloween, the only thing that comes to my mind is Wicked. On October 30, 2003, Broadway got its first glimpse of the musical that would become a phenomenon. The story of Wicked is centered around the parts of the Wizard of Oz that the audience didn’t get to see. It provides a backstory to the relationship between The Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and Glinda the Good. We, the audience, also get more context for why Elphaba is portrayed as she is in the Wizard of Oz. The story of two enemies turned best friends turned enemies is riveting, but the music is the centerpiece.
The score of Wicked is designed to showcase the two major personalities of the story. For example, during Glinda’s parts, we see a focus on outward appearances. In Popular she attempts to befriend Elphaba by changing her hair and her clothes. In Thank Goodness, she pretends that her fiancé didn’t just storm off in the middle of the celebration, he just “went to fetch me a refreshment”. The cool part of the show is that the actor’s personality also gets to shine through.
Stephen Schwartz admitted to designing the roles for the two actors that would play them. In an interview, he spoke about the creation of Elphaba’s first song, The Wizard and I. During the writing process, he remembered a lesson he had learned when watching A Chorus Line, “If something is obligatory, it’s good to make the audience wait for it.”. The actress playing Elphaba at the time was Idina Menzel, who had played in RENT and The Wild Party. With Idina as the lead, the audience knew that at some point she would do her famous belt, so true to his word Stephen Schwartz made the audience wait until the very end of the song to hear it.
This personalization didn’t stop with the first Actress’ in the roles. Each Elphaba and Glinda gets to put their personal spin on some of the riffs in the show, and if the next Elphaba likes it, they may steal it. (Fun random fact, there is a riff taught to new Elphabas called the “Eden Riff” in the Wizard an I, after creator Eden Espinosa.) I think that this is one of the reasons why Wicked has lasted fourteen years on Broadway. The personal touches really bring the characters to life, they also show off some crazy vocal skills. Fans also get the chance to get more involved and compare the different replacements and find their own personal favorite Glinda and Elphaba.
The actress playing Elphaba for this year’s anniversary is Jackie Burns, who is one of my all-time favorites. She originally replaced Teal Wicks in September of 2010, and then again replaced Jenifer DiNoia in August 2016. She starred alongside Chandra Lee Schwartz, who replaced Katie Rose Clarke as Glinda during her first replacement, and now starts alongside Amanda Jane Cooper. Jackie is able to pull off some incredible riffs in songs like No Good Deed and has one of my all-time favorite versions of The Wizard and I.
Though Wicked has gone through several casting and musical arrangement changes during its fourteen years on Broadway, its core principle of keeping the music as the centerpiece of the story of two unlikely best friends has remained the same. Nothing has been watered down, in fact, the riffs are as fierce as ever. That is why Wicked is one of my all-time favorite musicals, so instead of saying Happy Halloween; I say Happy Birthday Wicked!