Lessons from “Wicked”

Approaching southern tip of Manhattan on the ferry. Note the two large buildings under construction with cranes on top.

My 14-yr old daughter wanted to see “Wicked” so badly – and this past week was spring break – and we all hear her singing the songs when she showers – so we journeyed across a couple of state lines, up to the Big Apple, and as my daughter screamed in delight at all the appropriate times, I studied that characters of the two witches, Glinda and Elphaba.

America’s First Lady, from the deck of the Staten Island ferry

(DiGrazie family hint: If you approach New York from the south like we do, park on Staten Island near the minor league ballpark and take the free Staten Island Ferry. We’ve done it for years, it’s extremely reliable, it runs you right past the Statue of Liberty, and you get an awesome view of the southern tip of Manhattan. The pics I’m posting show how the skyline is being rebuilt since the 9/11 attacks.)

I was surprised by how much I related to Elphaba, the wicked witch. The reason I liked her was summed up by Fiyero, the bad boy who both witches-in-training are obsessed with as schoolgirls: Elphaba has learned to live her life somewhat independently of what other people think of her. Well, when you’re born with green skin… Glinda, on the other hand, is very obviously all about appearances and the impact she has on others – a mean alpha female.

Actually, both of the witches care deeply about the impact they have on others. And while it goes too far to say that Elphaba isn’t self-centered at all, she does care for others’ well-being more than Glinda does.

“Wicked” will be discussed in my house for months, maybe years. My daughter, who is active in school theatre, will guarantee it. Some things about the play make me a little uncomfortable. For instance, the Wizard of Oz, who some might see as symbolizing God and his authority, is a total fraud who controls the definitions of good and evil to suit his own selfish purposes. That’s OK as long as my kid doesn’t come away thinking that’s true about God, good, and evil in the real universe.

There was good stuff, too. Glinda transcends her shallowness and loves Elphaba at some very critical times. Elphaba manages to overcome her bitterness to accept Glinda’s friendship. My daughter has been both the mean alpha and the not-so-alpha.  I’m glad she can appreciate both of these characters and their complexities.

As a writer, it was cool to be reminded of how quickly a storyline moves in a movie or a play. Writers get to flesh out some things in greater detail than a screenwriter or playwright, but seeing a Broadway production reminds me: I better be careful with that and keep things moving!

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