One of the questions we have to ask is about the origin of evil in the world and in our own lives. The Catholic Christian faith teaches us that evil is not God's will, nor can it be. God cannot create something that is inherently wicked.
One would think that the right place to reflect on such lofty thoughts is a church, a monastic library or a quiet place filled with holy images and angelic music, and ceretainly not the likes of the Gershwin Theater on Broadway or the Canon Theatre on Yonge Street in Toronto!
This past summer, when the promoters of the musical Wicked invited me to review the hit show in New York, I thought I would be seeing a mindless, post-modern fantasy about witches, written by someone who was not too happy with L. Frank Baum's success over his Wizard of Oz. I was pleasantly surprised!
Wicked, the delightful and irreverent "prequel" to The Wizard of Oz, is highly effective because it offers something that many recent musicals have not been able to do: It appeals wildly to young people, but can be taken very seriously by adults. It makes people think about such important themes as the origin and meaning of evil, the possibility of redemption for bad people, the gift of friendship, the nature and long-lasting effects of family strife and tragedy and the power of forgiveness.
Based on Gregory Maguire's best-selling novel, The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, the play features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (of Godspell and Pippin fame). When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in Baum's classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch? How did she become so wicked?
Wicked turns every Oz myth inside out as it explores the early life of the witches of Oz: Glinda and Elphaba. Long before Dorothy dropped in, two other girls meet in Oz. One, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. The contrast between them is used to examine a society that values surface over substance, the illusion of doing good over the genuinely noble act.
At the end of Act II, Glinda and Elphaba create a "religious" moment on stage and summarize beautifully much of the human struggle to make sense out of bad things that befall good people and the human quest for authentic friends. Their magnificent duet, For Good, sums up their friendship as they are seeing each other for the last time.
Those who help us grow
I haven't been able to get Glinda's words out of my head since the summer: "I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return ... Well, I don't know if I believe that's true, but I know I'm who I am today because I knew you ... Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But because I knew you I have been changed for good."
The duet reaches its apex when Elphaba sings: "And just to clear the air, I ask forgiveness for the things I've done you blame me for," to which Glinda replies: "But then, I guess we know there's blame to share, and none of it seems to matter anymore." Both have been changed for good!
Wicked, now playing in Toronto, is wonderful, and not a bad way to think about some of the things that really matter! You, too, might be changed for good after seeing it.