Background: As of today, Wicked is one of the most iconic musicals of the 21st century! Based on the 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Macguire, Wicked provides a prequel to an American favorite- The Wizard of Oz.
Wicked examined the tortured history of the green-skinned Witch of the West (whom [Macguire] called Elphaba), from her friendship with the facile good witch Glinda to the tragic losses that drove her to become, in many people’s eyes, “wicked”. (Murray)
Themes of Jewishness on Broadway: In my Jewish American Literature and Culture class we looked at the PBS documentary “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy”. In middle school and high school I was in a number of musicals and was very interested in Broadway, but was never familiar with the historical Jewish presence on those New York stages.
Poignantly, it also deals with the role that assimilation played in both the composers’ personal lives and their stage creations, where they would often create outsiders dealing with obstacles … that served as stand-ins for their own journeys in early-20th-century New York. And in doing so, the film (Broadway Musicals:A Jewish Legacy) illuminates the ways that tradition, chance, and inspiration intersect to create something new and uniquely American (Rodman)
Themes of Jewishness in Wicked: Upon learning about the undeniable presence of Jewish culture on Broadway I began looking at Wicked through a “Jewish lens”. And again, undeniably, it is certainly a Jewish musical.
What makes Wicked Jewish?
- The composer of Wicked, Stephen Schwartz, is Jewish
- Idina Menzel (formerly Mentzel) is a Jewish
- The musical focuses on the story of “the other”. Giving voice to the voiceless.
The story of “the other”: In Jewish American Literature and Culture the theme of Jewishness and “othering” have gone hand in hand throughout the semester. Looking at Wicked is no different. We can see the entire story of Wicked as a comment on Jewishness and the often overrode story that has been replaced by that which is commonplace. The Wizard of Oz is one of the most notably American stories in history. The story of a perfect pig-tailed American girl and her dog, lands in Oz, meets some friends, encounters the wrath of the Wicked Witch of the West and goes along the yellow brick road. What goes untold, which has be reclaimed in Wicked is why the Wicked Witch of the West is so wicked.
Demonstrating Elphaba as the “other” takes on many forms. Most obviously, Elphaba is noticeably different with her green skin. This immediately distinguishes her as “different”. Furthermore, Elphaba’s rebellious character, again, sets her apart from the rest of her community. In an iconic song- “Defying Gravity” Elphaba sings how she will not allow herself to be suppressed, but rather, she is going to defy gravity and defy all of the standards and regulations put in place by the Wizard.
Some notable lines in the song:
“I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game”
“I’m through accepting limits because someone says they’re so. Some things I cannot change, but until I try I’ll never know”
“Together we’re unlimited… Dreams the way we planned them. If we work in tandem. There’s no fight we cannot win” (this is sung to Glinda then with Glinda when Elphaba is getting prepared to leave Oz and defy gravity. I thought the collaboration between Glinda and Elphaba in this song is very interesting how their lines contrast each other and comment on the minority experience of Elphaba. Elphaba really has nothing to lose and she can feel this sense of passion and motivation to take a stand with Glinda. While Elphaba takes on the role as the active minority Glinda assumes the role of the passive majority)
“And if I’m flying solo at least I’m flying free… to those who ground me take a message back from me… tell them how I am defying gravity”
“And nobody in all of Oz no wizard that there is or was is every going to bring me down”
(ending voice over)- Look at her she’s wicked! Kill her!
In Elphaba’s signature song she not only defies gravity, but she defies every standard and suppression that is holding her down. Elphaba claims her individuality and freedom by defying trying to change status quo and passing through the limits.
Corrigan, Patricia. Jewish Light. 13 June 2012. Web. 02 April 2015.
Murray, Matthew. Broadway Reviews: Wicked. Talkin’ Broadway’s, 30 Oct. 2003. Web. 2 April 2015.
Rodman, Sarah. The Boston Globe. 01 Jan. 2013. Web. 3 April 2015.