What is Wicked About?

Published on: Jul 1, 2024
By: Isabella Arras
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The hit Broadway musical Wicked, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwarts and a book by Winnie Holzman, follows the story of how Shiz University students Elphaba and Galinda, originally played by Idina Menzel who won a Tony Award for her performance, and Kristin Chenoweth who was nominated for hers, come to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good, revealing the roots of their infamous rivalry and surprising friendship long before Dorothy came on the scene and the repercussions after. Richard Zoglin wrote in Time Magazine, “If every musical had a brain, a heart and the courage of Wicked, Broadway really would be a magical place.” 

The musical was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three, in addition to seven Drama Desk Awards and even a Grammy Award. In 2013 it became the first Broadway musical to gross over three million dollars in one week. As well as the Broadway production in New York City, Wicked has been performed for audiences all over the world. It has been running on the West End in London since 2008 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.  It has also been on numerous tours, and is currently on national tours in North America and the UK/Ireland. While many eagerly anticipate the release of the two-part film adaptation of the hit musical, the live theater experience of “defying gravity” at the Gershwin Theatre in New York City remains a “popular” favorite, having touched and captivated audiences for over twenty years.

How to See Wicked on Broadway

You can catch Wicked on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre located at 222 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019. You may purchase Wicked tickets up to six months before the date of the performance online or in-person at the box office, which is open Monday-Saturday from 10am-8pm and Sunday from 12pm-7pm. It is recommended to buy tickets as far in advance as possible as prices rise with the demand, but seats remain on sale up until the performance time unless they become sold out. The show runs 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. It is advised to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the show to ensure there is time to go through security. The recommended age for children is 8 and up; children under 5 are not permitted inside the theater. 

Tickets are non-refundable but there are a few ways to save on your visit to the emerald city. A discounted rate is available in-person at the box office with a valid student ($69) or military ($79) ID for every performance excluding those on Saturdays. Groups of over fifteen people can also purchase discounted tickets here. For those feeling lucky there is also a digital lottery for a maximum of 2 discounted tickets which opens the day before the performance at 4pm for a matinee and 8pm for an evening performance. The winners will get an email notification and have an hour to purchase their discounted tickets online. If you are going to be driving to the theater you can take advantage of a discounted rate on parking by using ABM parking services, which is directly adjacent to the theater, by using this coupon. Partners of Wicked offer a variety of exclusive offers with the purchase of your Wicked tickets.

In terms of accessibility, there are wheelchair accessible seats on the orchestra and mezzanine levels that allow for three companion seats per purchase. Service and guide dogs are the only animals permitted in the theater. The Gershwin also offers assisted-listening devices, audio-described/captioned performances, and multilingual commentary in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Japanese, Mandarin, and Korean. You can find more information on accessibility specifications and offerings here.

The Plot & Characters

The plot of Wicked the musical is loosely adapted from the 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Maguire based his novel on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was adapted into the 1939 film starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. Gregory Maguire’s novel dives back into Baum’s world to unpack the origin story of the so-called Wicked Witch of the West and her struggles as a young girl with emerald green skin in the Land of Oz before and after Dorothy Gale’s arrival. The novel serves as a commentary on the nature of good and evil. Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwarts deviated largely from the novel in order to translate the story effectively to the stage, Schwarts saying, "Primarily we were interested in the relationship between Galinda - who becomes Glinda and Elphaba the green Witch. [...] the friendship of these two women and how their characters lead them to completely different destiny's and how the friendship is tested and broken and mended etc. through this process.”

The character of Elphaba is unique not only for her characteristic emerald skin but for her magic abilities, which are discovered early on by Madame Morrible (originally played by Carole Shelley) at Shiz University when Elphaba becomes protective of her younger sister Nessarose (originally played by Michelle Federer) who uses a wheelchair. Madame Morrible wants to foster Elphaba’s gifts in order to one day introduce her to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (originated by Robert Morse in pre-Broadway tryout in San Francisco then by Joel Gray on Broadway), which has always been Elphaba’s dream. This immediately sparks a rivalry between Elphaba and the seemingly perfect, bubbly, and blonde Galinda, who had hopes of being Madame Morrible’s pupil. The two end up as roommates at Shiz University, much to their dismay, but ultimately forge an unlikely yet unbreakable bond despite having wildly different lived experiences, personalities, and outlooks on life.

However, their friendship is tested when they discover the corruption and injustice prevailing throughout Oz, particularly impacting the rights of its Animal citizens. Elphaba, who has formed a bond with their only Animal professor, Doctor Dillamond (originated in San Francisco by John Horton and then William Youmans on Broadway), is passionate about combating these issues head on while Galinda is more concerned with maintaining their social standings. Aside from this, they also find themselves having the same love interest in Fiyero (originated by Norbert Leo Butz), the seemingly shallow heartthrob who joins them at Shiz University. They both are faced with their own misconceptions of Oz, their trusted professors, friends, the Wonderful Wizard himself, and even each other in this lively, often funny, and touching Broadway show.

The Creative Team and Conception

Stephen Schwartz saw the dramatic potential in Gregory Maguire’s novel but discovered that he had already given the rights to Universal Pictures. Schwartz persuaded Gregory Maguire to release the rights to a stage production. Universal Pictures, Marc Platt, David Stone, Jon B. Platt, and The Araca Group all joined the project as producers. It made its Broadway debut in 2003 after an out-of-town try out in San Francisco, having taken three months to rewrite in between, and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical. It was directed by Joe Mantello and choreographed by Wayne Cilento, who was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Choreography.

Eugene Lee took the Tony for Best Scenic Design and Susan Hilferty the one for Best Costume Design. Kenneth Posnan was nominated for Best Lighting Design. Winnie Holzman, Nick Enright, and Martin Sherman all received the nomination for Best Book of a Musical. And finally William David Brohn received the nomination for Best Orchestration and Stephen Schwartz the nomination for Best Original Score Written for Theatre. Though the show was nominated for ten Tony Awards, the critical reception to the musical was mixed - though most critics noted the extraordinary talent of Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel. But it quickly became an audience favorite and has played to packed houses ever since. 

Popular Songs

Elphaba’s powerhouse song “Defying Gravity” is easily a fan favorite, bringing the house down! It is both inspiring and visually striking onstage. Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth performed it at the 2004 Tony Awards. You can also enjoy a 20th anniversary of Wicked performance by four Elphaba’s performing her defining song here

Glinda’s solo “Popular” is as fun and bubbly as she is!  It marks one of the first seeds of friendship between the two girls being planted. Watch four of Broadway’s Glindas perform this playful song together for the 20th anniversary of Wicked here.

“What Is This Feeling?” marks one of the earliest moments in Elphaba and Galinda’s relationship. It is dynamic and comedic as the two wrestle with their differences and find themselves feeling more than annoyed with one another. 

And finally, one of the most touching songs in the entire show is of course “For Good”. It is a duet that transcends the world of Oz and offers meaning to audiences everywhere, often it is sung at other kinds of events such as graduations. The harmonies are heavenly, bringing a tear to many eyes. 

Film Adaptation

Long time fans of Wicked can hardly wait for the two-part film adaptation based on the hit Broadway musical. Universal Pictures announced the project in 2012 with Marc Platt as a producer. The excited audience has had to remain patient as the COVID-19 pandemic and the SAG-AFTRA strike led to delays in the production and release of the first film. It is now set to be released November 27th of this year, with the second part coming out in November of next year. The script is written by Winnie Holzman and the film is directed by Jon M. Chu. Stephen Schwartz has said that the films will feature at least two new songs, noting that the films will not simply be filmed versions of the stage production.

Cynthia Erivo said in a Variety interview while discussing her process approaching the role, “I want to go and see [Wicked] again. … When I get to New York at some point I’ll pop in and see the show again, that’ll be my fifth time.” Of course she will be doing her version of “Defying Gravity” in the film, the song that in fact convinced the creative team that there needed to be two films instead of one. Stephen Schwartz said in an interview, “We found it very difficult to get past ‘Defying Gravity’ without a break[.] That song is written specifically to bring a curtain down, and whatever scene to follow it without a break just seemed hugely anti-climactic.” So although the film will not be purely a filmed version of Wicked the Broadway musical, it will still follow the stage tradition of two acts.

The trailer for the upcoming film adaptation has over 6 million views already.

Even More Wicked

If you’d like to learn more about the conception of Wicked and how it became a Broadway sensation, you can watch a recorded event at the 2013 Dramatists Guild’s National Conference in Chicago featuring Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz discussing their journey of first connecting with Gregory Maguire’s novel and the process of developing the Broadway success it is today. 

Hear about the legacy of Wicked from four Glindas and four Elphabas reflecting on their experiences for the 20th anniversary of Wicked on Broadway in 2023. Amanda Jane Cooper, McKenzie Kurtz, Kara Lindsay, Alli Mauzey speak in “A WICKED Roundtable: 20 Years of Glinda” and Jackie Burns, Jennifer DiNoia, Alyssa Fox, and Mary Kate Morrisey speak in “A WICKED Roundtable: 20 Years of Elphaba”

Discover Other Great Broadway Shows!

Looking to buy a ticket to the Wicked musical or another great show on Broadway? Check out our article on the Best Broadway Musicals playing now for more information!

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Isabella Arras

Isabella Arras

Contributing Author

Isabella Arras is a theatre & film director, writer, choreographer, and performer. She graduated magna cum laude from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts with a B.F.A. in Theatre and a Minor in Creative Writing. In addition to her work in theatre and film, she works as a freelance writer and editor. She recently self-produced her first professional production in New York City, Fault Line, which you can find more information on here: https://linktr.ee/faultline24

Education: B.F.A. in Theater and Minor in Creative Writing from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts


Jul 18, 2024

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