It was one the most fun memories I have from my first year of college when I got to see Wicked the Musical for the first time. The day before Thanksgiving Break of my first semester at Ozark Christian College in 2009, a group of about twenty of us (give or take a few) carpooled to Kansas City, KS (about 3 hours from Joplin) to go see the show together. I had never seen a Broadway level production before and I was so excited. My excitement only increased as I watched the play and was amazed by the quality of the production. Plus, I was with some of the girls that became my dearest friends at Ozark. After the show was over, we didn’t get back to campus until after 2am, but we were listening to the Wicked soundtrack the whole way home. It was so much fun!
A little over a year later, I had the chance to see Wicked again. This time, it was in Chicago and I was with two of my best friends from high school. All three of us had seen Wicked once before and wanted to see it again, so we went into the city together for the evening during our Christmas break that year (2010). I was so grateful to do that with those girls especially. We had a blast!
Part of my love for this musical is the fond memories I have of these experiences of getting to see it, as well as countless memories of enjoying its music at other times with other friends. But one of the other reasons I enjoy it so much is that I love the questions it poses about wickedness, justice, and friendship. Even though I don’t agree with everything in this play, I believe there is much to be learned if we take the time to look a little deeper into the message this play is trying to convey. These are the morals or lessons that the plot of Wicked teaches, and a Christian perspective on each one:
No One Mourns the Wicked (But We Should)
As I have begun to think about the title of the opening song of this play, I have begun to realize the powerful question it poses. When I listen to the song No One Mourns the Wicked, I have started to ask the question “Why does no one mourn the wicked?” Both in this song and in the song Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is Dead from The Wizard of Oz, they basically say that we should be happy the witch died because she’s was a witch and her life didn’t matter. That is wrong. Through the musical Wicked, you come to realize that Elphaba (the name given to the Wicked Witch of the West) is not just a nameless witch – she is a person with a human soul. Despite the fact that Elphaba was a witch and did things that were wrong, a Christian should be grieved to see the reality of a person who dies without the hope of redemption for their soul. I know Elphaba is a fictional character, but I think that we need to be aware that we do this to people, both in the world of fiction and in real life.
As I have identified this problem, I have tried my best to see these kinds of people as God sees them, even in entertainment. Let me illustrate with examples from a few movies. In the Disney film The Princess and the Frog, the fate of the Witch Doctor makes me sad. At the end of the film, he was bound to spend eternity in hell because he sold his soul to the devil and didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. I also have a similar feeling about Gollum’s fate in The Lord of the Rings. There was no redemption for Gollum’s soul. As much as Gollum may have merited his fate and good came about from it, it still makes me sad when I think about it from that perspective. As much as we rejoice when the hero is redeemed in our favorite stories, we should also feel sympathy for the villains that do not have their chance at personal redemption.
Despite the fact the chorus was declaring “no one mourns the wicked,” there was one person who did mourn Elphaba – Glinda. Throughout the rest of the play, you come to learn through Glinda’s personal journey to see Elphaba for who she was as a person with a human soul – not just as a witch with green skin. I was challenged in this way to allow God’s views of people inform my own view before I look at the way our society or our view of their sin defines them.
Society Makes Up Their Own Standard of Wickedness and Justice
Our world today tries to define their own standards of morality that are inconsistent and self-centered, and often their views of the people around them are affected. Especially when they don’t value people as human souls, they often start to treat certain people as less than human. I believe Wicked to be a perfect example of this. From the day she was born, everyone judged Elphaba her by the color of her skin. When she was later accused of being a witch, everyone cast judgments on her based on rumors spread by those in the employ of the Wizard. They told ridiculous stories about Elphaba being less than human and all the evil things they did.
“Many that live deserve death, but some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be eager to deal out death and judgement. Not even the very wise can see out all ends.”
I am challenged by these words, and I hope you are too.
Deception Is A Necessary Means to an End
Quality Friendships Will Change Your Life for the Better
Of all the things that have endured me to this play, the strong themes of friendship and forgiveness are the most obvious. The friendship of Elphaba and Glinda illustrates many things I think the world should know about what and friendship should really be. In order for those to be understood, I think I need to explain the arc of their friendship.
Eventually Glinda gets the position that Elphaba wanted and everything seems to be perfect, but Glinda begins to realize that achieving her dreams had a high price (Couldn’t Be Happier). The next time they see each other, they are mad because Elphaba just lost her sister (for which Elphaba blames Glinda) and Glinda’s fiancé left her for Elphaba. They are so mad, they think they will never forgive each other. Finally after Elphaba decided to surrender to the view everyone had of her, Glinda comes to warn her about those who want to kill her, and the exchange they have still touches me to this day. The song For Good is one of the most profound songs I’ve found in a Broadway show. It’s a song any of us could sing about any friendship of substance we have had in our lives. A few messages of this song stand out.
First, friendships change the course of our future. This song made me realize that even the friendships I’ve had that didn’t last, were not the best quality, or didn’t end well impacted my life. Even if the impact was negative, they did affect the person I am today. When need to be aware of this truth so we can be intentional about making an impact with our friendships. Second, the quality friendships leave positive impressions on you that last a lifetime. My favorite line of the song (and the entire show) is “And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend.” I would lose count if I attempted to count how many people I’ve had in my life that I could say this line to. The mark of a solid, steadfast friendship/relationship is one that has left a lasting, positive impression, “a handprint on [your] heart.” And lastly, forgiveness is a powerful and necessary part of a good friendship. They come to forgive each other for the mistakes they made and acknowledge that they were arguments that didn’t matter. When you have the kind of friendship where you are aware that they have left a positive impact on your life and you are able to forgive and forget, hold on to those friendships as long as it’s the right season for that friendship. Elphaba and Glinda knew their season of friendship was ending, but they also knew they would always cherish their friendship. We should cherish our friendships in the same way.
Other Positive Elements
Compassion is a Strong Theme
As I mentioned earlier, you develop a compassion for Elphaba that is hard to have if you only know the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Elphaba did end up suffering from what other did to her. Initially, she does have a good heart. She loves her sister more than anyone else. She cares about nature and animals. She tries to do the right thing. But through her circumstances, she turns angry and bitter, and her only defense was her magic. Her heart was hardened because of the way others treated her.
I do not say any of this to give her an excuse for what she does [See “Elphaba is the Victim” below], but I make the point that this play does give us a context to have sympathy for her character. Christians should do what they can to have compassion for those that need it, even if they don’t deserve it. That’s part of what Christ did for us.
Interesting Backstory and Humorous Irony from The Wizard Of Oz
One of the best part of Wicked is the connections between its plot and The Wizard of Oz. The writers did everything they could to connect the stories and challenge what the film version did to the stereotypes that film created of what witches are, especially in American culture. You even find out how certain characters can to be in their current state, and you catch more irony every time you see the play. In the end, you get the impression that what you know about Oz is from the perspective of a little girl you didn’t know the full story. I don’t want to spoil it for those that haven’t seen it, but if you like dramatic irony, this will definitely interest you!
Well Done Plot and Music
I also LOVE the music to this show! Although I don’t agree with some of the messages in the songs [See “The Songs Point to a Worldly View” below], I do think they are incredibly well done, both lyrically and instrumentally. On this particular point, this is best quality production I’ve ever seen. The costume design is fantastic. The set and special effects are top notch. The plot is also a creative adaptation of what I know about the original novel. It’s incredible well done!
Other Negative Elements
The Line Between “Magic” and Magick is Not Super Clear
This is the one of the greatest points of controversy among Christians about this play, so I want to acknowledge the difference of opinion, but also explain what I understand to be right. Elphaba is a witch in this play that practices sorcery. I do NOT think that this makes the play bad in its own right. I need to explain why.
This play is in the fantasy genre. That being said, I believe it’s important to realize that within a fantasy world that is set in an alternate reality, different definitions, meanings, and laws of existence apply. Within these worlds, magic doesn’t have the same connotations that it does in our world. It is primarily a medium used to propel the storyline forward. It’s the same difference as the use of advanced technology in science fiction. They use these mediums (magic and technology) to advance the story in ways that are not possible within our world.
[This last paragraph is a summary of some of the explanations about fantasy magic made by Richard Abanes in his book Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. Click here to see my brief review of this book on my Top 10 books list. It’s number 3 on the list.]
Elphaba is the Victim
Elphaba had a hard life. Elphaba was an illegitimate child conceived on a green elixir, and that’s the reason her skin is green.* Since she was born with green skin, her father never expressed any affection towards her, directing all his affection towards her sister Nessarose, who was handicapped and in a wheelchair. Elphaba tried to earn his father’s affections through obedience, but usually to no avail. She struggled to fit in all her life. The only thing she ever had going for her was her natural talent in sorcery. For a brief moment, when she first arrives in the Emerald City, she thinks she can fit in there because everyone is green (One Short Day). But after the Wizard destroys her reputation, she never has the chance of being accepted again, even in the Emerald City.
However, as much as I did develop sympathy for Elphaba through this story, I get the sense that the writers try to use her status of victim as an excuse for wrongdoing. In a society where we all want to play the victim (sometimes I even fall into this category), we must be cautious about allowing that to become an excuse. Wicked is even sponsors of anti-bullying campaigns, which is ironic to me, because Elphaba's bullying story didn't end well. She didn't overcome her bullying ever. Elphaba was worn thin and turned bitter because of it. We must make the choice to not let the same thing happen to us.
*Aside from this being another factor of her being made a victim, this is also content that is inappropriate, especially for younger children.
Fiyero Cheats on Glinda with Elphaba
Fiyero is the heartthrob at Shiz when Glinda and Elphaba are in school. Glinda, being the ditsy blonde she is, assumes the status of being his girlfriend and eventually his fiancée. But you get the sense that Fiyero didn’t fully return Glinda's affections. Not long after, when Elphaba tries to confront the Wizard, Fiyero gives up everything to run away with Elphaba. They escape into a forest and sing a love song in a minor key, As Long As Your Mine.**
Aside from all that, it does somewhat bother me that they justify Fiyero’s actions by the fact that he was never really in love with Glinda. I believe that we need to be cautious about allowing for these justifications in our minds. Cheating is cheating within the contexts of relationships, even if it’s only on an emotional level. End of story.
**This song is inappropriate in its implications of what they do with each other, although you see nothing on stage except kissing and embracing.
I love this play, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect. Even as I have come to examine the plot of the play in this way, I have come to realize more ways in which I disagree with it. And I do confess that I did have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with it after I saw for the first time, mostly because it was my first Broadway musical. At first, I wanted to “defy gravity” in my own life, but now I realize that was not right or healthy way to see this play.
Now, I do not think about it as highly as I did then, but I still enjoy the memories associated with it. Of all the things I will remember about this play, I will remember how it helped me learn what it means to mourn the wicked and how to be intentional with the friendships I have so that I can make a positive impact in the lives of my friends. I hope that most of you can learn to do the same thing.