The Life And Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Pictured: Gregory Maguire, Julia Murney & Kendra Kassebaum

Gregory Maguire writing about his novel and the subsequent musical for the souvenir programme:
At the end of my 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West , an anonymous pair of voices discuss the story that has just concluded:
"And there the wicked old Witch stayed for a good long time."
"And did she ever come out?"
"Not yet."
When I wrote those words, I was consigning the Witch once again into her sorry story, a story I gleaned from all that was left out of the L. Frank Baum novel, The Wizard of Oz (1900) .  What a bundle of unseemly characteristics and personality tics! Her preference for the company of flying monkeys over human beings...her physical ugliness combined with a taste for the flashiest in shoeware...her aversion to water...
But the Witch returns...She always returns...
In Wicked ~ the novel first, and now the musical~ the Wicked Witch of the West has a name: Elphaba. It's pronounced EL-phaba, with the pronunciation on the first of the three syllables, the way DOR-othy is.  Elphaba, a name derived from the initials of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Lyman Frank Baum. L.F.B. Elphaba.
I set out to tell her story from beginning to end.  I wanted not so much to explain the Wicked Witch of the West as to deepen her mystery.  Yes, I disclosed her reasons for wanting the shoes that had belonged to her sister.  But I could not account for the Witch's passion, nor did I want to: I merely wanted to heighten it.
One way of doing this~in the novel, mind you~was to allow the Witch to have a good voice.  In a pub, at an informal memorial service for a dead friend, she agrees to sing to her friends.
Everyone else in Oz had a longing: For a heart, for a brain, for courage, for a way home.  Surely the Wicked Witch of the West wanted something other than shoes.
What was it?  Vengeance? Justice? Love? Death? An accompanist?
When Stephen Schwartz approached me with the notion of turning Wicked into a musical play, I needed much less persuading than I let on.  As a college student I had taught myself to play the piano from the scores for Pippin and Godspell.  Stephen saw the comic and the melodramatic possibilities in my sprawling slice of Oz-history novel, and he promised that however the plot evolved to suit the stage, the grim themes of the novel would inform the show.
I haven't seen the annotated score: I can't cite key signatures or tempi.  I do know that from the opening anthem's foreboding figure of notes - an attempt to step up out of a minor key toward a mode of relief, if not joy, it seems to me - the score for Wicked respects the book's tensions and ambiguities.  Comic numbers harbor sinister or poignant implications.  Darker modalities cloak hints of rescue and repair.  The music underscores one of the themes of the story: appearances are deceiving.
Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book of the play, has honored the intentions of the original and made Wicked her own.  Galinda still becomes Glinda, Elphaba becomes the Witch, and they both grow concerned about each other and their world, in ways that slyly derive from the novel but are enchanted into something else again.
As for the production, I can only say that the principals and the chorus inhabit their roles with a fervor that makes me fear for my sanity at times; they can seem more real than the figures who once lives solely in my head.  The special sort of spell the cast can cast will last and last.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published more than a hundred years ago.  This means that, after a hundred years, the Wicked Witch of the West, my pretties, is still out there.
I couldn't be happier.
 Letter from Gregory Maguire

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