I recently saw Wicked in London, a full decade after seeing the show for the first time in Chicago. I have to say, Wicked is the perfect musical to revisit every decade or so. Nearly each song can be applied to whatever you're going at the time. In 2006, we went for my twentieth birthday. In 2016, I turned thirty, so I gave it a try again. I'm okay with this becoming a habit. So, here we go, here are my thoughts on every song. Warning: a lot of it is related to how depressed I am about the news. In general, I don't remember enough details about seeing the Chicago show to compare the two.
Anyway! On to the show. First, thanks Mom and Dad for taking me to see Wicked. I've always loved musicals but Wicked at age 20 was really my first professional experience. I remember watching plays and shows put on by the local high school community college. Then in college, my engineering school always did a musical and my mom would come up and get a hotel and we would make a weekend of it. And now, I've been to Broadway and West End. It got serious.
Musicals in general - I love the drama of all of it. And there's a special moment that you don't get in movies, the people on the stage and the people in the theater sharing this unique experience, everything a little different no matter how many times the actors have performed the thing. And now, for each song:
- No One Mourns the Wicked. We're dropped in Oz as the citizens celebrate the death of the Wicked Witch. Glinda shows up to comment upon the lonely lives of the wicked and ask big questions, like if wickedness is innate or 'thrust upon us.' We revisit the conception and birth of Elphaba. There is an interesting question here - given Elphaba's skin color, was she always going to be wicked? Do our innate differences set us up for a path? We're one song in and we're already questioning fate and destiny. This song is also an excellent reminder that the victor gets to write the history. And it's just a fun jump into the world itself, connecting with the Dorothy story we all know.
- Dear Old Shiz. Glinda is reminded of her school days with the wicked witch and we meet the green girl herself. Here is where I was disappointed for the first time: when Elphaba was introduced in Chicago, and Lin-Manuel in Hamilton, the crowd freaked out. Everything paused until everyone stopped clapping. It was exciting and really ebbed up the tension in the room, creating a moment. That did not happen here, at all. What the hell people? Also, there were some impressive costume changes. Starting here, where Glinda (now Galinda) has a few seconds to change out of her bubble dress into her Shiz outfit.
- The Wizard and I. Here is where I started to get choked up. After years of her family treating her like the outcast, forcing her to hide her talents, here comes someone telling her that she's incredibly talented and special. That thing she's trying to hide could actually be the thing that changes her life and brings her to the wizard. Towards the end of the song, Elphaba does this sweet and sad little bit where she pretends the wizard offers to 'de-greenify her' and she pretends to be blase about accepting his offer. Whether you're feeling underappreciated at work or ostracized at school because you're really good at math, this song is for you. One day, you'll be appreciated and rewarded, probably.
- What is this Feeling. Minor complaint (and I have to complain about something) is that this seems pretty abrupt. How can they hate each other already? But this song sets up Elphaba as the underdog quite deftly, as Galinda has the entire student body behind her on one side, a lone green girl on the other. Here, I'm not seeing some grand statement. Just go with it and visualize that bitch from college.
- Something Bad. Shit is going down in Oz. Given how the term 'Neo-Nazi' is popping up everywhere today, the symbolism here isn't much of a reach! The animal stuff was, in general, more powerful in the book (also, side note, the book in general is way more adult and serious and metaphor-ish) but the animal stuff, and references to Elphaba's skin color, can be applied to whatever group is being marginalized in the moment. Flexible!
- Dancing Through Life. A lot to unpack in this one. Here we meet Fiyero. Basically, he's a spoiled rich kid would rather have fun than go to school, finding more importance in life lessons as opposed to the book kind. Stop thinking, idiots: life is more painless, for the brainless. Here, I'm troubled by the total lack of concern about facts or science, this anti-intellectualism that we have going on today. But also, Fiyero's got a point. Somtimes I really wish I could stop caring or having critical thinking skills - would probably be happier. There's also sentiments like 'nothing matters, so keep dancing through.' Sure, okay. Additionally, a lot of plot happens in this song: Fiyero and Galinda partner up while the latter creates the forced pairing of Boq and Nessa. Galinda seriously embarrasses Elphaba, only to befriend her by the time the song is over. News stuff aside, there's definitely something about apathy and also just hesitancy to trust people. They don't change, who they show you is who they are. Elphaba - Galinda has been a bitch this whole time, don't trust her now!
- Popular. This, along with "Defying Gravity" is probably the most popular, famous song of the show. Galinda, her tender heart, agrees to makeover Elphaba. There are interesting ideas here - popularity is very important and apparently hair flipping is a big part of it. Elphaba can't be who she was, has to become someone else. And there's the bit that hit way too close to home at the moment - celebrated heads of states don't have to have brains or knowledge, just popularity! It's not about aptitude, it's the way you're viewed. This was written in a pre-Kardashian world.
- I'm Not That Girl. Okay, there's not much more than meets the eye here. Classic 'girl loves boy, boy loves someone else' song. But it's still heartbreaking, as Elphaba notes that he's the right boy, she's just the wrong girl. Don't wish, don't start. Wishing only wounds the heart. And then it starts to rain, on stage and on my face.
- One Short Day. This one really got to me and is the first song that really made me cry. Look, I understand that moving locations isn't going to magically fix everything, but right now I'm very sad to be living in a mostly-white, rural, Republican-filled town. I'm very much looking forward to going to that place where everything is blue and people are more understanding and empathetic. Spoiler alert: this does not turn out well for our heroins.
- Defying Gravity. This is one that really centers on friendship and makes me think of my good friends. They start the song pissed at each other (look what you've done!) and there's a lot of sarcasm. By the end, they have recognized that they will be going down separate paths and just genuinely want happiness for the other (I hope you're happy, for real!). As I watch friends go down paths that I really don't understand (suburbs and babies before thirty? okay?), I totally get this one. Good luck, I hope you enjoy this, really! I'm going to go get on my broom now.
- Thank Goodness. Another one that is seriously all over the place. First, the townspeople will really believe anything. And this is before fake news became rampant on Facebook! Second, there's the public face versus the private one, as Glinda desperately tries to put a positive spin on her relationship. Well, that is everywhere right now. But mostly, it's how the stuff you thought would make you happy doesn't. There's always one more thing that's missing or isn't just-right. But you can find some reason to soldier on, even if it's a bunch of lied-to fans.
- Wonderful. In general, there are a lot of fun plays on words here. Elphaba sneaks into Oz to see the wizard again. He sings about being an average Joe who finds himself in a position of power when he lands in Oz. They say he's wonderful, so he goes along with it. Then he goes on his spiel: traitor or liberator, thief or philanthropist, crusader or invader. Which label persists? He mentions that, in general, we've gotta pick one. No ambiguities, please! Hey, being wonderful and liked is nice! It also gets back to the victor writes history idea, important given this whole shebang is basically to see the villain's perspective. Also, maybe a good example of faking it until you make it.
- I'm Not That Girl. Small reprise of this song. Now the shoe is on the other foot, etc.
- As Long As You're Mine. Sexy times in Munchkinland. Fiyero finds Elphaba, then runs off with her, much to Glinda's chagrin. They run off into the woods and sing about making out, basically. There's a lot of puns, references to being brainless (he is about to lose his) and falling under spells. The final line: for the first time, she feels wicked. Hey, that's the title of the thing!
- No Good Deed. Fiyero has been taken away, captured by a vengeful Glinda and guards. And Elphaba is pissed. Between some magic jibberish, she turns him into a scarecrow, not knowing what else to do (in general, Elphaba is not great at fixing things with her magic). She also questions - was she seeking good or just attention? Maybe that's why - No good deed goes unpunished. Here is where she also runs out of fucks to give. I tried to do all these good things and it only led to bad. So they wanna call me Wicked, fine. I'll go along with it (no good deed will I do again). It's an interesting contrast to the Wizard becoming wonderful.
- For Good. One last duo between our two girls. They both admit they've made mistakes, but screw it, it's in the past. We may never see each other again, but I'm definitely better because I knew you. They have undoubtedly changed the other.
- Finale. Glinda sends the wizard out of Oz, after gutting the guy by revealing that Elphaba was his daughter. Fiyero and Elphaba, who faked her death, run off together while Glinda gets back in her bubble, promising the citizens of Oz she'll earn her title and bringing us back to the beginning of the musical.
And that's Wicked. I can't wait to revisit it again in a few years and see what different meanings I can pluck out of the songs. Until then!