DISCLAIMER: I come to write this review with much prayer and careful thought, as I know that there are varying opinions about this musical within Christian circles. As much as I enjoy the music and the plot of Wicked, I know that some Christians believe we shouldn’t see the play because it’s about witches and magic.
If you have specific concerns related to this issue, I would encourage you to skip to the section “The Line Between Magic and Magick is Not Super Clear” under "Other Negative Elements" before coming back to the beginning here to read the rest of this review.
I believe that they are some strong lessons within this play that need to be explored within a Christian context, since I personally have not found a Christian review on this musical. My intention in doing this is providing a reference for discernment, whether you have seen the play or not. It is not to prove my opinion right. Although I do hope than some of you will come to see that there is more to the plot of this play than witches.
If you still disagree with me after fully reading this review, that’s fine, but please state your opinions in a kind, respectful way. Thank you
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!
No One Mourns the Wicked (But We Should)
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
Eventually, rumors became fact and she became more animal than human in their minds. Finally some of the Ozians tried to take justice into their own hands (March of the Witch Hunters). They honestly thought she was so evil that they could kill her themselves for the sake of justice. However, a lot of the judgment they passed on her was based of those rumors that were never founded on anything other than the Wizard’s wounded pride. Another character that displays this truth is Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister, who becomes the Wicked Witch of the East. When her pride was wounded by someone she cared for deeply, she tried to take justice into her own hands in her anger, and it nearly had deadly consequences (The Wicked Witch of the East). If you want to know how, you need to see the play!
As I said previously, we need to try and see people the way that God sees them. He is the One that knows our hearts and defines right from wrong. He is only One that can define wickedness and the only One that has any right to take justice into His hands. When we try to take justice into our own hands, we think we know better than God. I am once again reminded of a story about the character of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo tells Gandalf that it was a pity that Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum when they had the chance, Gandalf tells him:
Deception Is A Necessary Means to an End
In this version of the story of Oz, you find out the Wizard is not quite as wonderful as he was made him out to be. At the beginning of the play, Elphaba has the same awe and wonder for the Wizard as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She is excited as the prospect of being in the Wizard’s employ in the future because she think it will change her status and maybe even her skin color (The Wizard and I). However, the truth about his lack of power is reveal and with it, his desire to use Elphaba’s powers for his advantage, so that it would look like he has powers of his own. When she refuses to join him, he turns everyone in Oz against her to save his own skin. He did everything he could to ruin her credibility because she knew too much. His deception isn’t fully discovered until Glinda reveals the truth at the end of the play, and he realizes how devastating the consequences of deception can be. If you haven’t seen the play, I won’t give the ending away, but I believe there's a good point to be made here.
Our world views this kind of deception as acceptable when it gets you to the top and others stand in your way. However, Christians should not see it that way. I’m not a person to say that we should never lie and always tell the truth, because that is NOT specified in the Bible. The Bible does tell us to not bear false witness against our neighbor, and I think this is a perfect example of the reason why. You usually end up hurting not only them, but also yourself. To fully understand how his false witness impacted the Wizard, you need to see the play!
Quality Friendships Will Change Your Life for the Better
When they first meet each other at Shiz University at the beginning of the story, they are forced to be roommates and immediately despite each other (What Is This Feeling). But they eventually, despite all their resistance, they learn to like each other. They end up in Shiz’s sorcery seminar together. As they start to get closer, Glinda, in her blonde and ditsy way, does what she can to help Elphaba gain some social graces and feel more confident about herself (Popular). They get to the point where they become best friends. Eventually, after they go to see the Wizard in the Emerald City and his true character is revealed, Elphaba knows she must go against what everyone is expecting of her to do what she believes to be right (Defy Gravity). She asks Glinda to join her, but she declines and Elphaba has to fly solo (literally! Lol). So they part for a time.
Other Positive Elements
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.
Glinda Learns From Elphaba’s Mistakes
Despite the fact that Elphaba makes some mistakes, Glinda does learn valuable lessons from them. She knows Elphaba didn’t do everything right and after everything that happened, she resolves to use her powers for good. We should be inspired by our dearest friends to become a better person, and that's what happened here. She wanted to do all the good Elphaba never had the chance to do, because her name was tarnished and her heart was hardened. She wants to use her powers for protection, first and foremost. One of Glinda's last lines of the play says,
“Fellow Ozians, we have all been through a frightening time. And there will be other things that frighten us. But if you’ll let me, I’d like to try to help. I’d like to try to be Glinda the Good.”
It’s a great reminder that even when our friends do things that we don’t agree with, we should learn from their mistakes and do what we can to not make the same ones. We can use them to make us a better and stronger person.
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
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.]
This being said, I personally do not think the magic in this story is anything like occult magick (that’s the proper spelling of the word within an occult context). However, I must acknowledge that the line between fantasy magic and occult magick is somewhat blurred in this play. Elphaba does not worship the devil or call upon the spirits of the dead, which is specifically what the Bible condemns. However, she does cast spells that are irreversible with incantations. The source of her power seems to be internal verses divine (magic from a divine source is the kind of fantasy magic that is usually more acceptable in Christian circles, like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia). But the spells she casts do not intentionally harm others. In fact, she only uses the spells for the protection of others or her own self-defense. I do not think her intentions were evil in what she did with her magic.
Therefore, I think it’s OK for Christians to watch this, but you must use your own discernment. Some of you may be able to watch with no problem. But if the resemblance between this magic and occult magick is too much of a distraction for you, then this may not be the best play for you to see. But I still believe this is OK to watch when you are aware of the difference between magic and magick, and remember who has divine power over everything in our world.
The Songs Point to a Worldly View
As much as I love the music, I do not agree with all the messages in the music. There are two messages I want to highlight. First is the feature song Defying Gravity. I used to like this song more than I do now as I have come to realize what the song communicates: if everyone is going against what we feel to be right, we have to break their expectations by doing what we feel to be right. This is a load of garbage from a Christian perspective! We are not called to “defy gravity” by following our feelings; we are called to deny ourselves and follow Jesus with our own personal crosses. There is huge difference that we must discern.
The other song I want to highlight is No Good Deed. By the end of the song, Elphaba concludes that all of her efforts to use her powers for good has ended up hurting her or the people she loved. So from that point on, she was going to give up on trying to do good things. Unfortunately, not everyone gets this message from the song. Some Christians conclude that she is now only going to do bad things, instead of just abstaining from good deeds. Although I disagree with this interpretation, I do admit that the distinction is blurred. I simply want to use these songs to illustrate that we shouldn’t just believe what we hear without examining it against Scripture.
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 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.**
**This song is inappropriate in its implications of what they do with each other, although you see nothing on stage except kissing and embracing.
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.