A to Z: Elphaba

There’s a certain subgenre in which existing, famous stories are retold from the inside-out. I’m not sure what this genre might be called, but when it’s done well, it can be a lot of fun. There’s a great example in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s “Tribbles and Tribulations”, which has the DS9 crew time-travel back so they are actually inside the events of the TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”. The second Back to the Future movie does this as well. And then there’s the Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

For these kinds of stories to work, the original story has to be fairly well-known, so the audience can notice when the events of the original are shown, but with the shift in point-of-view. One of the most famous recent examples of this kind of meta-story is the book Wicked (and its sequels), and its subsequent Broadway adaptation. It gives us The Wizard of Oz, from one possible viewpoint of the Wicked Witch of the West, whose name is revealed to be Elphaba. So there’s our ‘E’!

I haven’t read the books, so my only acquaintance with this character comes via the show, which I saw last year and blogged about here. Wicked, the show, takes sufficient liberties with the characters and the original story that I can’t honestly say that I’ll be thinking of that tale lurking in the corners next time I watch The Wizard of Oz. But as a meta-story, it’s a lot of fun, and in providing a sympathetic Elphaba, we get a good illustration that we’re all the heroes of our own stories. The really memorable villains aren’t always the ones who act the most evil, but rather the ones who are genuinely committed to their own causes and who really believe themselves to be on the side of the righteous.

Here’s Elphaba and Glinda in the big Act One showstopper, “Defying Gravity” (embedding disabled). Elphaba is played by Idina Menzel, and Glinda by Kristen Chenoweth. (Menzel had apparently suffered an asthma attack minutes before going onstage to do this, which is why her breathing in this performance is so pronounced.)

Trivia: Elphaba’s name came about by sounding out L. Frank Baum’s initials.

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1 Response to A to Z: Elphaba

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    I actually spoke to Gregory Maguire; The Friends of the Albany Public Library honored him a few years back.

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