In the Wizard of Oz, the battle lines are clear: good witch versus evil. From Dorothy’s perspective, that’s enough. But life, even a made-up one, is more complicated than that. Enter Wicked.
Based on a book by Gregory Maguire that became a smash Broadway musical, Wicked fills in the history and back story of the confrontation between the Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba) and the Good Witch of the North (Glinda).
The touring production of the musical, which details their friendship and shows unexpected new sides to the characters, sets up shop in at Kitchener’s Centre In The Square Aug. 29.
There are plenty of references to the Wizard of Oz – the classic 1939 movie based on L. Frank Baum’s novel – but the musical provides us with far more insight into the witches and the world in which they live, says the actor who plays the headmistress at Shiz University, where Elphaba and Glinda first meet. As Madame Morrible, Marilyn Caskey has a front-row view of their budding relationship.
Far from what we see by the time Dorothy and Toto arrive in Oz, at the beginning Elphaba is a kindly, if green-skinned woman. Glinda, beautiful and popular, is ambitious and willing to go along with the powers that be. Wicked takes us through some transformations, perhaps dispelling some misconceptions along the way.
The stereotypical good- versus-evil depiction may not be what we thought it was, said Caskey in a phone interview from Montreal, Wicked’s four-week stop before heading this way.
Introduced to the two young women, we see the journey that gets them to the point in their lives depicted in the Wizard of Oz. In tagging along, we learn that it’s best not to judge too quickly.
“The story shows us how quick we are to judge somebody, how quick we are to label something … and the problems with that,” she explained.
That message is wrapped in a glittering package appropriate for a Broadway blockbuster. The moral is clearly aimed at an adult audience. But in a show that features flying monkeys, lots of magic and over-the-top costumes, it’s always a hit with the kids, too.
And speaking of over-the-top, that’s certainly the case with Madame Morrible. The headmistress is coiffed, bejeweled and dressed for excess: she’s showy and ambitious, and very eager to glom on to Elphaba, who shows some remarkable powers immediately upon arriving at the school.
“My character is extremely ambitious. She’s status conscious, and she’s always striving for that,” said Caskey.
To that end, she sees a lot of potential in a young Elphaba and sets out to shape the young witch’s destiny, acting for all intents and purposes as a puppet master, pulling her strings.
“Madame Morrible sees the raw talent of Elphaba and wants to take her on as a protégé … for her own ends.”
Eccentric and colourful, Madame Morrible sees the world revolving around herself.
“Her only redeeming quality is that she loves jewelry,” laughed Caskey, adding the character’s actions make perfect sense to Madame Morrible. “She believes she’s going to make the world a better place by instilling her values.”
Influenced by the headmistress and her friendship with Galinda (as she’s then known), Elphaba is portrayed as a misunderstood victim whose behaviour stems from the charlatan Wizard’s corrupt government, which Glinda appears all too eager to support. In a manner reminiscent of the popularity contest that is politics today, Elphaba is increasingly marginalized and eventually forced out of the Emerald City. Along the way, we get to know a little bit more about the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.
“There are a lot of references to the movie,” said Caskey. “The audience enjoys the references – they get a kick out of them.”
But it’s the story of the witches, Elphaba in particular, that provides the emotional fuel for Wicked. It’s what allows the musical to be at times poignant even in a larger-than-life stage presentation replete with all the trimmings of Broadway, she explained. Those embellishments, of course, add to the breathtaking and exhilarating aspects of the show.
Wicked takes to the stage at the Centre In The Square Aug. 29 to Sept. 9, Tuesday through Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets start at $69, available from the box office by calling 519-578-1570 or online at www.centre-square.com.