Thursday, September 21, 2006

Wicked – Musical vs. Novel

So off the bat – even though I’m talking about a musical here – you boys (you know how you are) shouldn’t just skim this post (like I do Bill’s heavy metal reviews – sorry Bill) You’ll see why soon enough.

So I went and saw the musical version on Sunday with my sister-in-law, my niece and Kelly – I had borrowed the book from Nancy a couple months ago when we first bought the tickets – so I had already read that (and actually have the sequel at home, but haven’t had a chance to start it yet.) The show was fantastic – and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes musicals – it was well-written, great songs, fun attitude, good pace – all that you need to keep a musical theater crowd happy. Totally glad I got I to see it!

However – as we were leaving the theater and everyone is discussing the show on their way down the stairs (it’s always funny to listen to those conversations – as everyone around is saying nearly the same thing) Most of the consensus seemed to be that they liked the show better than the book – Nancy thought so as well (we were the only two in our group to have read it all - Kelly hadn’t finished the book and my niece wasn’t allowed to read it – there was a paragraph of puppet sex in the first chapter) and not that there is anything wrong with liking the musical version better – but as I thought about it, I decided that I definitely liked the book better so I wanted to write a little review – and that is where you boys come in. I think you would love the book – but you would never read it because the musical is where it became famous and therefore is too girly or nerdy or whatever – but the book – is NOT any of things – not by a long shot.

The musical adaptation did what all adaptation has to do – condense a huge story with lots of delicate character development and intricate subplots into a concise single story that draws the characters with a big wide obvious brush. It also stuck by the musical theater golden rule of a happy ending. Deviating from the book a LOT.

But the biggest thing that the musical lacked in comparison to the book was a sense of meaning – substantial meat that you could dig your teeth into. Gregory Maguire’s novel was something that you could easily have read in an advanced high school or college lit class (and if you were an English nerd like me) just devoured. I can imagine the fantastic discussions that novel would have generated in one of Ming Lu’s classes at Drake or even Mrs. Bakalar’s AP English class at Topeka West.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West – the full title of the novel – is a fantastic social and political commentary. A look at what is really good and what is really bad, and who decides. It examines how if one has money, power or beauty – or simply follows the status-quo - that they are often assumed “good” regardless of their actual behavior. Those who challenge authority, don’t conform to the social pressures of their peers, and think for themselves – are often labeled as “wicked.”

It’s an analogy that can be placed in any society, in any high school, in any government, in any community. And it’s one that we’ve all seen and heard before – but nonetheless presented in the midst of a fantastic story. And of course, in our current political climate – one that is extremely apropos. Take the portion of the story about the Animals Right to Speech – that could be almost directly correlated to Gays Right to Marriage.

The people in charge feel that if Animals are allowed to speak and hold jobs like humans, then society will fall into decay and disrepair as we lose all sense of what it really means to be human. Those who disagree with the government are obviously subversive; have no morals; are a threat to society; don’t care about the good of the country - even if they are ones fighting for the rights of others.
Doesn’t sound familiar at all does it?

And that is simply one of the much more obvious points. I am not implying that when Maguire wrote this – that he had that exact example in mind – but I don’t think any author has a direct one-to-one analogy in mind. But I think to deny that those concepts are there – is to give the book a very shallow reading.

Now again – that commentary was there in small doses in the musical version – it just didn’t (and can’t) delve into it the way the book does.
The book is dark, thoughtful, introspective and makes your mind race.
The musical is light and fun and reassures that in the end everything is a-ok.

Both are very very good.
I love musicals – and this one was everything I could hope for.
I just think that as in most book to movie adaptations – the book is much better.

And I hope that non-musical fans won’t ignore this book because of the musical – because it is so much more than just a catchy song and dance.


Veronica said...

Great post! I just finished the book, after having seen the musical, and I couldn't agree with you more. I loved them both for the same reasons you describled, but prefer the book. To be honest I was a bit puzzled at the fact that the Witch DIDN'T die in the musical, so I was somewhat relieved at the darker, more mellow tone of the novel. But I still feel the two complement eachother, rather than contradict. I consider the musical to be somewhat of an introduction to the book, a trifle in comparison but yet delightful in its own way. I was happy to learn that more people think like I do, and don't fix in on "right" and "wrong" :)

Susan said...

Just now looking at seeing the musical and have been very hesitant because I felt like you did about the book - LOVED IT! It sparked great discussions between me and my husband, and I just can't justify spending hundreds of dollars if it's going to be all fluffed up like a Galinda version of the novel!

Still debating because you said you liked it in spite of the lighter approach, but glad to see this.

Melanie said...

I saw the musical first and ofcorse fell in love with the whole thing. And my friend who had read the book but not seen the play would argue about which was better. So I finally decided to read the book and see who was actually right. I love the book version! Especially Elphaba's character in the book is so much more likable for me. In the play she was just a nerd, but in the book she really wasn't at all. The play totally forgot to put in her amazingly blunt way of talking, which is what makes me love her so much.

Also in the play in one scene they had her standing in the rain!!! Which drove me crazy!! That is one line about Elphaba that should never be crossed. Also they made people marry people in the musical that never even came close to happening in the book. Like Fiyero and Glinda, Boq and Nessarose?? Where did that come from?

I don't hate the musical at all, I actually like it a lot. I just think story line wise they contorted it way too much.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I thought after seeing the musical (and not having read the book):

The theme is that history is written by the winners, and Elfaba not only gets this but refuses to allow her name to be cleared, though it easily could have been, because that would be kind of like sleeping with the enemy. She'd rather be remembered as wicked than to give approval to the true "wickeds" who write the historical fiction that's taken as fact by future generations by allowing Galinda to clear her name.

Rosalie said...

I was just given tickets to Wicked at the Gershwin for my birthday, and suddenly became interested in the differences in the book, which I loved, and the play, which I've been wanting to see since finishing the book. I found your synopsis helpful.

I completely agree (yes, English nerd here) that the book is the essence of social commentary--probably the main thing that made Elphaba so appealing to me as a character. I'm not loving that she's in the rain in the play (one of the comments pointed out the absurdity of it), or that the coupling is so bizarre, but, thanks to your post, I'm even more excited about seeing the play now.