The Broadway smash hit “Wicked,” written by Winnie Holzman with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, is a direct adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. While the musical retains the exploratory spirit of Maguire’s novel in the way that it expands on the Wizard of Oz story, it only loosely follows the plot of its source material. Like the book, “Wicked” takes place before the events of “The Wizard of Oz.” The musical narrows the scope of Maguire’s narrative to focus on the college years of Oz’s most famous witches, Galinda (who eventually changes her name to Glinda) and Elphaba. The girls are polar opposites; Galinda is beautiful, blond and popular, while Elphaba has strange green skin and possesses little self-confidence. Galinda is charming while Elphaba is genuinely powerful, and Galinda is easily manipulated while Elphaba ends up clashing with the established order at Shiz. The main story arc of the musical follows the evolution of their relationship, from hatred to close friends to unwilling adversaries, as both are manipulated by the powerful forces governing the city of Oz.
In comparing the musical to the book, it seems to me that the intended audience carried the most weight in the way Maguire’s work was adapted. The novel Wicked is a dense, multifaceted sociopolitical commentary on the nature of good and evil that uses the events of “The Wizard of Oz” as background material. It’s unquestionably intended for an adult audience, and only uses the imagery and characters of the familiar Wizard of Oz tale as a springboard to wrestle with complex philosophical and social conundrums. “Wicked,” on the other hand, maintains a good deal of the original story’s whimsy, while expanding upon its darker moments via Maguire’s adaptation. Thanks to its upbeat score, significantly simplified plot and the necessary flash and bang of any full-fledged Broadway production, the musical is accessible to a far larger audience than Maguire’s work.
That said, do any of you have opinions on which was the “more successful” adaptation? Maguire’s original story is doubtless the more detailed and intellectually stimulating, but the musical is vastly more popular. Can each be taken on its own merit? Does comparing the two in these terms add anything important to the conversation? Am I asking useless rhetorical questions???? What do you think?