“You are now leaving Oz. Reality straight ahead. Drive (or Fly) carefully.”
Sign in the Gershwin Theater
Musicals — I love them! What more classic and immersive an experience can you have than suspending real life for an hour while gifted performers sing and dance you into another world? I just spent a few enjoyable hours in Oz through the magic of “Wicked” — one of the longest running shows on Broadway. No spoiler alert here, but in a nutshell, this show tells the back story of the two witches in the Wizard of Oz — Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West.
The musical is based on a novel also called “Wicked,” which set me thinking about what a novel idea it can be to take a classic story and mine it to come up with a plot that revolves around an untold story within that story. Mmm….imagine a tale spring from “Huckleberry Finn” told from Jim’s point of view. Or one recounted by Stan from “The Streetcar Named Desire.” Just dreaming up alternate realities we inventive writers might explore is lots of fun and a useful exercise.
Making this work can be tricky. Classic tales are classics because generations of readers or viewers have adored them just the way they are, so tinkering with them can be perilous. In pondering why “Wicked” — at least as a musical — worked so well for me, a few ideas spring to mind:
First, “Wicked” alluded to “The Wizard of Oz” wittily, but with a light touch: Its plot, while rooted in the original story, was strong enough to stand on its own. Second, the central conflict had enough dramatic energy and tension to sustain an alternate story. Third, the “retelling” introduced viewers to people, places, and events that are never explored in the classic version. And finally, it introduces a new set of characters who give the story a shot of adrenalin and a fresh, just-born feeling.
New twists on old themes — fruitful territory for us to explore as we all write on!