Musical 'Wicked' gives twist on Land of Oz

— Never mind Dorothy. According to "Wicked," the new musical that opened on Broadway recently, the women who matter in Oz are Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and her alter ego, Glinda, the Good Witch.

The musical, adapted from the evocative 1995 novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire, pictures life in the Land of Oz before Dorothy and Toto landed.

Unlike L. Frank Baum's book and the 1939 film which remains an icon of American childhood, this musical has Dorothy arriving only at the end, and off-stage.

"We like to say that 'Wicked' is behind the scenes of what you saw in the movie," says Idina Menzel, who plays the role of Elphaba. "The film is (the witches') public persona; their real life is what you see in our show."

"Wicked" begins when the two witches meet as unlikely roommates at college. Maguire's novel goes back even further, before Elphaba was born. In his dark vision, Oz is a fascist state where a portion of the population has been deprived of its rights and finally dehumanized and enslaved. Elphaba -- an intelligent, passionate idealist -- turns revolutionary and is forced underground to fight. Glinda represents those who believe the Wizard's party line.

But the political story is just a subplot in the musical, which examines the relationship of the two witches.

"The book is so expansive and beautiful, but ... I'm glad that the focus is on the two women," Menzel says. "There are very few musicals that have two women leads and are about friendship and women."

These are starmaking roles for Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Menzel, no matter how the $14 million dollar spectacle fares with the critics.

Chenoweth, a tiny, blond former cheerleader from Oklahoma who began singing in the church choir as a child, was first choice for the creative team of Winnie Holzman, who adapted Maguire's book, and Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist.

Chenoweth says Glinda could have been Miss America, but appearances are deceiving. For starters, she's not always Miss Congeniality.

"She doesn't have the natural gifts of Elphaba, which makes her insecure, sometimes a little bit ... not mean, but she has issues," the actress says. "What I love about both women (is) they have what each other wants," she says.

Menzel, a tall, dark-haired Long Island native, sang in school choirs and acted in local productions as a child and teenager, including playing Dorothy in fourth grade.


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