Defying Gravity, easily one of the most popular-lar songs from Wicked the musical, truly celebrates the female empowerment and the importance of open defiance against social norms. Having always been labeled as a weirdo, the song was one of my anthems during my teenage years. And I am extremely happy to have finally experienced Wicked live (my first Broadway show, too!) last weekend. It was simply breathtaking. I was constantly blown away by the wicked leads, the stunning costumes, the smoke-fuming dragon, and basically everything else about the show. Of course, I was not surprised by any of this. It is one of the most popular and awarded shows after all. What I was surprised by was the extreme relevance it had for today’s politics.
Almost fourteen years since its first performance, Wicked successfully remains as a political allegory and a poignant warning against social injustice. One very obvious example of this is the story of the protagonist, Elphaba. Elphaba, or the Wicked Witch of the West, is an intelligent, outspoken, kind and talented woman, who is misunderstood as bad and worthless because of her green skin that is not like that of the rest of the society. Sound familiar? She is intelligent, but she can only attend a school as a personal assistant to her disabled sister, Nessarose. She is well-spoken but everybody chooses to ignore her. Through the life of Elphaba, we experience some of the common struggles that people of color in today’s society face. Another blatant example of Wicked‘s political relevance beyond its time is the portrayal of Nessarose. Although I was disappointed by the ableist production succumbing to a cookie-cutter disabled stereotype, the show perfectly captures the negative attitudes linked to people with disability. Nessarose is constantly viewed as a human tragedy whom society must pity. Galinda sees her as utterly helpless and assumes that no one would ask her to the dance because of her disability. She then manipulates Boq, a Munchkin boy who has fallen head over heels in love with Galinda, to ask Nessarose out to the party for her. At the party, Boq terribly wants to tell Nessarose the real reason why he asked her to the dance, but he cannot bring himself to do it and lies to her instead. How could he ever dare to tell that to a girl who has already developed feelings for him, but also makes a person with disability feel worse than they already do? Through different perspectives, Wicked calls to create a more inclusive society for everybody, irrespective of their vivid green skin and disabilities.
It is simply amazing how works like this have the ability to transcend their original place and time to resurface into today’s time. Towards the end of the first act, the Wizard invents enemies by manipulating Elphaba and her special talent in magic solely in order to establish the notion of good and to unite the citizens of Oz. I am not sure if it is because I have personally been more sensitive to the constant political stress since election, but I could not stop thinking about the nationalistic, populist and dark inaugural address that Donald Trump delivered last month. Throughout his speech, he paints a portrait of an extremely dark America in a dystopian, apocalyptic tone. He vows to put an end to “American carnage” and cautiously describes our streets swarmed with drugs and disorder, our children in paralyzing poverty and our economy in crisis. He attempts to unify the citizens and closes his address by promising to, of course, “make America great again” together. It has been about a month since his inauguration, and America seems to only have grown more and more hopeless as he defends his recent executive orders and cabinet appointments. Similar to the Wizard, Trump uses fear-mongering tactics to bring the citizens, mostly his supporters, together and attempts to invent America’s new enemies: the bad hombres from Mexico, Hillary Clinton, FAKE NEWS, Meryl Streep, paid protesters, illegal voters, China, and many many more… Look at this Tweet that I just found and didn’t even realize existed!
All things considered, the value of this musical lies in that it is both topical and timeless. It is topical, because it reflects the concerns of its time period, whatever that might have been, and it is timeless, because basic human nature and concerns remain unchanged – or worsen, sometimes – throughout time. The show holds a lot of lessons for us today and I would definitely recommend it for everybody, but especially POTUS, Vice President Mike Pence, as well as many other policy makers.