Wicked: My Ode to Elphaba
My blog is not called "My Western Sky" by accident. The title pays homage to Elphaba and her desire to "Defy Gravity." When I write in this space, it is my attempt to break away from the bonds of my busy life and let my mind, heart, and spirit soar just like Elphaba does in her own western sky. I am going to Austin this weekend to see Wicked for the third time, and I am excited beyond measure. I wrote the following piece in the Summer of 2010 after seeing Wicked twice in the span of eleven days. Obsession? Maybe. Life-changing? Definitely. Perhaps this will explain my intense passion for the green-skinned girl and the musical that changed me "For Good":
The light turns red as that familiar lump rises out of my chest and settles like a stone in my throat. My nerve endings tingle, prompting the hairs on my arms to stand at attention. Emotions bubble from the well deep inside me: confusion, anger, insecurity evaporate into assurance, euphoria, and ultimately, empowerment. My vision blurs, caused by the moisture collecting at the corners of my eyes; my tears usually come in a mist rather than a downpour. The music escalates as Elphaba emancipates herself from the closed-mindedness of Oz, demanding that the sinister citizens should “look to the Western skies,” for this is where she will be “Defying Gravity.”
“Nobody in all of Oz, no wizard that there is or was, is ever gonna bring me down!” This powerful proclamation penetrates my core, and I yearn for that kind of confidence.
As I’m carried away by the sweeping crescendo and Idina Menzel’s breath-taking voice, a horn blares, bringing me down from my Wicked-induced high. Suddenly, I realize that I’m holding up traffic at the now-green light. I snap back to reality, wipe a bit of moisture from the corner of my eye, and drive to daycare to pick up Peyton. I’ve gotten my daily dose of escape through the power of Wicked—my own way of “Defying” the “Gravity” of my busy life.
As a newcomer to the Wicked craze, I don’t pretend to be a die-hard fan who watched the book-turned-musical morph from its inception in 2003 into a Broadway mega-hit. My first introduction to “Defying Gravity,” the musical’s most well-known song, came from watching an episode of Glee. I knew the song came from Wicked, a book by Gregory Maguire that I had admittedly abandoned several times. I knew the general premise was to portray the other side of The Wizard of Oz and to ponder the provocative question: “Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” I knew that the musical focused on Elphaba, the green-skinned girl who was shunned by her fellow Ozians, and I knew that being a lover of musicals all of my life I would enjoy seeing the production when it came to Dallas in May. What I did not know was how seeing Wicked performed live on stage would change me for good.
After purchasing tickets for an upcoming performance in May, I bought the CD to familiarize myself with the music because I enjoy musicals more when I internalize the songs. I managed to grab snippets of time out of my busy life to get lost in the music, my own method of escapism. While in the car by myself or with my girls, on the treadmill, shelving books in the library, the music of Wicked serenaded and sustained me through a stressful spring. My three-year-old Peyton even added “Popular” to her song requests, and my oldest daughter Landry caught the Wicked fever, as well. As the complexity of the music saturated my soul, “something changed within me.” Hence, my mini-breakdown while listening to “Defying Gravity” as I did my daily Mommy run to daycare. I had not even watched the live production, yet Wicked reduced me to a misty mess every time I listened to the CD. I was hooked for good.
Call me crazy but the anticipation of seeing the musical bordered on obsession. Like most 30-somethings I know, I used the avenue of Facebook to profess my adoration for Wicked. Changing my profile pic to one of Glinda whispering in Elphaba’s ear, posting lyrics as my status updates, and commenting as other people proclaimed their excitement for the upcoming performance became an outlet for my giddiness. It took comfort in knowing that I was not alone in my infatuation.
May 29, 2010, the day I had been waiting for since December finally arrived, and my mom, sister, and uncle headed to the Music Hall at Fair Park for the matinee performance on a hot Saturday afternoon. Landry begged to go with me, but I had to leave her behind. It hurt me to do so because I knew she would love it, but this was Mama’s moment. As the screen rose to reveal the winged monkeys that once provoked childhood nightmares, and the score reverberated through the auditorium, I became entranced, transported to the wonderful land of Oz, where I was no longer Amianne Bailey, mother, wife, sister, friend. I became Elphaba as she confronted the prejudice of Ozians, judged for the greenness of her skin rather than the beauty in her soul. I felt her frustration, her injustice, her rage, her desire to transcend her physical body to reveal her true goodness. I felt her jealousy towards Glinda and marveled at the transforming power of female friendship as Glinda and Elphaba became best friends. I understood how two utterly different people could be soul mates. I yearned for Fiyero to reciprocate her love, and I wept with joy at the unexpectedly perfect ending. But the moment that Elphaba took flight during “Defying Gravity” transcends words. All I know is that those intense emotions that I felt in the mundane moments in my car over the past months became solidified as she belted out that anthem of independence. I too became free in that magical moment. My soul defied gravity. When the performance ended and the lights came on, my sister turned to me and said, “That was life-changing.” I couldn’t be happier.
It took me a few days to come back down to earth, and when I did, I crash-landed. A common occurrence when good things come to an end, sadness swept over me because it was over. Six months of excitement and anticipation melted away like winter snow. But suddenly, an idea took root in my Wickedly obsessed mind.
It just so happened that there was a cause for celebration in our house. Landry earned straight A’s in all of her subjects, as well as in conduct, and received perfect attendance for her entire first grade year. The girl deserved a special treat, and I knew the perfect reward for my musical-loving child: tickets to Wicked. Landry knew the music by heart and understood the story of Elphaba because when I came home on that Saturday night she wanted to know every detail. Of course, I gushed, and she soaked up every word. As I talked through the entire story with her and did not dodge the difficult parts, I realized that Wicked teaches so many lessons that I want my daughters to internalize. One question led to another as we discussed Elphaba’s true nature. “But Mama, why can’t they see that she’s really good? She just has green skin. Big deal! I think she’s beautiful. I wish I had green skin.” I pray my precious girls always see past the “green” in people; I want them to see the good.
I prepped Landry for the intensity of the performance. We watched scenes on You Tube; I tried to explain moments that I thought she might find scary. We watched the original Wizard of Oz twice to build Landry’s schema (the price she pays for being a former English teacher’s daughter). As we watched Dorothy and Toto find their way back to Kansas, I shuttered at the utterly wicked portrayal of the witch. That was not my Elphaba.And that is how I got to experience it again—eleven days and $170 later—with Landry by my side, my dream come true. Before the performance, I fantasized that during “Defying Gravity,” Landry and I would look at each other and be bonded by that magical moment of mutual understanding; she would feel the same sense of empowerment that I felt; she would get it, and it would be one of those mother/daughter memories forever etched in her soul. But she’s only seven. She sat enthralled through the entire performance, squeezed my hand during her favorite songs, and laughed at all of the right places. When we emerged from the auditorium, I said, “Landry, what did you think?” She looked at me, yawned, and said “It was good, Mama. I’m tired.” And that was it.
Even though Wicked was not the life-changing experience that I dreamed it would be for Landry, it stands as a special moment that I think she will store in her treasure box of memories. And some day when my Peyton can sit still for longer than three minutes, we will experience Wicked together. I want to share this with her, too.
Some might think it silly to say that I “know” Elphaba. But I knew her in those moments in my car when we “defied gravity” together. I knew her on that Saturday afternoon and Wednesday night as I watched her transcend the wickedness that was thrust upon her. All I know is that she changed me, and after I saw Wicked (twice) I was not the same. Even though this feeling will fade over time, I will always carry a piece of Elphaba in my heart. I desire to possess her passion, her fierceness, her goodness, and to stay true to myself no matter the circumstances that life thrusts upon me. That’s why I can say to Elphaba “because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”