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From book to Broadway: Elphaba's gender ambiguity and her journey into heteronormativity in Wicked

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In her article, '"Defying Gravity": Queer conventions in the musical Wicked', Stacy Wolf suggests that, although conforming to many of the conventional modes of the musical genre, the musical Wicked queers the stage by refocusing on the queer relationship between Glinda and Elphaba. Although such queering occurs to some extent, the production aims to marginalize and then reformulate the relationship as a friendship rather than a queer romance. By forcing Elphaba from the role of tom-boy to sexy witch and by reorganizing the Glinda/Elphaba/Fiyero love triangle, the musical mutes the more aggressively contentious elements of the novel in order to create a performance with an appealing heroine and a storyline that features female friendship as well as the standard romantic plotline. I further assert that when the narrative of the Wicked Witch of the West moves to the larger-than-life venue of Broadway, the complexities of the novel necessarily fade as the creators reformat the material in order to appeal to a broader audience. This Elphaba can be neither the Witch in Maguire's novel nor a replication of the Witch from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. As the heroine of the narrative, one who must somehow garner the sympathy of the audience, Elphaba can be neither a hideous manifestation of evil or the complex ungendered being of the novel. Consequently, although the heroines, Glinda and Elphaba, represent an innovation on Broadway, the intervention that the musical provides is not queer in nature. Instead, what the musical offers is a focus on female friendship, a trope little seen on the musical stage, while still appealing to the base audience by refocusing the sexual tension on Fiyero.

Keywords: Wicked; adaptation; convention; gender; musical; sexuality

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/smt.5.3.245_1

Affiliations: Louisiana State University

Publication date: January 20, 2012

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  • Studies in Musical Theatre is a refereed journal which considers areas of live performance that use vocal and instrumental music in conjunction with theatrical performance as a principal part of their expressive language.
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