The bottom line
I asked my 10-year-old daughter what she thought of Wicked as we exited the show, playing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through Aug. 2.
“It was AMAZING!” she squealed.
“What else?” I prodded.
“Glinda was HILARIOUS!” she squealed.
That pretty much sums it up, parents, in a nutshell. Also: Good vs. evil. Mean girls vs. besties. Facts vs. rumors. And girls who are green — like, literally green ― are just as pretty, or even more so, than, like, girls who are not.
This Broadway show, which brings us the untold story of the witches of Oz and has broken box-office records in every city it’s played, is perfect for tween girls. It’s a romp for everyone, don’t get me wrong. But if you have a tween or tween or soon-to-be tween girl, the price of Wicked admission could be worth a dozen heart-to-heart learning talks your kid probably won’t let you have anyway.
Wicked, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, sets the clock back before a twister sent you-know-who tossing through the sky, before a yellow brick road, to the early years of Glinda and Elphaba. Glinda, played brilliantly by Carrie St. Louis (I couldn’t help thinking, Amy Poehler of Broadway), is a popular blonde sorceress-wanna-be who always gets her way and has made hair-flipping into an Olympic sport. Elphaba (we know her later as The Wicked Witch of the West; Alyssa Fox’s performance will take your breath away) is a lonely, wise girl born a fateful shade of emerald who is rejected by her family and ostracized by the other kids because of her skin.
The girls meet at Shiz University, where at first they clash ― allow me this — wickedly. Yet despite their differences, or because of what they discover they actually have in common, Glinda and Elphaba develop a unique friendship that propels them onto an unforgettable journey.
Wicked is the perfect story for older elementary-age kids, tweens and teens because it asks big questions about some of the most difficult issues and moral dilemmas kids face. What happens when someone is labeled? What is our responsibility to stand up for others? To seek the truth when gossip is what everyone else is most interested in? What does it mean to be a friend? What are the outcomes of judging others?
Rumors play a big role in the story of Elphaba, and parents can use the theme as a jumping-off point to talk about real situations tweens are dealing with or might soon deal with. “The truth isn't a thing of fact, or reason. It's simply what everyone agrees on,” says The Wizard. A related sub-theme — brewing anti-Animalism in the land of Oz, and the role of propaganda and manipulation as the discrimination against sentient animals is covered up by those in power ― also provides fodder for discussion about racism, citizen representation and inequality.
An in-depth study guide offers more ideas for exploring themes in Wicked, including a historical overview of women who, while fighting for what they believed was right, were branded dangerous or evil by society; a look at the history of the term scapegoat; and real-life exercises and conversation starters.
Wicked the musical (with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman) is certainly different from the 1939 movie you know and, if you are like me, love. Dorothy plays no role in the show, and the glittering shoes are on the sidelines. This dystopian steampunk setting is different, but more modern and oddly enchanting than the sugary Technicolor Oz you remember on screen. The special effects are satisfying but don’t overwhelm the true magic of the show ― the characters and the challenges they face.
Should you take your kid?
I think most adults and kids will be really into this show. In terms of age recommendation, the content seems mostly fine for some kids as young as 6 or 7 (it's less scary than the movie, but there's a subtle storyline about Elphaba's mother cheating on her husband, and — of course — a parent dies early on). There's also mild romance. Ultimately the length of the show makes it best for kids ages 8 and older, I think.
Did I mention how crazy funny Glinda is? And how endearing and smart and relatable and teachable-moment-worthy Elphaba is? And how relevant Wicked is to the social-media-obsessed culture our kids inhabit? It’s, like, totally worth it.
If you go ...
When: Wicked plays through Aug. 2. See all show times here.
Where: The Paramount Theatre, Seattle.
Tickets: $30 and up. Buy online from STG Presents.
Snacks and eats: There is one 15-minute intermission with some snacks available in the lobby before the performance and at intermission (though it is hard to fit in a bathroom break and snag a snack). Your best bet is to grab food before the show.