Broadway musicals are remembered for their Power Anthems: “Tomorrow,” from Annie; “What I Did for Love,” from A Chorus Line; “I Dreamed a Dream,” from Les Miz (the ultimate show-biz Power Anthem, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” from Annie Get Your Gun.) “Defying Gravity” is such the Show-Stopping moment from Wicked, it is seen as the encapsulation of the show itself, and has spawned many renditions, including a memorable number from Glee as well as a disco-club version that (I know) is greeted with serious enthusiasm by Gay Guys, who are apt to lip-synch the lyrics while dancing with abandon to its music.
It all started when the musical Wicked open in October, 2003, derived from Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. The fascinating premise to Maguire’s book is to tell the story of the Witches of Oz: but from the point-of-view of the Wicked Witch, and with the idea that she was actually the Good Guy of the story, a victim of really, really bad press. Maguire’s version turns, say, the beloved 1939 MGM Classic The Wizard of Oz on its head, by making the Witch of the West a Good Guy, and by turning the Wizard of Oz into a corrupt dictator and Glinda the Good into a morally conflicted individual. This does not diminish the Archetypal Power of the Film Original- or the Book Original- it simply adds (in the way that Mythological Story-Telling builds upon itself) a new, different, somewhat inverted, but therefore yielding: a New Perspective, upon the originals.
Wicked makes plain why Elphaba resonates so, as the show initially presents the Witch as the ultimate Geek-Girl: the Green-Skinned Outcast and Loner- but as the one who learns through her social isolation, the strength and fortitude necessary for the hard and lonely road before her. A preternaturally skilled individual in the Magickal Arts (how can this not resonate with any number of modern Neo-Pagans?), Elphaba is exploited by the Wizard of Oz, who (in a moment of severe political disillusion), she learns is not the kindly Governmental Head whom she had assumed, but is actually a despotic dictator- one who wishes to exploit Elphaba’s Magickal Powers for political gain.
Elphaba (in the famous Broadway number) resolves to dedicate her newly-appreciated Magickal Powers for Good (metaphor for the Spiritual Challenge presented by the Universe to how many Pagans?), and- a Maverick against the System- becomes a Lone Agent for Justice, an Outlaw against a Corrupt Government, undertaking vigilante raids (in an especially PETA-inspired kind of way) in favor of Talking Animals oppressed by a dictatorial political system. She becomes the Witch of the Awakened Social Conscience, of the inspired Political Commitment: the Witch as a social rebel and as an activist.
In her disillusionment of the System, Elphaba becomes sympathetic; in the courage of her inspiration towards social change, she becomes heroic.
Elphaba, of Wicked, is an example of the Rehabilitated Witch: meaning that she is metaphoric of the post-twentieth century effort to Reclaim the Witch as a symbol of Goodness and Empowerment. As a sign of Elphaba’s Power to Enchant the Pop-Culture Mind, please check out Wicked’s Wikipedia Entry, under “Wicked in popular culture” (are not we here at the Juggler all about Witchcraft-and/ or-Pagan-realted themes in Pop-Culture?), for a truly astounding array of Pop-Culture references, suggestive of a serious Pop-Culture phenomenon. I feel it is clear that Elphaba, that Good Witch, that Rehabilitated Version of the Wicked Witch of the West: is striking a major Pop-Culture chord.
Elphaba is the first notable Pop-Culture (Good) Witch of the 21st century, and an example of the Witch as a Symbol of Empowerment. Since there is no group of people better at identifying Anthems of Empowerment than Gay Guys (Barbra singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” anyone?), it is no accident that Gay Men have latched onto her signature-song almost as the performance of a Sacred Rite (especially in the Holy Temple-like space of a Gay Club). Which, since this Empowering Song of self-Assertion emanates from a Witch: causes me to wonder why the Pagan Communities of America have not yet snagged upon it as a Pagan Anthem of Empowerment. The moment when Elphaba claims her Power as her own, is so easily metaphoric of the Self-Empowerment of the Pagan Community:
“No Time for Second-Guessing; too Late to go back to Sleeep! It’s Time for Pagans to Trust their Instincts, Close their Eyes, and LEAP! It’s TIME for Pagans to TRY DEFYING GRAVITY! Kiss Pagans Good-bye, We’re DEFYING GRAVITY! And there’s no one in all of Oz- no Wizard that there is or was- Who’s Ever Going to BRING US DOOOOWWWN!!”