Although best remembered for the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum's series of early 20th century novels about the fairyland Oz have inspired a number of theatrical and cinematic adaptations, beginning with a Broadway musical version of The Wizard of Oz for which Baum himself provided the libretto and lyrics that opened in 1903, only three years after the first publication of the initial book, and including the 1975 all-black Broadway musical The Wiz. In an era rife with sequels and "prequels" to successful properties that has reached back retroactively to include authorized and unauthorized re-imaginings of works such as Gone with the Wind, Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West purported to depict the back story of the villainess of The Wizard of Oz and her counterpart, Glinda the Good. Of course, Maguire's retelling was a revisionist interpretation in which the Wicked Witch turned out to be a misunderstood character with lots of justifications for turning "bad" (one of them being prejudiced reactions to her green skin color), while Glinda was made into more of a goody-goody than actually good, not to mention being something of a dumb-blonde cheerleader type. Theatrical composer Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin) saw the obvious stage possibilities, and his musical version, Wicked, opened on Broadway on October 30, 2003. In the adaptation, Glinda's role has been beefed up, the better to employ the talents of Tony-winning Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, though the story still primarily concerns the young Wicked Witch (Idina Menzel), with Broadway veteran Joel Grey as the Wizard, and the story line has been softened, the better to attract a young audience conditioned by the Disney hits Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. On disc, the score will have a familiar sound to anyone who knows previous Schwartz efforts and their combination of traditional show music with '70s-style soft rock music and choral music. Soprano Chenoweth and alto Menzel are given very different kinds of songs to sing; Chenoweth gets the Broadway belting material, Menzel the more adult contemporary-type ballads. This is appropriate to the their characters. Glinda is superficial and showy, Elphaba (the Witch) so earnest that she is eventually embittered. The score is tuneful and the lyrics often witty. This is not great music, but it is craftsmanlike and certainly efficient for this somewhat questionable project.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann