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Wicked Author Gregory Maguire on the Wicked Witch and Hitler

When the wickedly misunderstood Elphaba mounts her broomstick at the Orpheum theater, the audience is rooting for Wicked’s unlikely green heroine, taking flight in a topsy-turvy world order.  In a post 9/11 world, in which French fries were bad and freedom fries were good, a reconsideration of the good guy-bad-guy dynamic proved just the ticket. And tickets for “ Wicked, The Musical” continue to sell and sell.

But how will Wicked fly in the Obama years? I spoke to novelist Gregory Maguire (who wrote the book on which the play is based) about the musical’s success, its prospects in the post Bush-bashing era and the ever-green relevance of political evil.

EM: You wrote Wicked 6 years before 9/11 – how could you have foresaw all that went down?

GM: My intention was to write a piece of fiction that would be accessible to a lot  of readers because they knew the main characters already. It would be a piece of fiction that would explore, using fictional techniques, the nature and the range of evil  -- and of how we come to decide who is bad and who is good.

My original thoughts were to write a novel about Hitler, -- a parable of contradictory theories about how he could have become such a psychopath.

EM: So how did it become about the Wizard of Oz instead?

GM: I decided very quickly on that I did not have the intellectual cohones, as it were, to master that particular project.  And I began to sort of think, well, what would be more comfortable for me? And who else really scared me in childhood -- and scares me today? And really, the Wicked Witch of the West was who I came up with.

EM: So how did politics come into play?

GM: Some of my portrayal of the Wizard and some of my understanding about the depths of his villainy was definitely predicated around Nixon and his lying and his cheating and his spying and his plumbers and his attempt to subvert the constitution --  which was happening just as I was becoming politically conscience. So Nixon and Watergate – that was the first time I felt politically cynical.

EM: Some of the Wizard’s lines – like “The best way to bring people together is to give them a really good enemy” – sound straight out of the Bush/Cheney playbook.

GM: Everything the Wizard says is wonderful and creepy and it could also be said about Nixon and to some extent Reagan. Bush had his own menace but when he got to the White House there were still boots in the mud room left over from former villains that he could try on and fit in quite nicely.


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Stay tuned for part 2 in which Gregory Maguire ponders the future of the Wicked franchise and marvels that the production ever got off the ground in the first place.