Winnie Holzman received a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk Award for writing the book for Wicked. She’s also known for having created the memorable television drama “My So-Called Life” and she got her start writing for the acclaimed drama “thirtysomething.” Here she shares some of the background to writing Wicked.
What attracted you to Wicked?
Winnie Holzman: It’s the whole idea that things are not as they seem. What you think you know you don’t really know. It is the premise of the novel that you know certain things, but you don’t know the deeper story. The whole idea of this is there’s more to this than you know, and it’s more complicated than you think, which could be the subtitle for the musical. People are never what they seem on the surface. And it literally was a vision – [Stephen Schwartz] just saw that Wicked the novel was a Broadway musical. So then he brought me into his vision. He was in Connecticut and I was in L.A. so we began a whole relationship on the phone with long conversations of what Wicked should be.
Years before Stephen asked me to do it, I had bought the book and immediately called my agent and asked for them to look into the rights. I had only read the back of the book and I was so intrigued by what the book was about – taking this extreme figure of iconic wickedness and making her the heroine. I just love that she behaves in a human wicked way, and not in a wicked witch way.
How do you portray the friendship of Glinda and Elphaba in the musical?
WH: Their relationship was important in the book, but in our version, it’s the central relationship. It’s the story of these two girls and their friendship. We feel a great responsibility to the characters to do them justice and to the people who love the characters. It’s kind of a burden, but it’s also exciting because they are such rich characters.
What do you think Stephen Schwartz’s songs add to the story?
WH: His songs are extremely emotional and tuneful and passionate. It’s a passionate, exuberant, emotional score. There are songs that will make you cry. There are songs that are really, really fun.
You had originally included Dorothy in the opening sequence and the Act Two witch hunt.
WH: She had lines and everything!
Who made the choice to cut her role so drastically?
WH: There was no decision not to mention Dorothy by name. But the more we shunted her aside, the funnier she got. Now, you only hear her crying offstage.
There is a lot of political content in Gregory Maguire’s novel. Did you include it in the musical?
WH: Politics is very much embedded in the story. The whole story is about a political leader who is unmasked as a fraud. Just like in our world, there is prejudice, there is darkness, there are the forces of evil. I don’t want to dictate what people should take away from it, but there is the whole idea of scapegoating people because they are different or because their message is unpopular, because they are saying what people don’t want to hear. The idea of making that person into an evil figure is so relevant to our lives.
Do you think people of all ages are capable of enjoying the show?
WH: It’s one of those shows that – wherever you’re at – you can get a lot out of it.
Wicked plays the Aronoff Center September 13 – October 15, 2017 as a special engagement to the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati season presented by TriHealth.