"Green is so the new gay," declares first-time audience member Bill Sommer, 24, during the intermission of Broadway's emerald-hued juggernaut, Wicked. Indeed, from the looks of the crowd at this typical matinee, the Gershwin Theatre might as well be hosting a double feature of Brokeback Mountain and Showgirls.
Having already set a record for the highest-grossing single week ever by a Broadway show, Wicked went on to break the Los Angeles theater record in its ongoing run at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre. In addition to a record-breaking national tour and productions in Chicago and London, the phenomenon recently hit Tokyo and has confirmed openings in Germany and Australia. Sure, we can't take full credit for its success, but there's no denying the show's unbreakable bond with the gay audience.
This obsession is perhaps most evident at Musical Mondays, a long-running theme night at Manhattan's Splash bar, where "show queens" sing along to musical theater videos. Resident VJ John Bantay ranks Wicked star Idina Menzel's "Defying Gravity" performance from the 2004 Tony Awards — during which club patrons stand atop their stools — his second most popular clip after Jennifer Holliday belting Dreamgirls' "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" on the '82 telecast. Wicked fever has even spread to subplots on Brothers & Sisters and Ugly Betty, TV's latest barometers of all things gay-friendly.
It must be noted that the musical, which bowed on Broadway in 2003, is based on out novelist Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a revisionist twist on L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The homosexual appeal of Joe Mantello and Stephen Schwartz, the show's director and composer-lyricist, respectively, is also relevant. But a queer creative team is hardly news. So aside from the obvious Judy Garland association and a certain campy charm, what about Wicked has us way over the rainbow?
According to Curtis Woodworth, 44, who has seen the show eight times, it's all about that misunderstood verdant witch, Elphaba. "She represents anyone who was taunted, teased, and made to feel like an outcast," says the Los Angeles-based nurse. "We relate to her struggle because in it we see our own fight for equality."
"Every time Elphaba is catapulted into the skies of Oz during 'Defying Gravity,'" raves Randy Rainbow, 26, blogmaster of the Broadway-bent Bloggity Blahg-Blahg, "she's soaring for all homos who ever wished they could tower over gym class bullies or rise above a dinner table full of family who didn't understand them to proclaim, 'Everyone deserves the chance to fly!' It's a therapeutic moment."
The Advocate, November 2007.