Wicked and Fairy Tales Have a Darker Story to Tell

“Wicked” performers Justin Brill and Stefanie Brown.

For young girls who love the “popular” musical that transports them to the Land of Oz, Wicked is a sweet and entertaining show. Although told mostly from the point of view of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, it offers a glimpse of the familiar characters from the beloved 1939 MGM movie. It is lavish with production numbers featuring songs by Stephen Schwartz. But for theater goers who listen closely to the lyrics and dialog of Wicked, you may be surprised that there are multiple layers to the story based on the best-selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire.

It was a treat for me to talk with Justin Brill about Wicked’s deeper meaning. Justin plays Boq in the musical’s national tour, now playing the Pantages Theatre (from Nov. 30 to Jan. 29). As Boq, he’s the Munchkin who pines away for the popular blonde Glinda, the Good Witch. But his sympathetic character is more complex than that, and Justin told me he really hopes people catch the subtext of the show.

“One of the things I keep reading into Wicked, especially now in today’s political climate with the ‘Occupy Movement,’ is that people are just wishing to be heard,” Justin explained. “I think the message is to look beyond what people tell us to believe, and what people tell us to think. Instead we should look inside our hearts and decide for ourselves what we truly believe. Then act on it. Only when we look beyond Elphaba’s appearance do we find out that she’s different from the person we believe she is. There’s also a message in the show about the Wizard (Mark Jacoby) using his authority to tell everyone what to believe about the animals in Oz. So it’s hard to know what to believe for ourselves.”

The part of the story where the authority figures like Madame Morrible (Liz McCartney) take advantage of people and say one thing while something else is going on — that’s a layer of Wicked that some people think about. Justin said, “That’s a political element showing a darker side of authority figures and what they are willing to do for power. I think that makes our story very powerful and very relevant today.”

The relationship between Glinda (Katie Rose Clarke) and Elphaba (Mamie Parris) also works on multiple levels. What they think about each other completely changes by the end of the show. Elphaba’s wheelchair-bound sister Nessarose (Stefanie Brown) also has an interesting journey. Boq makes her feel beautiful, but only because he’s trying to impress Glinda, and it all backfires before anyone realizes what has happened.

Still Justin said the show has a hopeful message of looking beyond what’s on the outside. That’s something we should reflect on around the holidays.

Another recent “Over the Rainbow” treat for me was getting a glimpse of the real “Ruby Slippers” from the classic The Wizard of Oz. They were on display at Solange Azagury-Partridge, the renowned London-based jeweler, which celebrated its first anniversary in Beverly Hills with a cocktail reception benefiting the L.A. Opera. The Ruby Slippers were there prior to the Dec. 16 Profiles in History auction, which has the heel-clicking size-5 footwear valued in excess of $3 million — in case you’re shopping for a Christmas gift for the person who has everything.

Grimm on NBC Gives Fairy Tales a New Twist.

Grimm is the NBC series that has turned the classic Grimm’s Fairy Tales into material for a twisted new crime drama. It follows a homicide detective (David Giuntoli), who discovers he is a descendent of an elite line of “Grimms,” charged with keeping the balance between humanity and the mythological creatures of the world.

The cop has a reluctant helper, Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), sort of a reformed Big Bad Wolf, who helps navigate through the ancient evil-doers of mythology. Silas (of Prison Break fame) called his Grimm role “awesome,” and said the show has come along at a great time when it seems the horror genre is very desirable. Silas explained, “Everyone likes to be scared. It’s true. Everyone likes a thrill ride. I do think we are kind of going through sort of a dark time in our country, with the economy.” And he thinks it’s not unusual to gravitate to horror when there’s real scary human stuff going on in the world.

Silas added it’s humorous to know that his Big Bad Wolf character rehabilitates his primal nature by going to church, doing Pilates, and keeping to a vegetarian diet. That doesn’t sound too grim for the scary fairy tale.