If you have been a teenager, you probably remember what it is like to feel different, isolated, alone or misunderstood for at least one moment in your life. Whether you were in the in crowd or not, chances are there was at least one point in your teenage years when you wondered just where, if anywhere, you fitted in.
I certainly remember the pressures of wanting to fit in, to be 'popular", and teenagers today are no less susceptible to all that. In fact, thanks to social media, photos that are airbrushed to unattainable perfection and the constant deluge of peer pressure, exam stress while living in a world that still insists different is undesirable at best and even dangerous at times, today's teenagers face an uphill battle daily when it comes to their mental wellbeing.
Which is why a musical like Wicked will resonate with them so deeply. The basic story is, after all, about an alienated teen.
Elphaba, who is destined to become the Wicked Witch of the West, is uncomfortable in her own skin. She looks different and is treated differently. She is trying to make it in a world that wants her to fit in, not stand out. The adults around her don't want the social inequities of their society challenged, but ignored, and she is effectively punished for speaking out. So pretty much the 21st century for any teenager today then.
I am not saying taking your teenager to see Wicked will magically remove all the pressures they are facing in today's world, it's a musical not a time machine after all. But, I do think it shines a much-needed light on some issues our teens are facing, and that can lead to positive conversations around them. No teenager wants their parent lecturing them on how being popular isn't all that - no self-respecting teenager ever listens to their parents right? However, a casual chat in the car driving home from seeing the show about the song Popular can certainly raise the subject in a way that doesn't feel like a lecture or an attack.
"I'll teach you the proper poise
When you talk to boys
Little ways to flirt and flounce."
Glinda's words in the song are just so perfectly artificial it is easy to see why the concept of being popular is so artificial. Watching Glinda teach Elphaba to toss her hair, and the belief a makeover is the answer to all of life's problems, are likely to resonate with today's teens who are constantly exposed to that type of messaging. While you might have been saying it for years, chances are you have never managed to get the message across that the concept of being popular is stupid as efficiently as Glinda and Elphaba do on stage.
That's not the only lesson you can pull out from this musical either. The musical also deftly navigates the concept of looking different, from Elphaba's green skin to her sister being in a wheelchair, and the importance of standing up for your friends. Seeing Glinda choose to dance with Elphaba instead of mocking her is a powerful moment in the show.
Just as important as Glinda's choice to stand by her friend, is Elphaba's consistency in choosing to stand up for what is right. When she sees her teacher get arrested she speaks out about the social injustice. She argues against segregation and refuses to be silenced - a true teen hero indeed.
Society's imperfections are put under a spotlight in the show, and as they navigate a world where we are still fighting for equality and to be heard, the script will resonate. As the Wizard says to Elphaba;
"Where I'm from, we believe all sorts of
things that aren't true. We call it - 'history.' "
Most teens will be able to come up with an example of this in today's world.
To the delight of teenagers everywhere, adults and authority figures don't come out of this story overly well, the heroes are the teenagers not the adults. From the wizard himself, through to the school's headmistress and Elphaba's father, there are plenty of flawed adults exposed in the show that your teen will probably enjoy analysing afterwards.
Still unconvinced that this is a show your teenager should see?
Surely Defying Gravity is a song we are all singing in our hearts when it comes to what we want for our teenagers?
"I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game ...
I'm through accepting limits
'Cuz someone says they're so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I'll never know ...
... Ev'ryone deserves the chance to fly."