Wicked is one of the most popular musicals of recent years, and there are plenty of reasons for it. The music’s great, the setting is compelling to the say the least, the background story of the The Wizard of Oz is universally familiar, and of course the stars who have most famously played the lead roles—Idina Menzel as Elpheba, Kristen Chenoweth as Glinda—delivered on a remarkable level.
But what may be most attractive about Wicked is not the story it tells so much as the story it doesn’t. The Wizard of Oz, for all its fanfare and remarkable imagery is not a complex story. There’s a good girl, and her good friends. There’s an evil witch. The only truly layered piece of the story we get to access is the eponymous wizard himself, who’s more smoke and mirrors than substance.
The misleading nature of the wizard paves the way to the overall plot and structure of Wicked which turns most everything about the original Oz story on its head, showing the villainess as heroine, and painting most everyone else in different shades of naïve, selfish, mean-spirited, or dare I say wicked. If we’re to accept Wicked as the true prequel to Wizard of Oz, then we are to accept that very little in the world is quite what it seems; that those who appear evil have more good to them than you would guess and that a little back story can go a long way toward providing context.
When an a cappella group takes on a song, it has a great many creative decisions to make. More often than not, groups go for a pretty literal interpretation of the music before them, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Given the conscious choice, I’d wager most a cappella listeners would say that’s what they want to hear anyway.
But what of telling the other side of the story? Switching the gender of the soloist? Playing with tempo to make that hip hop jam a ballad, or picking up the pace on the country crooning? What about altering the dynamics to get big when the audience least expects and create a quiet moment when the original recording would reach a fortissimo?
Altering the nature of a song won’t work in every case, but if you can pick your spots you’ll end up with a unique interpretation of music that helps your group stand apart, and that will help make the songs you choose truly your own.