We have romantic comedies and we have buddy comedies. But has anyone, as of yet, coined the term “frenemy comedy?” We have the well-worn cliché of the odd couple—two people who have nothing in common, yet become friends—but the particular thrill that comes from despising someone so much that they become the most important person in your life and push you to achieve feats never before thought possible still lacks a dedicated sub-genre category.
It’s that dynamic, between frenemies Elphaba (Sarah Anne Fernandez) and Galinda (Erin Mackey), that propels the best numbers in the now-classic musical Wicked, which is based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire—itself a subversive retelling of The Wizard of Oz.
The initial plot pits “Good Witch of the East” Galinda and the “Wicked Witch of the West” Elphaba (in all her green glory) at odds, as adolescents who get stuck rooming together at boarding school. Their duet “What Is This Feeling?”—a major highlight of Wicked’s first act—says it all: “Let’s just say, I loathe it all!/Every little trait, however small/Makes my very flesh begin to crawl/With simple, utter loathing/There’s a strange exhilaration/In such total detestation/It’s so pure, so strong!”
The last bit is a good distillation of this production of Wicked: so pure, so strong. The original Broadway run of Wicked starred Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, arguably the two most household name-y Broadway stars of their generation. Their prissy-good-girl-versus-misfit dynamic is perfectly reproduced by Mackey and Fernandez. (The role of Elphaba is currently being played by Mariand Torres, but on the night of the press show, her understudy Fernandez performed.) Fernandez’s commanding presence during “Defying Gravity,” the jaw-dropping finale of the first act, was the show’s unmitigated highlight, especially when paired with special effects that really pulled off the, um, “defying gravity” feel of it all.
The evening I saw Wicked, I sat in front of a couple that I suspect were high on edibles. They laughed hysterically at every quip and audibly gasped at each twist. In the moment, it was irritating. But, in hindsight, those two stoners got it right: Wicked is a testament to the pure, slightly unhinged joy that only certain kinds of Broadway musicals can elicit—and a rousing celebration of the frenemy. May our differences inspire us to new heights!