“What is This Feeling” Wicked’s Subtle Queer Reading

When a few of the people from Destination Theatre and I decided to watch the blockbuster musical Wicked, I was in for surprise. While I was awed by the spectacle and sheer talent on the stage, as a queer person I felt particularly drawn into the musical and how it used conventions I had seen in previous musicals to hint at a romantic relationship between Galinda and Elphaba.

Galinda and Elphaba

For those who have never seen the musical, Wicked is a retelling of the Wizard of Oz, a famous film in the queer canon, told through the perspective of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Galinda, the Good Witch, becomes her roommate at Shiz, a magical school, and although they start off rocky, their relationship slowly grows to friendship and is hinted to possibly be more.

One of the key moments that critic Stacy Wolf identifies as playing with classic musical love story conventions occurs early in the musical with the song “What Is This Feeling”, which mimics songs like “If I Loved You” (9). Both songs play with dramatic irony. In “If I Loved You” from Carousel, Billy and Julie sing about what their life would be if they loved each other while we, the audience, know the truth: that they are already in love. “What Is This Feeling” works similarly with both Elphaba and Galinda asking “What is this feeling / So sudden and new / I felt the moment I laid eyes on you … What is this feeling / Fervid as a flame / Does it have a name” before pausing and saying: “Loathing.” Many of the symptoms of this “loathing” Elphaba and Galinda describe are similar to how one would describe the feelings of falling in love. Additionally, the song’s placement at the beginning of the show calls back to the classical musical canon like Carousel and Oklahoma! which each have songs at the beginning of their narrative that have characters denying their feelings for each other.

This all implies that the ending will involve Elphaba and Galinda acknowledging their feelings for each other. But instead, the musical chooses to keep the subtext just that with the introduction of Fieryrio, the male love interest for both characters. As the curtain fell on Elphaba and Fieryrio leaving Oz as Galinda gazes mournfully off in the distance, I felt immense sorrow over the fact that although musicals are viewed as queer, often queer viewers can’t fully see our stories on stage in them. In “Defying Gravity,” Elphaba throws back the words that her oppressor, the Wizard, had previously said: “Everyone deserves the chance to fly.” I think we are overdue for a set of wings.

Works Cited:

Wolf, Stacy. “‘Defying Gravity’: Queer Conventions in the Musical ‘Wicked.’” Theatre Journal, vol. 60, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–21.

Carling DeKay is a fourth year English language and literature student.  She lives and writes in a haunted farmhouse with three cats.