Halfway through this past winter break, my family and I found ourselves on a mad dash across Times Square to catch one of New York City's most famous attractions: the musical Wicked.

Loosely inspired by Concordia author Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical chronicles the events in Oz before and during Dorthy's arrival. It specifically centers on the unlikely friendship between Elphaba, the eventual Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda, the eventual Glinda the Good. Wicked explores their complex relationship through their contrasting personalities, morals, and a shared love interest, while diving into more complex themes such as societal corruption, personal privilege, and the blurry line between good and wicked.

One of the musical's strongest components is how it tackles this complex subject matter. Wicked explores its themes not through explicit moral preaching but rather by immersing audiences in its high-fantasy world. Part of this thematic potency comes from the musical's very nature: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a staple of American children's literature, with its clear-cut definitions of good and evil and a simple narrative progression. Through retelling this classic tale, Wicked also re-examines traditional portrayals of morality. ‘What defines goodness,’ asks Wicked? Is it our choices? Societal judgments and critiques? By forcing Elphaba and Glinda to reconcile with these pressures, Wicked complicates the notion of propriety.

What undoubtedly cements Wicked as one of Broadway's most enduring legacies is its score. Composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz weaves musical leitmotifs throughout each act. Elphaba's theme, for instance, repeats throughout several pieces to convey mood and tone. The theme is also a re-arrangement of "Over the Rainbow," and pays homage to the original 1939 film adaptation of Wonderful Wizard. Schwartz's musical genius is further underpinned by Wicked's songs themselves, with astonishing pieces like "For Good" and "I'm Not That Girl" that are as difficult as they are memorable. Wicked's crown jewel, "Defying Gravity," is not even so much a song as it is a miracle: watching Elphaba ascend skywards is one of the great spectacles of modern art.

Wicked's faults, however, are not insignificant. The production hinges noticeably more on its music than its acting. And while Gershwin's theater accentuates many of Wicked's brilliant vocals, it also highlights the musical's at-times painful lack of a dance component. Additionally, despite incorporating a wide variety of characters from both The Wonderful Wizard and Maguire's novel, Wicked's uber-focus on its co-protagonists can sometimes marginalize these additional stories. In a piece that sometimes feels tailor-made for only its two stars, even major supporting characters, like the Wizard and Elphaba's sister Nessarose, can occasionally feel awkward.

When Wicked first opened in 2003, these two areas were considered prominent weaknesses. While the musical's leading co-stars were almost universally praised, critics were just as united in their panning of the show's other elements, including its themes and score. This narrative of mediocrity culminated at the 2004 Tony Awards, where Wicked was upset in no less than three award categories (Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and even Best Musical), losing to the now cult-classic Avenue Q.

But over the ensuing two decades, Wicked has proven its critics wrong. Its focus on female friendship, emphasis on humanist themes like resistance and empathy, and its array of now-adored songs have attracted swaths of audiences. This fame has propelled Wicked to levels of unprecedented financial success. By 2016, the musical became one of just three Broadway shows to surpass $1 billion in revenue. Just a year later, it passed The Phantom of the Opera to become Broadway's second-highest-grossing show of all time. Even more prominent is Wicked's cultural impact. As one of the first mainstream musicals to place female empowerment and solidarity centerstage, it reshaped an industry that has historically suffered from intense gender bias. Wicked's success as a retelling of a popular antagonist narrative has also set off a revolution in storytelling; Elphaba has reshaped the mainstream media villain into a more sympathetic, multi-faceted character.

Wicked celebrated its 20th anniversary this past fall. When its original cast returned to celebrate, they were met with an emphatic cheer that roared far beyond Gershwin Theater's storied halls. Such passion is a testament to the culture this musical has built for itself, and how it has changed the culture of theater as a whole. Despite its initial struggles, Wicked has defied gravity.