Wicked opens with a celebration of the death of the Wicked Witch of the West. The citizens of Oz are elated, and dance joyously through the streets. They welcome Glinda the Good Witch of the North, who descends amongst them in a magic bubble to announce the official time of the Wicked Witch of the West’s death. As Ozians rail about the wickedness of the deceased witch, Glinda calls upon them to empathize with the young green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who was not always known as the Wicked Witch of the West (“No One Mourns the Wicked”). The ensuing story is an extended flashback, as Glinda recounts the tale of Elphaba’s transformation. One Ozian asks a question, which Glinda reframes and carries with her throughout the story: “Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”
In the flashback, we begin by seeing Elphaba’s mother, Melena, who was dissatisfied in her marriage to the governor of Munchkinland. Unhappy with her husband, Melena decides to engage in an affair with a mysterious man who offers her a drink of green elixir. Nine months later, Melena gave birth to a green-skinned baby: Elphaba. At this point in the story, Glinda breaks off and tells the citizens that she must leave, but they press her on, explaining that there are rumors that Glinda herself was once friends with Elphaba. In an effort to explain herself, Glinda begins the story again in earnest.
Glinda met Elphaba when they both arrived as students at Shiz University (“Dear Old Shiz”). It’s the first day of school, and as the students move in, Elphaba and her sister Nessarose are the center of attention – for all the wrong reasons. The students are immediately repulsed by Elphaba’s appearance. Her father, Frex, makes it clear to Elphaba that he is only sending her to school for one reason: to take care of her beautiful, but wheelchair-bound, younger sister. Before leaving his daughters, Frex gifts Nessarose a pair of beautiful silver shoes, and reminds his