Nearly everyone is Out of Character, and the timeline is tied in knots— but those who never cared for the original books consider this in a improvement.
It's very clear that Maguire did the homework, but took Baum's Oz and made it a World of Jerkass with practically every character being an idiot, a vicious schemer, a callous jerk, an oversexed bore, or all the above.
The books should be considered an Alternate Universe to both the source books and the 'main' movie. Likewise with the musical is AU to those materials plus the Wicked book.
Designated Hero: Elphaba is considered important by pretty much everyone she meets and everyone who hears of her, yet accomplishes nothing of note the entire book. Promising student turned dropout; domestic terrorist who doesn't get her target; nun being a nurse; and recluse living in a castle in a remote village. When the Wizard stations an army detachment to watch her and brings a hostage to "protect himself from her", the main thing that comes to mind is "Why would he even know who she is?"
Hilarious in Hindsight: At one point in the book, Elphaba walks onto the water and it freezes beneath her feet so that she doesn't fall in and melt. That should remind you that Idina Menzel was the first Elphaba in the Broadway musical adaption, and that Queen Elsa can do the same thing.
Les Yay: Fairly prevalent in the book, particularly on Galinda's side: her relationship with Elphaba is arguably the most important one in her life. Gregory Maguire has confirmed that he wrote them as sharing a subconscious mutual attraction.
Note the part where Galinda catches her breath as she realises how beautiful Elphaba is. She also dwells on how nervous Elphie makes her feel, and remembers sharing a bed with her. It should be noted that the only thing Glinda could remember about the Emerald City trip was that they shared a bed.
Plus they have that incredibly emotional goodbye at the train station where they actually DO kiss - twice! - and where Elphaba's parting words to Glinda are "Hold out my sweet...Hold out if you can." And that part in the epilogue where Glinda literally feels Elphaba's death (despite not knowing exactly why she is suddenly so upset).
And let's not forget the understated sequence where Glinda literally swoons into Elphaba's arms and Glinda thinks that Elphaba being so close makes her want to purr (seriously). At which point Elphaba tells her to resist followed by "Not here," and "I love you too much." Is that even subtext anymore, or have we hit text?
The Les Yay carries over into Son of a Witch, when Glinda flips out when she sees Liir has Elphaba's cape and refers to her as 'My Elphie.'
Elphaba's granddaughter gets in on it too, when her semi-romantic interest Tip is revealed to be Ozma Tippetarius.
Narm: It's difficult not to roll your eyes at the name of Elphaba's mother when you realize that melena is the medical term for bloody feces.
Replacement Scrappy: Liir gets a lot of flak for not being as compelling a character as Elphaba.
Schizo Continuity: Maguire's novel is very clearly set in the continuity of Baum's books, not the MGM movie ... with the glaring exception of Elphaba herself. In Baum's original novel the Wicked Witch of the West is a one-eyed crone, but Elphaba is clearly modelled after the movie version, especially with regards to her green skin.
Stoic Woobie: Particularly in the book. Where due to water reacting to her skin like acid, she can't even allow herself to cry. This is especially notable during the Doctor Dillamond situation — all the other girls are beside themselves with grief, while Elphaba remains steely-eyed and in shock.
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: The Nome King is mentioned very briefly in the first book as legend. Many were hoping he we would actually appear in person somewhere down the line. He never does.
Elphaba obviously had a rotten childhood, but A Lion Among Men reveals that life hasn't exactly been a picnic for Dorothy either. Going from having your parents drowned in a freak storm at sea to being stuck in an orphanage to adopted by a farm couple who imply that she wasn't exactly what they wanted to having an aunt who suffers from sciatica and generally seems to be pretty bad-tempered would make anyone want to go over the rainbow after a while. In the last book, she is sentenced to death for the murder of Elphaba and Nessarose in a show trial in Munchkinland.
Nor, especially for what she goes through in the first book. The poor kid loses her whole family, her home, and not to mention her freedom all in a very short time span.
What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?: In the book Boq is fascinated that "Dorothy" means "gift of the gods" and the ruler (president) of her land at the time was named "Theodore", which means "God of gifts".
Actor Shipping: Thanks to the high amount of Les Yay in the script, supplemented by their professed adoration of each other in interviews, many fans have shipped original Elphie and Glinda actress Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. Ironically, these rumours probably are matched only by the rumours that the two hated each other. The latter are Jossed and largely never heard of anymore. Both have confirmed they are friends.
Adaptation Displacement: Part of why fans of the book are so nervous about a movie version of the musical being made is that it will further cement into peoples minds that this is the official Wicked story, and people will continue to forget about and ignore the books.
Alternate Character Interpretation: Once you take in the Word of God that Glinda was in love with Elphaba, it puts quite a few scenes in a new light. Likewise with the books, but more so with the musical where everything is not nearly as explicit (yet probably more so in a way) and is more covered up.
Award Snub: It lost the Best Musical Tony to Avenue Q, which doesn't seem to have had as much longevity.
Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: More like Big Lipped Alligator Object. The Clock of the Time Dragon, which played an important role in the book, is completely cut from The Musical with the exception of its unexplained presence above the stage. All it does is look scary while audiences try to figure out what the hell it's supposed to be, then freak them out by coming to life at seemingly random intervals.
Galinda tries to teach Elphaba that "it's not about aptitude, it's the way you're viewed". Ironically, she has a point; in politics especially, your aptitude isn't worth anything if you can't get things done, and unfortunately, getting things done often means needing to be — guess what? — popular. Family-unfriendly, absolutely, but also quite realistic.
Whole songs in this musical could be considered this: 'Popular' is about how appearances often matter more than intelligence or integrity. 'No Good Deed' exemplifies how some people will never find acceptance no matter how hard they try. 'Wonderful' describes how ambiguous history really is compared to the way people prefer to remember it. Overall, Wicked by itself is a series of these!
Foe Yay: "What Is This Feeling?", which has the added benefit of having lyrics that make it sound exactly like a Silly Love Song, except for the fact that it's about two people absolutely hating each other.
Heartwarming in Hindsight: "Popular" is about how Galinda plans to make Elphaba popular. Well Elphaba certainly became popular to fans of the play.
Thanks to Idina Menzel's later role as the voice of Queen Elsa in Frozen, quite a lot of things about Elphaba suddenly seem even more interesting.
In Wicked, Elphaba is a misunderstood older sibling, has magical powers, has a dramatic "I Am Becoming" Song ("Defying Gravity"), and stars alongside a blonde-haired actress whose first name is Kristin. In Frozen, Queen Elsa is a misunderstood older sibling, has magical powers, has a dramatic "I Am Becoming" Song ("Let it Go"), and starring alongside a blonde-haired actress whose first name is Kristen. Coincidence? Well, maybe, but that doesn't stop it from being both hilarious and awesome.
It's not just Idina Menzel, but also applies to Caissie Levy, the first actress to play Elsa in the Broadway musical adaptation. Incidentally, Patti Murin, who plays Anna, was Glinda in the first national tour of Wicked.
When Glinda confronts Elphaba near the end and says "I mean they're just shoes... let it go!". Try to hear that now without mentally playing "Let It Go" in your head. In fact, Savannah Stevenson at one point sang a few seconds of "Let It Go" during that scene. It certainly helps bring some levity to an otherwise quite sad scene.
One part of "No Good Deed" goes, Is that all good deeds are/When looked at with an ice-cold eye.
Although definitely the more popular show, it lost the Best Musical Tony to Avenue Q... At least over a decade later, Idina Menzel ended up working with the composers of Avenue Q on Frozen, which has a hugely popular song that is what "Defying Gravity" has been for Wicked (and won Best Original Song at the Oscars to boot).
In "What Is This Feeling?", Elphaba pins Galinda's personality down to one word: "Blonde". What is Elsa? A blonde.
The German-language productions deliver some gems.
Fiyero swings into the scene on a vine in a cornfield. Two years prior to assuming the role for Wicked Oberhausen, Anton Zetterholm originated the titular role in Tarzan the musical in Hamburg. His predecessor in Wicked Stuttgart (2008), Mark Seibert, also auditioned for the role of Tarzan and lost.
Willemijn Verkaik (incidentally, the Dutch and German voice for Elsa, and has played Elphaba in the English, German, and Dutch-language productions) made her premiere as Elphaba alongside Mark Seibert's Fiyero in Stuttgart. Her last show in Oberhausen was played with Anton Zetterholm as Fiyero.
The German-language, and European in general, theatre scene is tiny, leading to Fiyeros going on to play either Elphabas' lover or son in Elisabeth. Just using the actors named above: Mark Seibert went on to play Death, and Anton Zetterholm Rudolf, opposite Roberta Valentini's Sisi. Willemijn Verkaik did play Sisi, but only in Switzerland.
Hollywood Homely: Green skin paint is far from enough to make most Elphaba actresses look bad. Even beyond the skin paint, the makeup for Elphaba plays this straight. In Act I, when Elphaba is a dowdy student, her face is made up to look plain and severe — the equivalent of "no-makeup makeup" on a normal skin tone. In Act II, her makeup is noticeably more glam.
An ultimate subversion with Nessarose when Elphaba finally casts a spell allowing her to walk again, when she becomes an outright Ungrateful Bitch.
The Wizard, who never had a family and was never really loved on Earth, and just wants to make up for that in Oz, only for it to cost him an actual chance at a family, namely with his daughter Elphaba.
Magnificent Bastard: The Wizard in the musical adaptation serves as a figurehead and icon for the people of Oz. Being a genuinely paternal figure to Oz, he tries to unite them by presenting them with an enemy. He begins robbing the sentient animals of Oz of their voices and their sentience. When his to-be protege, the magical Elphaba, challenges him on what he does, he declares her an enemy of the state, and when she returns, nearly convinces her to join him again, explaining that his lies are for the good of his people. Using his charisma and resources, he convinces Dorothy and her party to kill Elphaba. With Elphaba driven out and forced to fake her own death, The Wizard finds himself successful, only to leave Oz upon realizing that, in fact, Elphaba was his own daughter.
Mondegreen: Some people hear "Make sure you're where less trouble is rife" in Dancing Through Life as "Make sure you wear less".
In the musical, Morrible crosses it by sending the cyclone after Nessarose.
Meanwhile, Nessarose crosses it by ripping out Boq's heart in an attempt to gain her love. She then crosses it further by acting like an Ungrateful Bastard when Elphaba manages to save him.
As for Boq, it's his riding out to kill "the witch" when he knows very well that if not for Elphaba he would be dead. His reaction is a stark contrast to Fiyero's gratitude, where he thanks Elphaba.
Subverted when Elphaba decides to no longer try to be good and captures Dorothy, intent on reclaiming her sister's shoes. Glinda arrives to talk her down, which buys enough time for Elphaba to get Fiyero's message.
Narm Charm: By themselves, the song's lyrics are rather cheesy, but in the context of the story, combined with the amazing vocals and score, not to mention the performance itself, they manage to become Awesome Music.
The Wizard's contraption thing could count. That giant robotic face with the moving mouth, his booming voice...
The Time Dragon Clock set-piece coming to life, for some.
Some of the latter half of "No Good Deed" is decidedly unnerving in the hands of a talented enough actress (and singer). Kerry Ellis delivers "I'm Wicked through and through" about three minutes in like the powers of hell just came out of her larynx.
The scene where Nessarose completely loses her temper after Boq tells her that he's in love with Glinda, and the result of her Magic Misfire.
For a small but very vocal portion of the fanbase, Idina Menzel is the only Elphaba. The rest of us understand the need for replacements, due to the fact that the show's been running for a decade and counting as of this entry, and Idina's career is expanding.
Made especially ironic when a Carrie Underwood clip show was put on YouTube...set to Idina Menzel's studio recording of "Defying Gravity." The comments page exploded with Idina fans' rage over a mainstream singer covering the song. As with all musicals, everyone will have their favorite portrayal of a given character.
Some of Idina Menzel's successors in the role have their rabid, overly-defensive fans as well. Let's just say "Who's the best Elphaba?" is about as dangerous a question as "Mike or Joel?".
Ship-to-Ship Combat: It exists within the book fandom but it's more common in the musical fandom. Gelphie (Glinda/Elphaba) vs Fiyeraba (Fiyero/Elphaba) is the most common by far.
Squick: As explained in the Stephen Schwartz biography book, Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked, in the song "For Good," the line "You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart" was originally written as "footprint on my heart" but changed because it was felt that the former would be this. His wife, Carole, was the first person he presented the song too and she said "It's just icky, it's like someone stepping on my heart."
Elphaba apologizing to Nessarose's corpse and sobbing.
"For Good". "No Good Deed" certainly counts, too. "I'm Not That Girl" is definitely a sad moment.
"As Long As You're Mine", especially considering what happens immediately after.
Pretty much everything in the finale qualifies: "For Good", the melting scene, Chistery's first time speaking, the Wizard finding out he was Elphaba's father, and the ending.
Kristin Chenoweth's last "For Good" is even sadder than most — she authentically breaks down. Her entire last performance basically consists of her voice breaking with every line.
The realization that Fiyero likely jumped into that cornfield not intending to come out alive.
Triang Relations: Runs rampant in this story, and are the source of half the drama and tragedy that plays out. A type 7 was the cause of Elphaba's birth to begin with. Two different variants of type 4 or 10 happen between Elphaba, Fiyero, and Glinda straight up, but depending on whether or not you toss in platonic feelings or read into subtext, you could also make cases of varying degrees for types 8, 9, 11, and 12 between them too, which also change over the course of the show (their interrelationships are rather complicated...). Meanwhile type 5 runs between Nessa, Boq, and Glinda, with tragic results.
What an Idiot!: In addition to accidentally getting Nessarose killed, Glinda gives Dorothy the ruby slippers before Elphaba comes. This means that Elphaba, who has decided to stop trying to be good, guns for the innocent Dorothy to get the last remaining piece of her sister. What's more, even though Elphaba told her why she wants the shoes, Glinda keeps saying, "They're just shoes!"
Writer Cop Out: Somewhat. In the book, as in the original movie, Elphaba dies after Dorothy throws water on her. Apparently wanting a more family-friendly ending for the musical, it turns out that she was Faking the Dead. However, as mentioned on the main page, it's still a Bittersweet Endingin that she and Fiyero can never return to Oz nor tell Glinda that they're alive and well.