A Wicked Night Out [by Sharu Delilkan]
Theatre Scenes Reviewers Sharu Delilkan and James Wenley both went to opening night of Wicked. This was the first time Sharu has seen Wicked, and she writes as a Wicked first-timer, a girl from Kansas on her first trip to Oz.
We knew we were in for an awesome spectacle as we approached the green carpet leading up to the entrance of The Civic. The opening night audience was clearly in the ‘Wicked’ spirit, evident by the emerald green outfits and hair dyes that lit up The Civic foyer–a refreshing sight in contrast to the otherwise monochromatic outfits that typify JAFA opening nights.
And as we took our seats,the set looked suitably flashy with multiple balconies, ladders, ropes and a massive dragon’s head hovering above the stage, with a curtain portraying a “Lord of the Rings”-esque map of the Land of Oz.
The show certainly started with a bang, although probably not as big a bang as was intended due to some initial technical sound issues.
Wicked displayed all the elements that the punters love to create a successful blockbuster show. But being a prequel, the story felt somewhat constrained by the need to establish backstories for all the well-loved characters of the Wizard of Oz. I loved the idea of the Wicked and Good witches being a product of their upbringing and environment, rather than the typically one-dimensional characters we are often subjected to in shows of this nature.
Suzie Mathers was clearly a crowd favourite and her “Legally Blonde”-like portrayal of the Glinda the Good, which provided the backbone of much of the humour.
The story’s gamut of themes included our differences, bullying, adultery, politics, the distortion of history, animal rights, extremism, jealousy, oppression, discrimination, disability and of course the all too familiar themes of love, loss and betrayal. The whole story feels as if it was written by identifying all the successful elements required for ‘a hit’ and then replicated with a slightly new twist. With the vast investment required for a high profile show like this I suppose it is safer to follow the tried and tested, but this unfortunately comes at a cost which limits creativity and results in a more formulaic type of show. Noticeable influences apart from the obvious Wizard of Oz included Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, The Island of Dr Moreau and Legally Blonde.
Both female leads clearly outshone their male counterparts, with Jemma Rix (Elphaba aka The Wicked Witch of the West) stealing the show and raising the roof with her renditions of I’m Not That Girl and No Good Deed. However that being said Jay Laga’aia was also a standout as The Wizard himself. His solo of A Sentimental Man was delivered beautifully, endearing himself to the audience immediately. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the delightful Madame Morrible role played by Maggie Kirkpatrick, whose stage presence anchored the show, adding to the “wicked” flavour of the story.
Overall the sound did not measure up to the rest of the slick production. It seemed to be coming from downstage centre and there didn’t seem to be any surround sound inhibiting our ability to get totally enveloped into the world created on stage. And that was the case with the chorus, which was too quiet during their initial 10-15 minutes on stage. That aside the chorus’ movement and singing was a highlight for me, punctuating the show perfectly and they did their part and more. The ballroom dancing scene was particularly memorable which added to the festive nature of that scene. Susan Hilferty’s intricate and captivating costumes added to the spectacle and razzmatazz of the production. Equally phenomenal was Kenneth Posner’s lighting design,which raised the bar even higher. My favourite was scene where the Wicked Witch of the West was elevated on stage with a diffraction of light surrounding her. Although we knew that she was being elevated by cables, the fabulous lighting help accentuate the fairytale-like world, suspending my belief and making me feel like a child again. Although admittedly the first half was way too long, I confess I felt like a child throughout. Unfortunately I didn’t find the second half as captivating. I felt that they should had an interval at the point where the Wizard of Oz’s contraption was initially introduced on stage,which would have left a bit of intrigue and discovery for the audience in the second half. Instead most of the reveals were done in the first half, making the rest of the show seem flatter and less interesting. It was basically shoe leather in the second half, which made it very Disney-esque (sorry Universal Pictures) without much variation of pace and range.
Overall however this is a show that will definitely appeal to kids and families because of its spectacular nature, high-tech and continuous moving set, strong character, great talent and hair-raising performances.