Saturday, December 24, 2011

I admit, I've had my fair share of theatre offerings. But not one of those productions had as much heart, courage and brains as Wicked

The Grammy Award-winning Broadway musical pays homage to the children's classic The Wizard of Oz. It tells of the unlikely schoolyard friendship between two girls who grow up to be Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West.

The sheer scale of Wicked had me floored, from the set design, lighting, costumes to the choreography, music, and acting. It was a glorious Technicolour extravaganza that treated theatre-goers to a visually spectacular feast.

No expenses were spared with Eugene Lee's stage design, which was a architectural masterpiece in itself. The elaborate and marvelous set designs were reminiscent of the fantastic worlds of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. Before the show even began, I was already awestruck by the stage centre piece, an enormous Time dragon. The musical was in constant motion throughout, with the perpetual whirring of the giant levers and gears to signal the changes in location. In just a matter of seconds seconds, the audience was transported from the gilt-edged, glittering Emerald City to the dark fortress of Elphaba's citadel.

With a staggering 350 set of complicated costumes designed by Susan Hilferty, live music supplied by 14 musicians, flying monkeys and broomsticks, a sinister talking puppet head and levitating witch, Wicked was a musical executed to near perfection. It was difficult to fathom the sheer amount of technical wizardry involved.

Casting wise, my only regret is that I did not get the chance to see Kirsten Chenoweth play Glinda, or Adam Lambert/ Aaron Tevit play the dashing Fiyero. Nevertheless, the Australian cast did not disappoint.

Playing the privileged Glinda, Susie Mathers was in full-blown blonde airhead mode. Her vivacious, larger-than-life persona commanded attention, with her uninhibited prancing onstage like a hyperactive fluffy pink bunny on steroids, her breathless giggling and girlish squealing, and her eye-roll-inducing yet delightful mishmash of words.

I was hugely entertained when she sang “Popular', in a misguided but well-intentioned attempt to mould Elphaba into someone popular. “ Just not quite as popular as me,” she trilled merrily, all wide-eyed innocence. Personally I felt she was hamming it up a little too much, till her performance hovered dangerously close to being a caricature of the typical insufferably perky cheerleader. But somehow she sidestepped that trap nimbly, managing to win the audience over with her boundless enthusiasm, and scoring the most titters (and even guffaws) from the audience that night.

While Glinda's appearances functioned as comic relief, Elphaba's (Jemma Rix) scenes were often lengthy and emotional. Yet Jemma Rix held her own in such a challenging role. Her steely gaze, feisty spirit, candour and witty retorts made for an equally memorable delivery. Her powerful vocals surged into an exhilarated, triumphant crescendo in her 'Defying Gravity' solo, making evident her proud defiance in the face of such moral corruption. There was no question about which song was the crowd's favourite that night.

I felt that the first act was more enjoyable, as too much was going on in the second half. It dwelled on more weighty issues like moral ambiguity, standing up for one's beliefs, friendship, love, betrayal and loss, but without coming across as being too preachy.

It is nearly impossible to find fault with the musical Wicked. Without a doubt, it is one of the most imaginative musicals in Broadway. In the words of the Wizard, “ Believe me, it's hard to resist, because it's wonderful, it feels wonderful”.  

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