Music Theatre

Wicked [Melbourne 2014] review

In the years since musicals dropped off radio playlists and album charts, Wicked was the first show to arrive to a public frenzy of interest and anticipation. Six years later, and now a worldwide cultural phenomenon, Wicked has returned to Melbourne sharper, tighter, funnier and wickeder than ever.

Wicked Australia 2014 Jemma Riz, Elphaba, Defying Gravity

For a show that originally received mixed reviews and was passed over the Best Musical Tony Award, Wicked has been an incredible success story. Besides the melodious, soaring score by Stephen Schwartz, the secret surely lies in Winnie Holzman’s intricate book not only juggles and neatly resolves multiple threads, but is also imbued with her uncanny insight into the psychology of the teenage mind. Of the countless scores of 13-16 year old girls who continue to flock to Wicked, there must surely be an extraordinarily high proportion of them who have known the feeling of “I’m Not That Girl.”

Over and above the sentimental interest of the “Wizard of Oz” connection, the show resonates just as strongly as it did ten years ago. Origin stories, long a feature of comic book narratives, have arguably surged in popularity since the 2003 arrival of Wicked. Even with the Gulf crisis long past its peak, the political message of uniting the people by giving them a common enemy remains a staple of governments and media. Oz’s ban on animals talking, and the related fear and division it creates, quickly brings to mind present day Russia under Putin’s rule.

Schwartz’s score remains a cutting edge achievement in modern music theatre. He turns the traditional opening “I wish” song on its head by already giving us the twisted outcome in the prologue. In “The Wizard and I,” young Elphaba dreams of an Oz celebration in her name but we have already seen that celebration: it was for her death. Though later shows such as Legally Blonde and Billy Elliot have come close, “Dancing Through Life” remains an unmatched music theatre sequence in terms of combining all of the characters with song, dance, text, props and costumes in a way that hurtles the story forward. In this song, we meet Fiyero, and the love triangle between he and the two witches is born, Glinda gives Elphaba the iconic black pointed hat, Elphaba gives Madame Morrible a wand for Glinda so she can learn sorcery, Glinda finally understands Elphaba’s pain, and gains her trust and friendship when she salvages Elphaba’s dance efforts by making the moves appear cool. This much exposition would take pages of dialogue in a play.

Wicked Australia 2014 Maggie Kirkpatrick, Lucy Durack

This remounted staging is yet another example of the model that serves Australian theatregoers so well, giving us a fresh, enthusiastic, talent-filled production that is infinitely preferable to the endless runs of Broadway and London productions, which continue long past the initial interest and excitement have worn off. Better still, rather than being a slavish re-creation, this latest season boasts new director Lisa Leguillou, whose fresh eyes have enlivened and enhanced Joe Mantello’s original direction.

Some quibbles endure, such as the very obvious Tin Man swap behind Nessarose’s wardrobe, and the completely random appearance of Doctor Dillamond under a blanket on the floor in the Wizard’s chamber, but they are easily brushed aside in the overall brilliance on display.

No need to tinker with Eugene Lee’s epic settings or Susan Hilferty’s supremely inventive costumes. Wicked remains one of the very few shows whose scale is a successful fit for the cavernous Regent Theatre. The dragon clock and various cogs and mechanicals are as impressively wondrous as ever, especially when enhanced by Kenneth Posner’s gorgeous lighting, which has been improved by the multi-coloured pinpoint streams that have come with the advent of LEDs in stage lights. As with all the creative elements, Hilferty’s costumes play an integral role in the story telling, creating a world without straight lines, where the fashion is as unique as the Ozified lingo.

Wicked Australia 2014 Lucy Durack, Jemma Rix

Jemma Rix’s extraordinary talent, along with the combination of her experience as Elphaba and Leguillou’s new direction, created several moments for me last night in which, even on my fourteenth viewing, I saw and heard and understood lines of dialogue and aspects of motivation for the first time. Rix is able to make even the very well known “Defying Gravity” sound fresh and original. Her massive voice soars not only on this expected highpoint at the close of act one, but also as she belts out the final phrases of act two’s “No Good Deed.” With an intense beauty that shines right through the green make up, Rix commands the stage with magnetism to spare.

Wicked Australia 2014 Jemma Rix as Elphaba

Despite seven Production Company lead roles to her name, Lucy Durack arrived on stage in Glinda’s bubble six years ago a relative unknown. In the interim, she has not only raised her profile to become one of the leading ladies of the Australian stage, but has polished her talents to become a truly delightful comedienne. Completely at home on the stage, and with her high soprano notes sounding pure and effortless, Durack sparkles in the role she was born to play.

Wicked Australia 2014 Lucy Durack

A pair of newly minted leading men stand out in roles that originally went to tv “names.” Triple threat Steve Danielsen is a sensational Fiyero, underpinning the playboy prince’s flashy bravado with a vulnerable tenderness that makes sparks fly in his romantic scenes with Rix’s Elphaba.Fresh-faced relative newcomer Edward Grey uses his excellent acting skills to engage audience empathy for lovelorn munchkin Boq. Also demonstrating a lovely singing voice, Grey elevates the somewhat minor role by conveying a clear and involving arc for Boq.

Wicked Australia 2014 Steve Danielsen, Jemma Rix

Seasoned actress Maggie Kirkpatrick returns as the malevolent Madame Morrible, delivering the deliciously dastardly role with palpable relish. Legendary stage actor Reg Livermore is a welcome addition to the cast as The Wizard. Known for outlandish characterisations, Livermore plays it straight here, his expressive singing voice and finely honed acting skills in excellent form.

Wicked Australia 2014 Reg Livermore as The WizardStrong support comes from Emily Cascarino as the self-pitying Nessarose, and John O’Hara in the brief but vital cameo role of Elphaba’s beleaguered father. Nathan Carter effectively conveys old goat Doctor Dillamond’s humanity from under the large mask, a feat also managed by Matt Holly as tortured monkey Chistery.

Wicked needs no help from this or any other reviewer. Established fans should hold no doubt that it is well worth seeing again. Newcomers should prepare to be blown away.

Wicked plays at Regent Theatre until August 2014

Wicked Australia 2014 Steve Danielsen as Fiyero

Wicked Australia 2014 Ed Grey as Boq

Photos: Jeff Busby

This review published on Theatre People 11 May 2014.

14 replies »

  1. I couldn’t disagree more! Perhaps it is just that WICKED was created for a narrow cross section of theatre goers, or perhaps it’s just that I had set my expectations too high. As a lover of musical for many years I was truly excited by the prospects and having not seen WICKED previously, due to our geographical location, it seemed the perfect way to spend an evening in Melbourne. Visually impressive, YES. Creatively staged, YES. Beautifully performed (for the most part) YES. Creatively written, a resounding NO.

    The audience seemed surprised by the frivolous nature of the script only realising that they should laugh at the repartee that was characterised by skin deep performances that themselves were simply the result of a story with very little depth. None of the deep angst of early Lloyd Webber or Les Mis. None of the clever wit of Mary Poppins, none of the beloved characterisations of Chitty. Where were the characters you are meant to fall in love with? By half time I felt like I was watching the emperors new clothes.

    Maybe razzle dazzle (of which there is much and yes it is impressive) can wow the modern teen, but a good story needs a depth which in my view was simply non existent. So yes, a disappointment. But it seems I am the only one who thinks so, and so as every with theatrical performance, good or bad – my advice is to go for yourself, but don’t lament the loss of a few hundred dollars at the end.

    • Hi Nick,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy Wicked. I think you may be in a bit of a minority there but you have stated your position very clearly so I take it that you must feel strongly about this.

      I wonder whether the teenage girl focus is what put you off. I think that the middle of act one where Elphaba sings “I’m Not That Girl” when she sees Fiyero go with Glinda is much more than skin deep.
      There is wit in the references to The Wizard of Oz.
      There is angst when Elphaba’s sister dies and she realises she was betrayed by Glinda, who was herself double crossed in this incident.

      I love all of these characters (much more than any of the characters in Chitty) and do not ever seem to tire of the music and lyrics in the way I do with Andrew Lloyd Webber (apart from Evita!). Sorry you didn’t enjoy this show, but hope you will be back in Melbourne for more theatre soon. Les Mis is the next big one that I am looking forward to!

    • Hi Nick, I am with you. I was very disappointed and found the show trite and boring. My husband fell asleep and I found it quite excruciating to sit through to the end. I too feel that the script lacked real depth, resulting in shallow performances. I did not feel any connection to the characters.

    • @ nick I totally agree , I saw Wicked last night and after listening to my house mate tell me over and over that it is the best musical she has ever seen I was very excited to go and see it .
      I went with a few friends and was ready to be blown away , I wasn’t . by intermission I was starting to feel disappointed all of my friends were starting to feel the same way .
      To be totally honest I will say that it is an entertaining musical but I would not say it was one of the best I have seen . Wicked has it’s moments with a few jokes mixed into the act to lighten it up and they were funny and bought back some memories of The Wizard of Oz . not a total waste of time but I wouldn’t be tempted to go and see it again . As I said earlier Wicked was entertaining and disappointing at the same time. In my opinion this musical will never be up there with Phantom , Le Mis or cats .

  2. Wicked is a musical, which has changed me “for good”. It is the first musical I ever saw on Broadway and that was in 2006 and I was 12 and I saw it with my mom and I only remember that “Popular” was my favorite song. While, I don’t have vivid memories, the impact clearly shows. The characters that have touched me the most were Elphaba, Glinda, and Fiyero especially Elphaba and Elphaba is a character that I found over time I could easily relate to. Wicked sparked my love for musicals. Wicked was how I began to understand the more emotional and complex side of musicals.

    Elphaba, Glinda, and Fiyero are my favorite Wicked characters and I have the friendship that Glinda and Elphaba form and the love triangle that Elphaba, Glinda, and Fiyero create because the love triangle helps provide a fascinating emotional texture. The love the two girls have for Fiyero strengthens and tests their friendship and is quite let me say it a quite bizarre and ironic love triangle.

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