QPAC, Lyric Theatre
February 15 – April 19
Stories make the world, but every story has its limitations and it takes exploration of its gaps and to bring it to new life. Such is the case with the musical “Wicked”, which tells the story of two unlikely friends and how they became the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good. And such is the power of its storytelling that it soon repositions audience empathy towards the original villain of “The Wizard of Oz” by presenting its plausible parallel version of events from the perspective of those in the Land of Oz.
Suzie Mathers brings a freshness to the role of Glinda the perky, popular, pocket-rocket Good Witch. From the moment she bubbles in, her presence fills the stage, bringing light-hearted relief to some of the show’s darker moments. It is a physical role, filled with precise and nuanced movements and she does justice to every moment in realisation of her loveable character. Indeed, the makeover number between Glinda and Elphaba, ‘Popular’, is one of the show’s comedic high-points. Yet this is tempered with some solid vocal moments, particularly in proclamations to the Ozian population, thanks to her strong operatic voice.
But the show really belongs to Jemma Rix as the ‘wicked’ witch Elphaba and it is impossible not get chills ask her voice rings out from high above stage during the ultimate Act One closer ‘Defying Gravity’. Her impressive voice soars not only here, but also in her more ballady numbers, as she takes the audience along on her roller coaster of emotions, from gentle sadness to booming anger, bringing depth and dignity to a role that easily could have fallen into caricature.
Mathers and Rix work together beautifully to complement each other’s performances, bringing out the subtleties in their characters, showing how similar the two characters are (even down to loving the same man) and proving how ‘pink and green really go good together’. Indeed, all the actors inhabit their characters with complete conviction, with (in particular) Maggie Kirkpatrick presenting as a solid Madame Morrible and Simon Gallagher giving an emphatic portrayal of the ‘Wonderful’ Wizard behind the smoke and mirrors.
The show also looks and sounds superb. The set entices the audience from before the iconic Emerald City map curtain is even raised, as it literally branches out into the stalls, under the watch of an overhead dragon. The lighting too is nothing short of glorious, showcasing a sparkling Act One party and the glory of the Emerald City in all of its glowing green.
“Wicked” is more than a show; it’s an illustration of why people love musicals. After seeing four different productions now, both in Australia and overseas (putting it up there with “Rent” for me), I can only continue to marvel at is wonder and appreciate each one’s unique take. Expectedly, the show is peppered with references to its source material, however, there are also a number of clever political allusions not only through its Orwellian ideas of animals being seen but not heard, but to events in world political history. Look for the history timeline of OZ which begins with the Assassination of an Archduke with a shot heard ‘down the street’ and consider the flying monkey spies set to report back to the Wizard and the blurred lines between propaganda and politics.
When “Wicked” opened on Broadway, it worked its magic on critics and audiences alike to win 90 major awards including a Grammy, three Tony Awards and six Helpmann Awards including Best Musical. Indeed, The New York Times hailed it as “the defining musical of the decade” and over ten years later it is still easy to see why. This touring production is spectacular in every way and, as such, is guaranteed to leave you spellbound, whether this be your first or a repeat journey to the Emerald City.