The Willoughby Theatre Company transport us to OZ in this, their latest splendid production. It is colourful and spectacular with some sensational staging. The cast is young, vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic.
For this version the front cloth is a green and gold revolving compass like design . (No looming dragon, sorry fellow OZians).
The orchestra as boisterously led by Greg Jones played magnificently, but in Act 2 a couple of times I thought the sound was a little overwhelming and was presented like a rock opera rather than a musical.
Now regarded as a modern classic WICKED by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holman, based on the book by Gregory Maguire tells the story ‘ behind the scenes’ of The Wizard of Oz and what really happened. Who is Elphaba, the ‘Wicked Witch of the West‘? Why is her skin green ? What is Glinda’s real name? Who were the Tin Man , Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion originally ? All these questions are answered in the show…
WICKED tells the story of the friendship between two young women, Elphaba and Galinda, from very different backgrounds, who become the ‘witches’ Dorothy encounters in Oz when the Tornado blasts her from Kansas. Glinda is the University s popular girl, a ditzy blonde who is compelled to share rooms with the outcast Elphaba who was born with green skin. However while Glinda may have the wealth and beauty (think “Legally Blonde”) that a lot of young girls dream of, it is Elphaba who has the gift of sorcery that Glinda desires.
Moreover, Glinda’s glamorous fiancé Fiyero is actually in love with Elphaba, a revelation that almost destroys the two women’s friendship.
The show asks deep questions about what constitutes wickedness and goodness and wickedness which propels the narrative and many things are not quite what they seem.
Along the way to its “happy” ending, we meet many of the familiar Oz characters: Tinman, Lion, Scarecrow, Flying Monkeys, Munchkins, and, of course, the Wonderful Wizard. We also meet new characters : the, manipulative, plotting, Madame Morrible and the Goat Professor, Doctor Dillamond, whose voice is taken away (metaphorically and literally ) by the oppression and humiliation he undergoes.
The plot works on two levels: the bold, colourful , exciting and rather romantic story of the two witches, where the strange outsider wins the handsome Prince and lives “happily” ever after; and the exploration of more weighty themes that include responsibility, acceptance and power.
Under Stig Bell‘s excellent direction this is a bold, dynamic and colourful production with striking costumes, (both green OZIans and autumn toned others), fantastic lighting and impressive sets.
Kim Dresner’s choreography is very Broadway – mostly showbiz/contemporary but there are also ballroom references with shades of The King and I et al.
The large ensemble cast is very good with exciting vocal harmonies and crisply disciplined dance scene and very effective stage tableaux. Timing and pacing throughout were splendid.
At times the script was witty and ironic for examplethe duet for Elphaba and Galinda What is This Feeling ?). At other times there were projections of banners ( such as for Shiz University ) or 1930’s like style newspaper headlines or atmospheric projections of trees indicating shifting locale. In this production we actually see Dorothy throw the water at Elphaba.
As Elphaba Nikole Music was outstanding in a very sympathetic, charismatic, extremely accomplished and finely nuanced performance. We see Elphaba as a complex character —suspicious , reserved and cautious yet also stubborn and feisty. Music was also unafraid to reveal Elphaba’s troubled,rather sinister darker side. Her rendition of Defying Gravity that takes us to interval was a highlight.
As Galinda/Glinda Carolyn Curtin was terrific, with her character ranging from capricious, self-centred spoilt brat to radiant, benign scheming power-broker with flashes of betrayed and betraying best friend and heartbroken fiancé glimpsed along the way.
One is not sure whether her Popular was sincere or mocking. Her Thank Goodness in Act 2 was wonderfully done quite Evita like.In some sections her role was quite operatic and demanding and Curtins handled the part deftly.
Tall, dark and handsome dashing Fiyero , precursor to the Scarecrow, was slickly played by Gavin Brown as a wealthy, careless, rather supercilious playboy who ends up questioning how he has lived his life.
Peter Meedith plays the Wizard with great relish and charm, enthusiastically bringing freshness to the role. The scheming, scary rather manipulative side of his character was downplayed and what was emphasised was his genteel ‘’niceness’’ and how he followed the way created and proposed by others.
Scheming, controlling Madame Morrible was pompously played by Julianne Horne with other-worldly aloofness .
Endearing Dr Dillamond, a very inspiring lecturer who recognises Elphaba’s gifts was enchantingly played by Alex Giles. It felt quite sinister when he was dragged off by soldiers for being too ‘outspoken’.
Jessica Balzer as Nessarose was also terrific though her portrayal was delivered with a light touch. We see her seemingly gentle outward appearance , but discover she is somewhat angry and acerbic inside.
Poor Boq, in love with Galinda -who eventually becomes transformed into the Tin Man – was excellently played by Jared Pallesen who showcased a fine voice.
This was a glittering production which had the audience cheering in the end.
Running time – 2 hours 45 mins including one interval. Willoughby Theatre Company’s production of WICKED is playing the Concourse Theatre at Chatswood until the 4th June.