Wicked Aust LLC & Gordon Frost Organisation
QPAC Lyric Theatre
February 15 – April 19 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
In case you hadn’t noticed, Wicked is back! The New York Times hailed it as “the defining musical of the decade” and once again, it’s not hard to see why. A new spectacular production comes to Brisbane for an exclusive season.
AND LOOK WHAT ELSE! #howexcitement #wickedlottery
If you’ve never seen the phenomenon that is Wicked you’re in for a treat! This latest touring production is spectacular in every aspect, and boasts some new cast members who each add their own nuances to the songs and scenes so familiar to so many of us. Oh yes! If this is not your first visit to Oz, don’t hesitate to book again; there are plenty of new magical moments to be savoured. As I’ve told skeptical friends and family members since opening night in Brisbane on Sunday, unless you actually dislike the book and the score, this production of Wicked is well worth the price of your Lyric Theatre ticket and it might just be your favourite version yet.
Based on Joe Mantello’s original Broadway Production Direction, Lisa Leguillou’s staging doesn’t appear to be any different (musical staging is by Wayne Cilento), but what I’m impressed with is the calibre of this company in her hands. There is no autopilot here, despite the involvement of some performers in this show since 2008. How does one DO THAT? (We have three-week seasons on the Sunshine Coast!). It’s not easy to make each performance appear as if it’s the first time the story is being told. I spoke to our last Aussie Wicked director, Kris Stewart, and he ‘reckons he must have seen more than 300 performances whilst working on it! Obviously, it’s vital to get the casting right, and he admitted it was a joy to see this cast and this production fresh and new, after taking a step away from the show.
Let’s talk about this cast. I love them. Like, LOVE THEM.
To challenge even the die-hard Durack fans, Wicked welcomes back the sensational Suzie Mathers (an original Australian cast member in 2008). Mathers graciously reclaims the role, offering a little less physical comedy at this stage, and a little more (operatic) vocal strength than you may have gotten used to in the last six years. Her sassy take on Glinda (The Witch Previously Known As Galinda) means she is every bit Elphaba’s perfect foil, and like any popular schoolgirl desiring even just a little bit to shake hands with the devil, we see very clearly her inner conflict as she struggles to find a way to have it all.
Jemma Rix IS Elphaba, and if you’re not completely enraptured by this woman on stage (and off; she’s just gorgeous to speak to), you must be on drugs. Or dead already. I know, I know, you can never forget your first, but Rix is the best we’ve seen here yet. Why? Because there is not an instant on stage when she is not fully living and breathing this role. It’s exhilarating and thrillifying to see and hear her in action. Much is made the world over of Elphie’s vocal tricks and riffs, but Rix keeps it simple; it’s strong and superior. Loathing and The Wizard And I gives us our first delicious taste of the talent that has seen her in this role since understudying it in 2008. And those big belts, Defying Gravity and No Good Deed, seal the deal. Would you like to know her tips and tricks for keeping in good voice? So would I! #staytuned
Now, look, we’ve seen a couple of awesome Fiyeros. I love David Harris (his connection with Rix was palpable, probably the most passionate Australian pairing) and I love Rob Millsy Mills (I can’t wait to see him a little closer to home…a-hem. Details soon). Like these two, Steve Danielson brings his own gorgeous spring and step, and vibrant, cheeky energy to the role. He reminds me of Stephen Mahy (who is back in April as Brad in The Rocky Horror Show, but sorry Brisvegas fans, you’re gonna’ have to join the party in Sydney or Melbourne to catch THAT fine performance!). Like Millsy, who took a little while to be happy being Millsy being Fiyero, Danielson now needs to settle and trust and BRING IT!
Maggie Kirkpatrick does her thing even better than before, as Madame Morrible. I love her subtext, and she is believably regal and enviable and finally, completely detestable. And what a joy it is to welcome once again, a wizard who can sing the role. Simon Gallaher is perfectly cast (props to Frosty for that inspired call), and for that we say – no, we sing – thank goodness! Although rather more rotund than your parents might remember him being in the early years at QPAC, kids, Gallaher is light enough on his feet and delights us with his song. He is truly The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and because he is so lovely in the beginning we feel for Elphie more than ever in the chaotic winged monkey moment of his betrayal. And, it’s true, he also earns our sympathy in the end because Gallaher brings a certain poignancy, which I’m not sure we’ve seen before. Poppy loves this revelation this time (I think, at the age of five in 2011, she might have missed it!).
Emily Cascarino (Nessarose) and Edward Grey (Boq) are sweet and suddenly strong (and ultimately tragic) in their sub-stories, and the ensemble is top notch. Transitions between scenes and songs are seamless; this show is a well-oiled machine after all!
Wicked has one of the best books in contemporary musical theatre (Book by Winnie Holzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, with Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz), despite some anomalies. I’m with Poppy, who says, “It’s so clever, the way The Wizard of Oz weaves through it and we actually SEE Dorothy, with her two plaits and her bucket of water in the shadows to melt the witch…” (And then, “Poor Elphie. Does Glinda ever find out her friend is not dead? They should tell her. Someone should tell her. And tell her DAD!”).
The last time Poppy experienced Wicked she remembers that the dragon, the winged monkeys, and the shadow segment featuring Dorothy frightened her. “But not this time, because I saw the monkeys moving to their places. They were hiding but we could see them in the set. They were pre-set.” John Frost has always said this is a show for 8 to 80 year olds and he’s right. For younger audience members the themes are a little challenging.
The superb look and sound of the show is thanks to a plum creative team, with costumes by Susan Hilferty, wigs and hair by Tom Watson (Tom, while you’re in town, please stop by our two major theatre companies and help them with their hair. Just some phone numbers will do. Thanks ever so.), lighting by Kenneth Posner, sound by Tony Meola, and musical direction by David Young. AND THAT’S NOT ALL. So fork out for the glossy souvenir program y’all, and read about the amazing people behind the scenes who make the amazing people on stage look and sound their best!
I don’t believe you can ever be disappointed by this show. Unless you’re my dad and you simply don’t like the book or the score. I KNOW. WHAT EVEN… AM I THE DAUGHTER OF A GYPSY PEDDLER?
This Wicked is my fave so far. A polished, pitch-perfect show, it’s no wonder Wicked remains so popular worldwide. It’s highly sophisticated (and hummable!) contemporary musical entertainment for the masses, and it will make your heart sing all the way home and your spirit soar for years to come. You’ll be changed for good.
Images by Jeff Busby