‘Wicked – the Musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by May 24, 2016

‘Wicked – the Musical’ is based on the 1995 book ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ by Gregory Maguire, which included an in depth examination of the ‘Wizard of Oz’ characters. Stephen Schwartz found the book whilst on holiday and had Winnie Holzman adapt it for the stage. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the show Premiered in 2003 in San Francisco. It won three Tony Awards, six Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical, a Grammy and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Broadway Musical. The show has been seen by millions and broken numerous box office records.

This 3-hour production is a joint venture between Stray Cats Theatre Company and the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre. It is wonderful to see a local shire giving the children of the town a chance to see live theatre.

The musical came to Mandurah on the wettest and wildest weekend in years. After a wonderful first night, the Saturday matinee suffered a power failure – twenty minutes from the end. Five hours later the power had still not been restored, and most of Mandurah’s houses and streets were in pitch darkness. However, having seen ’Mary Poppins’ and ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ the audience was not going to be put off, the crowds still turned up, and the Arts Centre was packed. The cast gathered in the gloom and, unaccompanied, sang their hearts out, giving their loyal audience a few numbers from the show. I had made a 120 kms return journey to see the show, and it was this singing that decided me to return a further 120 kms next morning, for the full show – well worth it.

It was decided to cancel the performance and have an extra at 10.00 the next morning. The three-hour performance went flawlessly, finishing at 1.00 leaving only an hour before this energy packed show hit the stage again.

 

The proscenium arch and the railings around the orchestra pit were covered in gold painted bicycle wheels of varying sizes. On the ceiling of the theatre, a massive dragon flapped its wings as smoke belched forth. A map of Munchkin Land (Alan White) is projected onto the safety curtain.

 

       The citizens of Oz are in the streets, celebrating the death of the uncaring, Elphaba (Kimberley Harris), when, from the sky, a bubble descends carrying the much-loved, blonde, giggling Galinda (Lisa Taylor) who just loves to tell everyone how good she is. Even the monkeys (Hayley Pilcher, Terina Henry, Tracy Harrington) are excited, as they do their aerial tricks.

       Glinda tells the Ozians how Elphaba’s mother (Malia Bennett) gave birth to a green-skinned baby. Her father, the Governor of Munchkinland (Scott Hansen) loathed her and gave all of his affection to her disabled sister, Nessarose (Cassandra Power). The girls are sent to Shiz University where the nasty Principal, Madame Morrible (Alyssa Burton) rules with a stern hand and a little sorcery.

       Elphaba’s favourite lecturer is the history teacher, Dr. Dillamond (Erik Bunch), a goat-like animal professor who is discriminated against and sacked by Madame Morrible. When the unscrupulous Prince, Fiyero (Joshua Towns) arrives, Galinda is immediately in love with him. Unfortunately, when a poor Munchkin Boq (Braeden Geuer) declares his love for Galinda, she suggests that he should love Nessarose instead. Boq ends up guiding Nessarose’s wheelchair (creators Jo Bickford, Peter Sydney-Smith) whilst still yearning after Galinda.

       Having no friends, Elphaba is taught by Galinda how to attract men, and Fiyero then shows interest. The two help rescue and free a caged lion cub. Soon, the famous Wizard (Peter Sydney-Smith) asks Elphaba to visit him at the Emerald City. Madame Morrible, who now works as the Wizard’s Press Secretary, gives Elphaba the ‘Grimmerie’ – a priceless spell book.

       When the Wizard’s acrobatic, monkey servant, Chistery (Bailey Bridge-man-Peters) sprouts wings, Elphaba realises it is the Wizard who has been cruelly controlling the Animals’ freedom. Not only that, the Wizard cannot read the special codes in the Grimmerie, he is in fact a fraud. Elphaba, now known as ‘The Wicked Witch of the West’ grabs a broomstick and flies off to sanity (Mechanical crew Stephen Carr, Jamie Murray). Meanwhile, ‘Glinda the Good’ starts working for the Wizard and Morrible, against Elphaba.

     On hearing Elphaba is to be ‘melted down’, Fiyero ignores Glinda’s approaches and goes to Elphaba’s rescue. On the death of her father, Nessarose becomes the Governor of Munchkinland, but still she cannot capture Boq’s heart. Elphaba tries to help Nessarose by giving her sister special, magical shoes and the power to walk. When Boq still shows no interest, Nessarose tries the Book of Spells, accidentally shrinking Boq’s heart; he turns into the ‘Tin Man’.

       Whom will Fiyero finally fall in love with? Will Elphaba remain cursed?

 

Other major players included Malia Bennett, Matthew Walford, Elizabeth Willow, Cat Perez, Corinna Gosby, Nicholas Gaynor and Jared Pettit.

 

The scenery crew, under the supervision of head builder, David Hartly, produced lively, intricate and amazing pieces. The quality of every piece of scenery was top-class, from the crashed witch’s house to the massive talking head of the Wizard. There were the retractable wings on the monkeys (Peter Francis) and the magical Hour Glass (Paul Fieldwick). At no stage was there the impression of ‘that will have to do’, the finish was always immaculate – great work by Peter Francis, Duncan Anderson, Mal Thompson, Alan White, Wayne Gale, Daniel Corbishley, Steven Sallur, Vanessa Thompson, and Alex Paolino. There were also several impressive backdrops and sets designed by Bronwyn White. Sheryl Gale supplied the numerous props, such as spears and oil lamps.

The sound was magnificent, with a great soundscape from Peter Lovell. Ruby Liddelow flawlessly operated the dozens of dreaded microphone headsets, often famed for their unreliability.

Karen Francis’s complex lighting design was outstanding, completely capturing the mood. The bio-box operator, Clint Gerard was impeccable, and the two spotlight operators (Thea Clarke, Khaijun Pearce) were smooth and accurate, even on the narrowest of beams. Visually exciting work from the team.

Then comes the result of months of sewing. Head seamstress Cathy Wainwright had to design several changes of costumes for the cast, a total of more than 300 costumes. She was helped by Linda Lowry, Jordan Hopkins, Kerry Tarbuck, Rebeka Thomas, Rhiannon Thomas, Michelle Thompson, Bronwyn White, Erin Thomson, Geraldine Harris and Pat Francis. Again, all of the costumes were trimmed with extras, many actors wore hats and fancy tights; the result was a visual feast. Then in combination with the makeup team of Jodie Mars, Rhiannon Francis and Monique Kinnest, the characters of Madame Morrible, Dillamond, the monkeys and Chistery came alive. Superb work.

The director, Karen Francis, was the major driving force, being intensely involved in almost every aspect of the production; she gave the cast drive, enthusiasm and confidence. The vocal director was Kristie Gray, who luckily had several trained vocalists – a special mention for Kimberley and Lisa who were magnificent, strongly backed by Alyssa and Cassandra. Even Joshua, who has performed in numerous quality dramas, sang admirably in this his first major musical. The powerful backing singers, who were positioned in the orchestra pit, were Kristie Gray, Kim Moore, Daniel R. Nixon, Jason Arrow, Sean Williams, Andrew Coshan and Alexandra Cornish.

Choreographer, Megan Doohan bravely faced around 60 extras to train and direct, and yet each performer gave routines packed with every ounce of strength and enthusiasm. They smiled, danced, sang in perfect harmony.

Musical director and conductor, David Hicks, had at the end of his baton, on reed Jennifer Currenti, David Lawrence, Blake Howieson and Liam House. On Brass, Aishah Chadwick-Stumpf, Jack Sirett, Harry Josland and Ned Holland. On percussion and keyboard, Mark Beasy, Sam Bradbury, Bronwen Herholdt, Vanitha Hart, Brendan Talty and Sarah Palmer. On string Stuart Robertson, Darsha Kumar, Liza Kotze, Josh Dunne and William Christensen. The orchestra, playing first thing on Sunday morning after a late night on Saturday, were still impeccable. A three-hour show is a marathon for a musician, to have an hours rest and then another marathon, was mind boggling. well done.

Holding the whole show together were Production Managers Bronwyn White and Ashleigh Riley, aided by Anita Telkamp and Rach Hayter, and with a cast of over 70, this was no easy task. However, at the end of every scene, the packed stage would empty silently and without any pandemonium in a couple of seconds. I have seen shows where even two or three actors have struggled to leave the stage without crowding.

Kristie Hennessey took the cast’s headshots. Jon Lambert’s excellent 16-sided, full colour gloss programme was being sold for only $5 – too cheap. Some patrons were apprehensive of buying one, thinking that, like the Burswood, the price would be around $25.

This production was the ULTIMATE in community theatre, very many congratulations. I just hope it was entered for the Finleys Awards.

Breath-taking, amazing, spectacular with 400 giving a standing ovation – what more can one say?