Musical Review: Wicked
September 21, 2013
The Civic was built in 1929 as a glamorous shrine to talking pictures, which were just being introduced at the time, so it’s safe to assume that the audiences sat in raptures 10 years later when The Wizard of Oz hit the screen.
Fastforward nearly 75 years and audiences are again entranced by that magical classic adventure as it provides the inspiration for Wicked. The musical reintroduces us to the Oz gang but this time in childhood, unwrapping the backstory of the terrifying green-skinned crone the Wicked Witch of the West, aka Elphaba.
If you’re not familiar with the classic film — and why wouldn’t you be? — then it’s time to brush up. Wicked’s best humour lies in sly winks to that original tale.
Wicked is a blockbuster of a musical that has run on Broadway for a decade and smashed box office records in the West End. From that, you’d assume the music would have filtered through into popular consciousness, yet it’s the writing, not the songs, that make this production stand out.
The music is perfectly serviceable and intermission leaves you with one refrain humming around your head, but overall the pop-anthem score lacks the soaring melodies and catchy tunes that top musical theatre usually delivers.
The script, by Winnie Holzman based on Gregory Maguire’s satirical novel, has great fun toying with complex themes. The biggie is “why does wickedness happen?” Throw in prejudice, popularity battles, political games in the Wizard’s fascist state and the power of myth making and there’s plenty within this all-singing/all-dancing confection to get your teeth into.
The demands of the script mean the whole show hinges on the performances of the two leads. Jemma Rix as feisty outcast Elphaba and Suzie Mathers as smug goody-good Glinda are both fantastic.
Mathers plays saccharine Miss Perfect with pinprick comic timing. Rix has an effortless, clear voice and a presence that fills the theatre. Her final number of the first half, rising into the rafters in a blaze of laser-like lights, is the show stealer.
Jay Laga’aia as the Wizard is not as musically impressive but cooks up an hilarious morally wonky performance. No character yields to stereotype in this twisted world.
The advantage of being at the receiving end of an international tour of this proven show many years after its inception is that we’re treated to a slick production with finely honed stagecraft.
The set is contained within the concept of a dragon clock, with a fiery-eyed beast presiding high over the stage and an industrial steampunk vibe that has giant cogs rolling in scene changes without ever halting the action. Theatrical trickery, dry ice, bubbles and exceptional lighting design add to the spectacular.
The olde worlde aesthetic is wonderfully enhanced by being in the Civic’s over-the-top Rococo surrounds. It’s the perfect venue in which to be conjured away to Oz for an evening of lavish entertainment with head and heart.
Photographed by Ken Downie