More than two weeks ago, I had already extinguished any hopes of ever seeing the Manila run of one of my most-awaited musicals, a part of my Broadway bucket list. It was just days to go and poof! The show would be gone again. I unfortunately could not go and see it. It just. Wasn’t. Possible…Until, in a wickedly awesome fashion, something magical happened.
Suddenly, there it was, the ticket in my hands, made possible by prayer, hope, and a magical thing called friendship. The universe thought to make it work for me. I won’t delve much on my meaning, but that person knows already how much I appreciated it. To you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Now, in case the title of this post and the image and video above aren’t enough give-away clues, I am referring to WICKED The Musical. I can’t believe it’s a decade old already!
Long-before the song “Let It Go” from the Frozen movie became everyone’s favorite, Idina Menzel (yes, that’s the right name) first made the song “Defying Gravity” famous by originating the role of Elphaba, the thoroughly green, thoroughly misunderstood witch in the Land of Oz. The role won for Idina a Tony. (See the next video to watch Idina sing “Defying Gravity” onstage with Kristin Chenoweth playing Glinda The Good. Idina’s lovely recorded album version can be found HERE, just click on it.)
I had known about this and about her for a long time and kept wishing that WICKED would find its way to Manila. Well, as they say, good things come to those who wait (and those who cross their fingers for good measure). It turned out it was the Australian production that came here to perform at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) as part of their Asian tour. Ooh, Oz bringing Oz to Manila! I did wish for Idina, but some things aren’t meant to be.
My friends and I pretty much got good seats that night. Not that near that even my 20/20 vision could not give me a much clearer view of everyone’s face on stage. Not that far either, which was a real blessing for I have always been vocal about how I hate the way the CCP auditorium is structured, a real let-down if you happen to sit at the top rows. Binoculars were actually offered outside for people to get a better view but we opted not to buy/rent any. I just wish I didn’t forget to bring mine. I wanted to kick myself (utterly impossible to do it, really).
I have to say it was a really fun night. I had expected it for a long time and indeed, the production did very well. But first, if you’re still unfamiliar with it (and don’t want to watch the first posted video here), a background on the show:
Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, or simply WICKED The Musical, is an adaptation of Gregory Maguire‘s 1995 novel Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. This, in turn, somehow serves as a prequel to the Frank L. Baum classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its 1939 film adaptation The Wizard of Oz that brought fame to Judy Garland. In 1978, there was a film adaptation of the then-Broadway version, The Wiz, with musical greats Diana Ross and Michael Jackson headlining an all Afro-American cast that included other celebs doing some cameo.
Baum’s book was about a young girl, Dorothy, who, together with her dog Toto and her new-found friends — The Tin Man, The Cowardly Lion and The Scarecrow — saved the Land of Oz from the Wicked Witch of the West with the help of the Good Witch of the South and two magical red shoes.
As said, WICKED and the book it was based on serve as prequel, to supposedly explain the events that have led to the Wicked Witch’s own demise. But things aren’t always as they seem, especially in Oz. As the show itself says, “So much happened before Dorothy dropped in.” Told in the point of view of the two witches, mostly by the Good Witch, we learn of a history of friendship between them before they become frenemies. More importantly, we learn who truly deserves to be called “wicked.”
The show starts with Glinda The Good announcing the death of the Wicked Witch. Everyone rejoices until someone boldly asks something like, “We heard you were friends with her.” So then, we are thrust back in time as Glinda recounts mostly in her head what happens before, during and after she becomes friends with the “beautifully tragic” Elphaba, who is literally as green as can be.
These two loathe each other at the start because they believe themselves so different from the other. Glinda, a closet bully, describes her new roommate as “Unuuuusually and exceeedingly peculiar and aaaltogether impossible to descriiibe,” like words are not enough to explain Elphaba; Elphie, the nerdy loner, describes her new roommate as “Blonde,” like that says it all.
I will stop here or I won’t be able to then tell the whole story and be the bad egg that spoiler freaks are made of. I’ll jump to my actual comments.
First, the set…WIC-KEEED!!! Having had a bit of a background knowledge of how things go down in this production, I still loved the way everything was put together. It was nowhere near The Phantom of the Opera (POTO), but it was still a great and totally awesome set.
Whenever I watch plays and musicals, while most eyes are glued on the actors, mine are always busy checking out the sets and props. It gives me a kind of a different high that I can’t describe, like I want to know each set’s story: how is it made, what makes it work, who handles everything, do the handlers ever get confused and make mistakes…If I’d known I’d be this interested, I should have paid closer attention in class.
Second, the costumes. I imagine that Oz being somewhere in a kind of alternate universe, the costume designer needed not be constrained with period clothes and such. There was a lot of freedom incorporated in the costumes, the designer making the ultimate decisions, like how something should look on whom and where. They made sure to create a distinction between the “regular” clothes and those of the people of Emerald City. The City dwellers dressed up lavishly, if not weirdly, and vibrantly, especially in green. Elphie found herself a shoo-in — finally, a place where she belonged!
I should really mention two things. One (and, I guess, this falls under under costume?), they should have just left out those three giant puppets dancing with the rest of the Emerald City citizens when the two girls arrived. As all others were just humans, they seemed really out of place and played no importance at all to the whole story, in my opinion. On a more personal note, they looked like clowns and weird-looking clowns give me the creeps, ha ha! Two, and in contrast, a welcome kind of creeps were what I felt when the monkeys grew wings. I didn’t expect it and it made me go “yikes”…Love it.
Third, the sounds and music. Good enough sound quality, although I don’t know if it’s the actors, but many times, when there’s an ensemble singing, the group didn’t sound that clear (can’t say the same for those who sat nearer to the stage). I had to try and strain my ears just to get what they were saying. Also, I am not sure if the assumption was true, but somebody said some parts were lip synced. I’d like to believe they weren’t, given that it’s a professional, touring production. So I am left wondering. Nevertheless, I didn’t really mind.
The songs, themselves, were very nice, sometimes really meaningful and even catchy. Stephen Schwartz is a genius with his music and lyrics. I’ve been singing the songs over and over everyday! Talk about last song syndrome. Again, “Defying Gravity” along with “Popular” were easy favorites. I liked, too, the sentimental “I’m Not That Girl” and its reprise. Another one of my favorites is “For Good,” a very beautiful and rather sad friendship song. (See the last video posted here to listen to this song.)
Fourth, the story. Well, I had a bit of a knowledge on what the musical was going to be about, and I do mean bit there so, unlike with POTO and Cats The Musical, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. Somebody gifted me with a live Broadway show recording years ago (so nice of her, bless her soul), but the copy is a bit problematic.
It was fun and ingenious the way the whole background stories were woven together to create a whole new story. We met the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarescrow in ways we never expected. It’s kind of funny in a wow-who-would-have-thought way to find what the magical red shoes were actually for. And how exactly did Dorothy land in Oz? Classic.
I found that both the witches were actually similar in a big way, being two insecure creatures and putting up fronts. Glinda made up for it by being the lovable and popular girl. Elphaba made up for it for being a somewhat acerbic nerd and pulling off an I-don’t-care-about-what-you-think class act. One qualm: Elphaba gave me the impression of a serious character. I wanted her to be fun, given that the story was supposed to be somewhat a comedy and hers was the title role.
Some parts of the story that were supposed to surprise did not surprise me much, but I think that was because I have often been good at knowing things immediately when I watch something. So the first time I saw the mysterious character dancing with Elphie’s mom, I knew already who he was going to be later in the story. And when a character confronted Elphie and her sister Nessa, the moment the witch mentioned “heart,” I knew exactly what was to happen. These did not dampen anything for me because they served to excite me, making me try to be more observant for more clues.
I did feel that they failed to build up the love story. There were not enough scenes between the future lovers to make his falling in love with her more logical, and until he told her his feelings, there was nothing to suggest that she liked him. Of course, I expected it, but even something that fictional could use a bit more of the realistic approach. I didn’t like how the love angle was “told” kind of haphazardly. As an effect, I didn’t feel the chemistry. It fell flat, to be perfectly blunt about it.
Fifth, the acting. Jemma Rix as Elphaba was wonderful, although I guess it came with the character she was playing. But like I said, Elphie lacked something in the fun character department. The most fun I had with Elphaba was when she was singing, especially her signature song, Defying Gravity.
Let me just emphasize that was never Jemma’s fault. As said, she was a wonderful Elphaba. Oh, but I did love the kind of robotic dancing and the hair “toss-toss”-ing! Those were really funny. You won’t see them in the videos because it seems that each production and its actors still have their own styles, innovations and ad libs.
I did enjoy Suzie Mathers more as Glinda. I can’t even say you’d love to hate Glinda because you could never hate her, she’s so cute! She was the show’s real comic relief, which I didn’t expect, and the fact that she was played by a very credible actress was truly entertaining.
My impression was Suzie’s character was the most physical one in the whole production. She was constantly moving and making gestures, going here and there. The good witch role was a fun character. Suzie was perfectly perky-bubbly-girly. I was, in a way, reminded of Elle Woods in the film Legally Blonde, which now also has its own stage musical adaptation.
Her attack on the role was somehow different from that of Kristin Chenoweth who originated it. Kristin was very effective also, though, rather more on the quirky-silly-girly side. (Watch the very funny Kristin below, giving beauty tips in “Popular.” The last stanza of the song got cut off, though. For a more complete performance and a closer look at the characters — they’re so pretty! — click HERE. )
Jay Laga’aia as The Wizard may seem familiar, and he did seem so to me. That’s because according to the programme, he’d done lots of screen work, most known of which were Star Wars 2 & 3. As for the acting, maybe it’s in how the character was written in the play, but I found myself not feeling anything, either positive or negative. Sorry, just personal opinion.
As for Steve Danielsen playing Fiyero, I felt he lacked a lot. Understandable as he is said to be a relative newcomer to the musical theatre stage. I felt he looked awkward onstage especially when it involved choreography.
In general, the whole ensemble did great justice to the show. Special props to Ms. Maggie Kirkpatrick who played Madame Morrible.
Over all, it was a very enjoyable night to spend with friends. After all, it was, more than anything else, about friendship and acceptance of others and oneself. The WICKED experience was worth every second, every effort, every cent.
Liked this? Feel free to hit LIKE!!! Or have you seen a WICKED performance yourself? Share to us your thoughts or posts about it. Let’s be WICKED! 🙂
Thanks for reading!