Saturday, 12 July 2008

Wicked, July 12, 2008 ****

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz,   Book by Winnie Holzman, based on novel by Gregory Maguire

Regent Theatre,  Melbourne, from July 12, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 12, 2008

Stars: 4

The Land of Oz has finally arrived – in Oz. Wicked opened to a blaze of green glory and a standing ovation at the Regent Theatre on Saturday. The trees in Collins Street glowed emerald and there were more smiling celebrities on the green carpet outside than there were on stage.

In case you’re locked in a cupboard and missing the hype, Wicked depicts the secret girlhood friendship between the two witches from The Wizard of Oz. Elphaba (Amanda Harrison), the outcast, green-tinged child, becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, while her pretty, popular rival, Galinda  (Lucy Durack), grows up to be Glinda the Good.

This unlikely relationship provides a firm, compelling core to the story and Harrison and Durack are the vivid jewels in this production, directed by Lisa Leguillou.

Harrison’s huge voice is rich and resonant. Her feisty, awkward and rebellious Elphaba elicits sympathy and solidarity as she fights for the rights of the marginalised in the bigoted Land of Oz. She sings The Wizard and I with youthful hope, I’m Not That Girl with unrequited teenage love, and her passionate rendition of Defying Gravity will takes your breath away.

Durack, with her warm, bright voice, is adorably and annoyingly perky as Galinda, the squealing, flirting teen witch. Galinda’s signature song, Popular, is hilarious while she brings a poignant note to I’m Not That Girl.

The show is spectacle as only Broadway can create it. Stephen Schwartz’s music, impeccably interpreted by the orchestra, adheres to all conventions of the modern musical without breaking any new ground. It is enjoyable but derivative. You will not remember the tunes when you leave, however, the witty lyrics serve the story and the music underscores Elphaba’s emotional journey from shy child to young rebel to terrifying and powerful witch.

Winnie Holzman’s story strips away the complexities of Gregory Maguire’s original fantasy novel, but the narrative remains convoluted. In the second half, numerous threads must be resolved, some less satisfactorily than others. Contemporary themes permeate the story:  bigotry, unjustified fear, political manipulation and the persecution of those who are different.

Wicked could not succeed without its creative team. It is a visual masterpiece with a stage set (Eugene Lee) boasting a monstrous, animated dragon, giant cogs, wheels and clock face. Kenneth Posner’s evocative lighting is spectacular and Susan Hilferty’s costumes are simply magnificent.

A versatile chorus play the witch-hunting citizens of Oz, students, guards, flying monkeys and denizens of the Wizard’s Emerald City. The opening song, No One Mourns The Wicked, is rousing. Their vibrant choreography (James Lynn Abbot) is all pulses, twists and lifts.

Australian Idol stars, Rob Mills and Anthony Callea, make a commendable transition to musical theatre. Rob Guest enjoys the Wizard, a charlatan hiding behind a frightening, mechanical visage. Penny McNamee, Rodney Dobson and Maggie Kirkpatrick, are strong supporting principals.

But it is the consummate performances of Harrison and Durack that make this show a winner.

By Kate Herbert

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