Although I adored the movie The Wizard of Oz as a child and enjoyed it many years later with my own kids, I was only vaguely aware of the ‘WICKED’ phenomenon before I attended the Sydney opening of WICKED the Musical last week.
Having no expectations, it was simply delightful to be transported to the land of Oz by this enchanting show. For those who don’t know, WICKED is the origin story, or the prequel, to The Wizard of Oz – telling the story of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.
In this ‘back story’ Glinda and Elphaba are firstly enemies, when as young women, they first meet at Shiz University, then friends, then frenemies who both love the same guy (Fiyero) but more importantly, clash over what they consider to be right and wrong. But the story of this musical is secondary to its staggering production value. Every detail of this musical is meticulously attended to, with magnificent sets, special effects and costumes (yes, including those fabulous besuited flying monkeys).
Courtney Monsma’s Glinda arrives on stage in a bubble and fittingly, she is a bubble-headed ‘popular’ girl who decides to take the green-hued, friendless Elphaba (Sheridan Adams) under her wing. But Elphaba’s superior magic powers mean she is selected by the headmistress of their college, Madame Morrible (Robyn Nevin) to meet with the ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ himself (Todd McKenney) … and that is where things start to get interesting. This quartet of theatre stars set the performance bar high, with a supporting cast that is uniformly excellent. Particularly moving is Adam Murphy as the goat, Dr Dillamond, the only ‘animal professor’ at Shiz University who warns Elphaba in ‘Something Bad’ that all the animals throughout Oz are systematically losing their jobs and their voices (a chilling allegory for the way Jews in 1930s Nazi Germany and beyond lost their rights and were systematically removed from society).
WICKED’s memorable score includes a bunch of great songs written by composer Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote Godspell in the 1970s. Among them is the vocally and visually acrobatic ‘Defying Gravity’ made famous by the TV show Glee and here featuring some breathtaking special effects; ‘Wonderful’, a Cabaret-like song performed by the Wizard; and ‘For Good’, the highlight of the show for me, when Glinda and Elphaba acknowledge and eulogise their bond.
Having opened in the US in 2003, WICKED is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. Don’t miss this spectacle of a show.
Until 31 December, 2023