To call Wicked a “great show” feels wholly inadequate.
For the last thirteen years, this certified cultural phenomenon has been perfecting the art of the spectacle. Now, what culminates on stage is an experience that is so far from ‘mediocre’ or ‘boring’, it’s as if these words don’t exist within its walls. What Manila stands to experience starting February isn’t merely a great time at the theater, it’s a nightly delivery of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Every time. Guaranteed.
For the uninitiated, Wicked is a Stephen Schwartz musical based on the Gregory Maguire novel of the same name. The plot is an imagined prequel to the L. Frank Baum classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. An origin story of sorts, it follows the beginnings of the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West as college co-eds at Shiz University. It’s a layered tale that evolves from popular girl vs awkward nerd into a fantastic story of friendship and romance, love and acceptance, and overcoming adversities.
(READ: Wicked Set to Thrillify Manila Audiences Once More!)
Beyond the plot, Wicked is more accurately an immersive theatrical experience with big production numbers, memorable songs, and world class staging that is no less than a feast for the senses.
Concertus Manila flew a few journalists to Singapore for the UK touring production (directed by Leigh Constantine)’s gala night. Never has the above phrase felt more apt than when I was sitting there, trying to take everything in. From the set design (by Eugene Lee) that transported one into Oz regardless of seat, the lighting (by Kenneth Posner) that gave each scene such fullness and depth, to the costumes (by Susan Hilferty) that were so intricate, they could give avant-garde fashion designers a run for their money.
It’s an experience that is the very definition of escapist entertainment. It’s not all razzmatazz, however. In fact, the show’s strengths lie in its softer, stiller moments, and the nuanced characterization by its leads.
Jacqueline Hughes performs Elphaba with a presence so dominant, so magnetic, and so confident, it pulls her as the true protagonist of the tale. An early song, “The Wizard and I”, is sung with such hope and pure optimism that you can’t help but root for Elphaba. (Ms. Hughes delivers such a rousing, reverberating performance that as I write this piece, I’m getting misty-eyed.) The same is true for all her other solos. “No Good Deed”, in particular, is easily the highlight of the second act.
(WATCH: TFM Exclusive- Facebook Live with Wicked’s Jacqueline Hughes and Carly Anderson)
Ms. Hughes may play up Elphaba’s independence, strength, and self-awareness but she does not lose the vulnerability that makes her otherness—and later on, acceptance—very profound. There is a moment in act one during a school ball where she dances awkwardly, alone, and without music. It was a loneliness that radiated so much, it was almost overwhelming. When Galinda (played by Carly Anderson) finally joins her and they start dancing in unison, we see the beginning of their friendship in the most moving way possible.
As Glinda, Ms. Anderson is the epitome of ‘Popular’. She is tall, with model features that introduced an interesting vibe to the character. When past Glindas tended to be cute and non-threatening, it did take me awhile to buy her genuine niceness. While I felt that her overall comedic timing needed work, her rapport with Ms. Hughes is unquestionable. “For Good” is affecting in great part because of her performance.
Bradley Jaden’s Fiyero is a bit of a bad boy. He earns his leading man prince charming stripes with his long, swooping hair and carefree swagger that will make ladies and gents alike swoon in their seats. There is no trace of the Scarecrow’s brainlessness (metaphorical, at this point in the story) in him. He also has great chemistry with both Ms. Hughes and Ms. Anderson. His leading man qualities were most evident in “As Long as You’re Mine”. There is wanton love, longing, and urgency in his movement with Ms. Hughes that it was almost sensual.
It’s a British production, and very tellingly so. The characters all spoke and sang in British accents, most notably Mr. Jaden in “Dancing Through Life”. The exception was the Wizard (Steven Pinder), who adapted an American accent. Some of the big numbers felt more contained and lines were delivered dryly (especially Kim Ismay’s Madame Morrible), which are not necessarily bad things.
Wicked is one of those shows that everyone must see at least once in their lives, but does not lose any of its magic no matter how many times you see it. It’s so awe-inspiring that it makes viewers (at least this viewer) glad that art exists in the world.
You can purchase tickets here.