Thursday, 23 January 2014

Musical Review: Wicked - The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz

(Excerpt from my articles featured in
Jemma Rix as Elphaba
Jemma Rix as Elphaba
On January 22, 2014, Wednesday, the blockbuster must-see musical phenomenon Wicked, the highest grossing musical of all time and the 11th longest running Broadway show in history, opened in Manila at the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Tangahang Nicanor Abelardo, its main theater. Nothing less than wonderful, it will surely cast a different spell on the more mature (or even not so mature) audience.  The show will run up to February 23.

Based on a 1995 revisionist novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire, it is a Disneyfied re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s (his initials are the basis for the character Elphaba) stories and characters in his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Maguire went on to write three more Oz-based books - Son of a Witch (2005), A Lion Among Men (2008) and Out of Oz (2011) which, along with his previously mentioned novel, came to be known as The Wicked Years series.
Suzie Mathers as Glinda
Suzie Mathers as Glinda the Good
Adapted to the Broadway stage in 2003, it has since won 50 major awards, including six (out of 11 nominations) Drama Desk Awards (including Outstanding Musical, Book, Director and Costume Design) in 2004; three (out of 10 nominations) Tony Awards (for "Best Actress," "Best Scenic Design" and "Best Costume Design") in 2004; a Grammy Award for "Best Musical Show Album" in 2005; and six (out of 12 nominations) Helpmann Awards (including "Best Musical). 

It was also nominated for five Joseph Jefferson Awards and five Laurence Olivier Awards. Wicked was also named the "Best Musical of the Decade" by Entertainment Weekly magazine and hailed "a cultural phenomenon" by Variety magazine.
Jay Laga'aia as The Wizard
Jay Laga'aia as the Wizard
A prequel of sorts to The Wizard of Oz,  Wicked relates the events surrounding Dorothy’s visit to Oz and reveals the origins of the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Man but, most of all, it tells the untold tale of how two witches and unlikely friends meet in the Land of Oz. One, born with emerald green skin, is the unhappy child of her mother’s love affair with a wanderer.  

She is smart, sensitive, passionate and fiery, with a “heart of gold,” but is judged, ridiculed and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, bubbly, charming and, above all, the most popular girl in school. She is also flighty, ambitious, callow and vain, not quite as good as people think.  

The polar opposite of each other, they somehow connect and grow to become Elphaba, the green Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North.  
The show has four major Australian cast members who provided top-notch performances and merit applause – Jemma Rix, Suzie Mathers, Steve Danielson and Jay Laga’aia.  The tall, dark haired Jemma Rix first played the vocally challenging role of the green, wicked witch and outcast Elphaba in the condensed version of Wicked for Universal Studios in Japan.  She again reprised the role and belted out the high notes during Wicked’s first Australian Tour which began in Brisbane on January 25, 2011 and ended in Perth on September 11, 2011.  

That same year, she was nominated for a Helpmann Award for "Best Leading Actress in a Musical" for her portrayal as Elphaba.  Jemma again plays Elphaba on the Asian tour of Wicked as they traveled to SingaporeSeoul and Manila and she will continue to play this character during the 10th Anniversary production of Wicked in Australia which will start with Melbourne in May 2014. This is not Jemma’s first trip to the country as she recently traveled to Cebu last August 2013 to support her husband Josh who participated in the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 Philippines triathlon.
Members of the Ensemble CastMembers of the Ensemble Cast
Glinda versus Elphaba
Glinda versus Elphaba
The blonde, Scotland-born but Australia-raised Suzie Mathers has, within weeks of graduating (Bachelor of Arts – Music Theatre) from the Western Australia Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA), made her mark in the Australian music theater industry by being cast in the Australian Premiere Season of Wicked in Melbourne.  

During the 2009 Sydney Theatre Awards, she was nominated as “Best Newcomer” for her role as Sophie Sheridan in the 10th anniversary Australian tour of Mamma Mia!  After a year of doing all things ABBA, she rejoined the Australian cast of Wicked as the “Midwife” but, on many occasions, understudying and performing the role of Glinda the Good.  At the start of the Asian tour, Suzie, with her high vocal range, took over the role of Glinda full-time.  It is Suzie's first time to visit the Philippines.
Jemma singing "The Wizard and I"
Jemma singing her opening song
"The Wizard and I"
Steve Danielsen plays Fiyero Tiggular, an oddly tattooed boy transformed into the handsome Prince Charming-like character caught in a love triangle with the two witches. A TV and movie screen actor (Queen of the DamnedThe Hard WordOffspringTangle, etc.) and a relative newcomer in the musical theatre stage, Steve trained extensively in voice with Tim Smith (New York) and Neil Semer (Broadway Dance Centre) and also completed dance training at the Space and City Dance Centre in Melbourne.  His theater credits include Xanadu the Musical (understudying Sonny Malone) and Legally Blond the Musical (as Pfortzheimer). Wicked, his third professional stage job and his first lead role "ever," is a bit of a dream come true for him, having first seen it on Broadway in 2008.
The versatile, stocky and thinly bearded Jay Laga'aia, a New Zealand-born (of Samoan descent) but Australia-based movie (best known internationally for his role as Captain Typho in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) and TV (he played the role of Draco in several episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess) actor and singer, began his theatrical career in 1984 at Cy Coleman's Broadway musical Sweet Charity held at the famous Mercury Theatre in Auckland.  He is known for his stage productions such as Jesus Christ Superstar (1994, New Zealand, as Judas), Threepenny Opera (as MacHeath) and the celebrated Disney musical The Lion King (2003, as Mufasa).  In Wicked, he plays the role of The Wizard, the leader of Oz who uses deceit and trickery to hide his own shortcomings.
The Ensemble Cast singing "One Short Day"The Ensemble Cast singing "One Short Day"
Jemma and Suzie singing "Popular"
Jemma and Suzie singing "Popular"
Other cast members include veteran actress Maggie Kirkpatrick as Madame Morrible (the headmistress of Shiz and a cohort of The Wizard); Emily Cascarino as Nessarose Thropp (Elphaba's spoiled, wheelchair-bound younger sister and the Wicked Witch of the East);  Edward Gray as Boq (a Munchkin man and Nessarose's love interest who becomes the Tin Woodsman); Glen Hogstrom, a performer of varied talents (he is also the Staging Director for Wicked's Asian Tour) as Dr. Dillamond (a goat who has the ability to speak and interact with humans); and Ali Calder as the Elphaba Standby.
The set design (scenery and props), by Eugene Lee, was shipped into this country in more than 20 huge containers.  Cameron Flint, the Technical Director, made adjustments with the stage so as to accommodate the exact Wicked set design.  The design features a breathtaking mechanical Time Dragon, a centerpiece which lies over the grand proscenium arch and moves through a pulley system. Said to have been named “Stacey” by the touring company, during the play, this  dragon will writhe, flail and breathe smoke out of its nostrils as it suddenly comes to life, roars and glares down at the audience from above. When the dragon’s eyes turn red, there will be “magic” happening on stage.
Stacey the Time Dragon (photo courtesy of the Time Dragon (photo courtesy of
The musical’s set design team must have had a similar impression of Baum’s novel when they built the set - it is bold, dark and edgy. Complicated gear-works climb around the shadowy scaffolding flanking the stage. The stage itself, with the same production specifications as those on Broadway and in London’s West End, is an ever-changing hue of colors (much of it green, of course) of strong dark-light gradients, while the props and stage sets are eye-candies of sophisticated contraptions. Check out my article on their stage design.
The "Wicked" stage set-upThe "Wicked" stage set-up
Wicked features music by Academy and 3-time Grammy Award winner Stephen Schwartz (GodspellPippin, PocahontasThe Baker’s Wife, The Prince of Egypt) and Lisa Leguillo will direct this stage adaptation based on the original direction by Joe Mantello (Take Me OutAssassinsThe Ritz). The musical also features costumes by 2001 Obie Award-winning costume designer Susan Hilferty, musical direction by the talented David Young and musical staging by choreographer Wayne Louis Cilento.
The Philippine season of Wicked is produced by Marc Platt, David Stone, Universal Pictures, The Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and John Frost. It is presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins Enterprises, 105.9 Radio High and local partner Concertus Manila in association with Wicked Worldwide. Major corporate sponsors are Smart Infinity and VISA. Other major sponsors are Diamond Hotel and OOCL.  Make-up will be provided by MAC
Tickets are priced at Php7,000, Php5,800, Php4,500, Php2,250 and Php1750.  For tickets  to "Wicked" in Manila, call 891-9999 or visit For more information, visit

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