A couple of years ago, I’ve read Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, about Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, the chief villainess of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and immediately became a fan of his writing. I also became Elphie’s supporter because its hard not to admire the green skinned rebel who speaks her mind and uses her superior intellect and powers to protect the ones she loves most.
Since reading the book and learning of its musical adaptation in Broadway starring no less than Adele Dazeem *excuse me*, Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth, I have hoped and prayed fervently for the production to come to Manila. When Phantom of the Opera came in 2012, I was elated, thinking that the Wicked team might be inspired to do so as well, seeing how successful POTO was. In 2013, my prayers were answered when it was announced that the Australian cast of Wicked was performing at the CCP Theater for the whole month of February, 2014. It was later extended to the first week of March.
Of course, I wasted no time in calling up friends to see who would want to see it with me. I like having friends along because its more fun having to share my excitement with someone. Because the prices were a bit steep (but still very reasonable considering the quality of this show) it came down to just my friend Mae and I.
We arrived early to the venue. I think we were actually the first ones to come for the 1:30 screening. It was cool because we had the entire lobby to ourselves and we were able to take lots of photos without bumping into fellow guests. We were also able to check out the souvenir items, and choose what we wanted in leisure instead of having to jostle with the rest at the end of the show. Unfortunately though, our choices were limited because stocks of the items we originally wanted were out. See, we were only able to book tickets for the last day of the show so they were running low on shirt sizes and the like but we bought some mementos just the same. No matter, we were able to purchase portable binoculars (P75), which are really handy for people sitting in the Balcony seats to get a better view of the details of the stage. Its reusable so it can be used again when you need it.
Being early also meant we had the luxury of scouting for the proper entrance so we were predictably first in line (again) when it came time to open the doors. By the way, going to the restroom is a good idea prior to the show because the 20 minute break after the first act is not enough to visit the ladies’ room. The lines are nuts (and it goes for all floors. yes, even the ground floor). By the time the doors opened, I could feel the grin on my face grow bigger and bigger. When I saw the stage, I wanted to jump up and down, so excited was I to see the cast.
The Musical basically follows the same plot as the book, but some parts were adjusted to suit a wider audience. Maguire’s novel was great but some parts were quite dark, especially towards the end. The show explained how Elphaba (derived from the phonetic sound of L. Frank Baum’s initials) came to be, her sad life, her loneliness, her devotion for her sister Nessarose, her uncanny friendship with the bright and beautiful Galinda (later known as Glinda the Good), her affinity for animals and her attempts to rescue them from oppression. The play also touches on Elphie’s lovelife, and gives audiences a look into the true character of the Wizard, whom Ozians revere as their leader.
Australian actress Ali Calder played Elphaba and she was amazing. I was surprised to learn that she was only the standby Elphie because she was great. From the first time she appeared on stage, she was able to convey spunk and sassiness and at the same time a hidden vulnerability and longing to belong. Her solos seemed so effortless but her delivery was so effective that audiences can’t help but root for her. Justine Puy as Galinda/Glinda, on the other hand, was a gem. She was funny, she was energetic, she delivered her lines so naturally –even the ditzy ones — and she embraced her role so completely that she stole every scene that she was in. Most people hate vapid attention seekers like Galinda in real life but Puy made the audience love her, no matter how outrageous her antics were. Every time she appeared on stage, audiences knew they were in for something good.
Steve Danielsen as the Vinkus prince Fiyero was great as the leading man. He was not only handsome but he brought an energy with him that he was able to use in his scenes with Elphie and Galinda. I liked that he seemed like a different person with each girl, so the audiences knew how he felt about each one throughout the show. He had a great voice too — not as polished as Jonathan Roxmouth’s Phantom but still, engaging enough to draw the audience to cheer for his budding romance with Elphie.
The rest of the cast turned up really solid performances. I was breathless after each ensemble number, so beautiful were the production numbers and the music. Accalimed Aussie actress Maggie Kirkpatrick as Madame Morrible, Jay Laga’aia as the Wizard, Emily Cascarino as Nessarose, Glen Hogstrom as Dr. Dillamond and the cutie Edward Grey as Boq, whom I wish had a bigger role in the show, as he did in the book, really stepped up and did their Broadway counterparts proud.
But the core of the show was really defined by the two girls’ ability to connect despite being different. They played polar opposite personalities so effectively that audiences become fascinated in their relationship from their first number “What is this feeling?” up to their last “For Good”, which was the main highlight of the musical. Their voices were impeccable, and their harmonies were to die for. My personal favorites were Defying Gravity and For Good.
The set was another thing of great beauty. The detail work in the props and the smooth transitioning from scene to scene was so fluid that I sometimes wondered how they were able to hide so much stuff behind the curtains and how many levels they were able to stock the major elements involved in the scene changes. The colors were so vivid yet so distinctive to the land of Oz that audiences had no problem identifying where they were. The illusion from the combination of lighting and effects added to the sense of unreality and wonderment, each scene seemed to have a different set and each set contributed to the magic of the show. It made Oz and the Shiz come alive, indeed.
My favorite part of the show however, was the music, pure and simple. The orchestra, led by conductor Laura Tipoki, was marvelous, but the songs and the lyrics by Stephen Schwartz just encapsulated the essence of the book in such a way that instantly connects audiences with the feelings that are being felt by the characters in specific points of the story. I loved that some of them were fun and some more serious. I liked that they showed range and variety. The music was so good that I hardly even noticed an hour and half go by after they announced the 20 minute break at the end of Act One.The production was so spectacular that it literally took my breath away.
My only complaint would have to be that the souvenirs weren’t as creative as I would have hoped. I was expecting the items to be more representative of the show but they were mainly just replicas of the show’s logo and poster so I was a bit disappointed. The shirts were cool but a bit pricey.
It would seem that at some point in this post, I have run out of superlatives to describe this show. I now understand why Wicked is such an international hit. The show is able to transport audience to the land Oz, and envelop them in its magic in the 2 1/2 hour long performance. Its unique, its entertaining, it boasts of beloved characters drawn from an equally beloved children’s book. At the end, I was moved to tears, I was muted by awe. My hands were numb from clapping after every segment. I wanted to record each moment in my mind because I didn’t want to forget a second of it until I grow old one day and become senile. Watching Wicked is an experience that I am glad I now have. Taken from Galinda’s number, it was unusually and exceedingly peculiar and altogether quite impossible to describe, but in a good way.
Thank you, Wicked, for coming to Manila and for making my dream come true.