Theatre review: Wicked the Musical
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned....or misunderstood. Such is the case when Elphaba roared in contempt, "no good deed goes unpunished" as she recounted all her losses. The green-skinned Munchkinland governor's daughter had just lost her beloved, Fiyero (who will then turn into the scarecrow), had the entire land of Oz turn against her, lost her sister Nessa (and those pair of slippers) to a cyclone and might have ruined her friendship with Glinda the Good. In what arguably was the point where Elphaba crossed over to the dark side, she proudly declared, "I'm wicked through and through...I promise no good deed will I attempt to do ever again."
Yes, it isn't easy being green. Before your childhood was framed by images of good versus evil, there was a grey area — and it's this very space that's the ultimate moneymaker, fuelling our imagination with possibilities. It's what gave characters such as Maleficent and Loki their back-stories, and in the case of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Wicked breathes new life into the characters that first appeared in L. Frank Baum's 1900 publication. Before she was Glinda the Good, she was Galinda, the most popular girl in school who's self-righteous to a fault. Before she was deemed the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba was an outcast who stuck to her principles.
Returning to Singapore after premiering at Marina Bay Sands in 2011, the production presents the first official time Wicked's showing the original choreographer's added elements. It's an attempt to keep things fresh — after all, Wicked first arrived on Broadway in 2003, with its West End crossover having celebrated its 10th year just last month. But as it is with tales almost as old as time (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the novel the production's based on was published 21 years ago), you'll get loyal fans both young and old. A man in the audience was overhead uttering "I've seen this 14 times" as a girl no more than seven skipped past with a witch's hat.
Jacqueline Hughes and Carly Anderson star as Elphaba and Glinda in this production, proving to be the best of "frenemies". In our time of third-wave feminism and girl squads, it's enjoyable to watch a musical with two strong female leads who don't succumb to stereotypes. Sure, when we're first introduced to the self-absorbed Glinda ("it's good to see me, isn't it"), her blonde ringlets were perfectly curled while her figure cut a slim one. Elphaba then appeared on stage, first as a grotesque-looking baby turned away by her own father, then as a stocky youth dressed in black, with hair not quite as toss-worthy. But fortunately, all is not what it seems, with Wicked excelling at allowing audiences to look at things another way.
Although set in magical Munchkinland and Oz — where animals talk and sorcery's taught in schools — the issues surrounding Wicked are at the very heart of humanity. They say life's earliest lessons begin in school — in Elphaba's and Glinda's case, they surfaced in their rollercoaster ride of a friendship. While they experienced "pure unadulterated loathing" at the start, the duo's camaraderie soon blossoms as the story resorts to the makings of a good chick flick: Boy troubles surface in the appearance of Fiyero, while makeover montages allow for wardrobe changes and a new hair tossing trick.
Hughes manages Elphaba's highs and lows with delicate vulnerability at love and loss, and fiery bravado when she's being delightfully wicked. Anderson's Glinda proved to be as funny as she was expectedly beautiful, sending out a strong message that you can be both. Another notable mention is Kim Ismay's Madame Morrible — who some might call one of the actual villains in the story as tables were turned — who provided a lot of laugh lines. Wicked also presented the characters familiar to our childhood: The lion, the tin man, the scarecrow and Dorothy herself.
Designed by Eugene Lee and Susan Hilferty respectively, the set and costumes were characters in their own right. Everything was slightly asymmetrical, such as the clock, which showed its 13th hour. Whether it were the fairy lights, green shadows or dry ice used, the multi-layered set moved at rapid speed, introducing us to worlds upon worlds of discovery.
What did we learn from Wicked? How witches toss their hair, the fact that black is this year's pink and that the grey area between good versus evil is a wickedly exciting place to be in. We welcome Wicked's return anytime.
Wicked The Musical is running till 20 November at Grand Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Book tickets on Sistic.