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BWW Reviews: WICKED at the Cultural Center of the Philippines

The Clock of the Time Dragon greets the audience at the Cultural
Center of the Philippines Main Theatre. Photo by Chriselle Fajardo

By Rocky Christopher Fajardo

Manila, Philippines, February 14, 2014--It was an all-consuming rebirth in color as cascades of lush and textured emerald lights sprung to life in an intense surge from the heart of the stage, as a map of Oz, especially rigged as a stage curtain for the Cultural Center of the Philippines' (CCP) Main Theater, raised to unravel a fantastic tale: One told in the Philippine premiere of the blockbuster megamusical WICKED. Witnessing the opening of the first act is an experience in itself so vibrant that it gives spectators the sensation of diving headfirst into the Technicolor world of classic MGM, the film outfit that immortalized Judy Garland in her iconic role as Dorothy Gale in 1939's "The Wizard of Oz".

Locked in an elaborate embrace, the overlapping waves of the almost breathing colors of the set design and costumes (of characteristically twisted Edwardian aesthetics), and props, all magnificently topped by the ominous Clock of the Time Dragon glaring forebodingly from up above (as if an oracle of only bad omens), gives birth to an effect purely primal and instantaneous in its nature: A cold and deep awareness that this is no prologue to a fine fairytale romance or an impassioned moment kindling a saga of love at first sight. The opening musical number takes you straight to the ruins of a second political assassination, one committed by an innocent young girl from Kansas: The murder of the solitary figure amidst the hurricane of unionist upsurges; the primary cause of fear in all of Oz; and through this unwarranted crime, the genesis of a backstory now about to take a frontseat is told.

The initial flourishes of Maestro David Young's baton leading the orchestra into the overture of "No One Mourns the Wicked" ushers in the flawlessly choreographed chaos of the Ozians heralding the news of the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba. To the discerning ear, the first few bars of the rousing overture appears oddly tinged with an undertone of sadness, as if intentionally held back from realizing its potential for a full explosion of unbridled celebration. In a recent interview by BroadwayWorld.com with the show's composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz during his recent trip to Manila, he acknowledges the duality of the song: The carefully interlaced pathos within the Ozian's triumph over Elphaba's death; and the dual substance of strained compassion and dark victory within Glinda's role in the celebration of the Wicked Witch's demise. An impeccable antithesis of sorts to the chirpy Munchkinlander ditty "Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead" ("The Wizard of Oz," MGM, 1939), "No One Mourns the Wicked" is bold (owe it to the musical genius of Schwartz), tinted with an inhumane savagery and overwrought with an unacknowledged remorse (and for good measure) that is shadowed by each joyous thundering of the phrase "She's Dead". Only until the effervescent entrance of Suzie Mathers' Glinda does the jubilation reach its ultimate height as she whips the diluted fear and intensifying relief into an escalating frenzy. Clad in all her cheeky and pompous splendor as she floats down in her gigantic bubble (one among many feats of engineering brilliance in set design by Eugene Lee), Glinda tackles the multi-faceted roles of journalist, narrator, moralizer, and unauthorized personal historian of the fallen foe.

Lucy Durack, Jemma Rix star in the Australian production of
the Broadway smash WICKED. Photo by Jeff Busby

"No One Mourns the Wicked" holds the central key in unmasking what is left to be understood about Elphaba. Schwartz's genius as a lyricist with a remarkable gift for storytelling is outspoken and organic here. In a matter of minutes, Schwartz plunges in quick, steady pace into the depths of the most crucial aspects of Elphaba's mysterious conception; the extenuating circumstances surrounding her birth; and the roots of the repulsion that the long-misunderstood green-skinned heroine have endured. By the song's denouement, one is in grips, with a feeling of wonder at the seemingly dual roles that Glinda takes on within the number. How is it possible that a champion of all that is good, also harbor a subtle and unassuming compassion for her adversary? Did we miss an important glitch in the bigger, brighter picture? The opening song accomplishes just that: Make room for a plethora of questions and prove just how big a can of worms has been opened. Glinda, and in the longer run, WICKED, attempts to answer these and more throughout the course of the musical. As for the most pressing query of all "Is it true that you and the Wicked Witch were really friends?" Glinda's edgy reply proceeds to take the Ozians back into her days with Elphaba in Shiz Academy, and farther beyond into her rebirth as the Wicked Witch.

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