BWW Review: WICKED is a Concoction of Memorable Music, Visual Treat
Manila, Philippines--The much-anticipated return of WICKED did not fail to generate the buzz and crowd it was expected to. The throng that trooped to The Theatre at Solaire on February 8 was proof that this hit Broadway musical indeed has a Manila cult following, some of whom wickedly garbed in celebratory costumes, most flamboyant of which was Tessa Prieto-Valdes, a regular on big musical opening nights.
But what exactly is the appeal of WICKED? What could there be in this musical that exposes the characters of the well-loved classic The Wizard of Oz in a different light?
A different light! In a time of media manipulation and "alternative facts," this might explain the WICKED phenomenon.
Alternative Facts, Bad Press, and the As-We-All-Know-It Phenomena
WICKED is the story of two completely opposite witches, Elphaba and Glinda, whose friendship blossoms in the most unconventional way. One is green--unusually green; while the other one is blonde--unusually blonde. Trouble actually begins there.
The musical is based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West." It tells the story in an alternative facts narrative, another perspective to the popular children's classic The Wizard of Oz whose as-we-all-know-it account is now challenged by both Maguire's book and its Broadway version.
Perhaps those who are keen to these alternative-point-of-view details may come to consider a similar envelope-pushing children's book by Jon Scieszka, " The True Story of the Three Little Pigs," which came out in 1989, six years before the Maguire novel. Here, Scieszka offers an alternative retelling of the piggy story--as we all know--this time from the Big Bad Wolf's viewpoint. Alexander T. Wolf, like Elphaba, has an axe to grind with the press.
Both Maguire's and Scieszka's books may have been told in a funny different POV, but they present to us the big question What if? Each provides a closer examination of issues social and political that presently define our social media times, with a little suggestion for some research and triangulation of facts.
To borrow from theater critic Mark Shenton, yes, it's all about "Popular"!
It's All About Popular
From a bigger lens, what makes WICKED a box-office hit worldwide is the special mix of music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's book. While the book takes a humorous swipe at the popular culture and media, Schwartz complements it by providing music that is radio friendly: a keen ear would jump up at the similarity between WICKED's opening song with another popular musical's overture. The similarity at 0:15 of "No One Mourns the Wicked" is simply glaring. Here's a hint: this musical launched the career of a Filipina on Broadway and London's West End.
Holzman's book brings to center stage the "Good Witch" in the skin and clothes and brain and voice of what could be that "Clueless" or "Mean Girls" or much more like "Geek Charming" girl. Blonde witch Glinda (formerly Galinda) could be a hybrid of all these girls, but Holzman succeeds in pounding into us popular celebrity fans the glitch and un-glam of whom we idolate, I mean, idolize.
Together, both the music and lyrics provide some deeper moments of reflection, while most of the time cramping our bellies with in-your-face humor and puns. The musical, however, lags halfway through the first act, which thankfully was saved by the much-awaited gravity-defying number.
Book, music, and lyrics considered, the musical is riveting and easy to identify with.
Leading the cast of exceptional talents is Jacqueline Hughes as Elphaba. Hughes's Elphaba is a force to reckon with. Hers is a combination of sincere acting and a singing so rich in both high and low tones. Watch her dive and glide in "Defying Gravity"-- her voice soaring above the visual spectacle of this awe-inspiring scene.
Carly Anderson's Glinda is, no doubt, a scene stealer in all the right intentions, perfectly melding squeak and puns into a fashionable, easy-to-love villainess whose idiosyncrasy is an easy prey to mockers. We may be laughing hard at the mockery, but Anderson brings to us all an opportunity to laugh at our very own. Like Hughes, Anderson is an able singer, most of the time showcasing her versatility. Whether she's dumbly fierce, dumbly in love, or just simply dumb, she is no doubt engaging.
Another scene stealer is Kim Ismay's Madame Morrible who commands a strong presence in every scene she is in. She holds her own against Hughes and Anderson with cunning, spite, and scorn. Ismay, together with Hughes and Anderson, create a veritable triumvirate of powerful leads, individually unique but collectively fierce.
Alex Jordan-Mills as Fiyero may be an able singer and dancer, but he lacks the charm and truth of a leading man. He flounders through this stereotyped role, mostly eclipsed by Glinda and Elphaba in their scenes together. He nevertheless redeems himself towards the end, most curiously, when his dancing is gone.
Steven Pinder as The Wizard of Oz, at the outset, personally struck me as lacking both in cunning and drama, but when in the writing of this review I discovered he was playing another important character, I suddenly gasped, "Genius!" For the sake of suspense, I will not reveal his other role. See the show and find it.
IdDon Jones as Boq and Emily Shaw as Nessarose are endearing and convincing, providing the tender and dramatic moments where urgently needed, lest the musical falls into the absolute comedy tone. Theirs are societal figures imprisoned by different cruel circumstances whose tragic individual denouement provides the incisive critique of what's real and wrong in our persons and society today.
This review would never be complete without taking my hats off to the wonderful ensemble of actors, singers, and dancers who puts forth unquestionably solid performances in the show.
Direction, Sets, Costumes, Lights and Sound
Joe Mantello's direction is one that is both smooth and dynamic, providing for an effective storytelling laced with a steady stream of punch lines delivered on, point. The musical may have begun with a disputable low energy and was struggling midway of Act 1, which I think could be faulted to the weak sound system, however, things simply picked up at the first act's end and continued on flawlessly for the rest of the show.
The Tony Award-winning scenic and costume designs by Eugene Lee and Susan Hilferty are masterpieces in their own rights. One can just simply sit in awe of these and slip into forgetting that this is actually a musical, not an exhibit. On the other hand, equally praiseworthy is Kenneth Posner's light design responsible for creating one of the most memorable scenes in musical theater ("Defying Gravity").
The Verdict: WICKED is a concoction of memorable music, fun, performances, and visual delights rolled into one wickedly enchanting potion. And hey, it makes you reconsider your schema.
Presented by Globe LIVE, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, and Concertus Manila, WICKED comes to Manila direct from an award-winning, multi record-breaking tour of the UK & Ireland. It plays The Theatre at Solaire in Paranaque City now through Sunday, March 19.
For tickets, call (632) 891-9999 or visit TicketWorld.com.ph.
Photos: Matt Crockett