Wicked soars

Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s phenomenally successful Wicked opened on Broadway in 2003 and is still running. This production has won piles of awards, has been reproduced all over the world, including Australia in 2008–11, and is back in Melbourne, before touring to Sydney and Brisbane.

The cast of WICKED, Melbourne 2014. Image by Belinda Strodder

With 11 years of international reviews, there’s nothing that hasn’t been said about the story of the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba. If you somehow don’t know, Wicked is the Wizard of Oz story told from a different perspective and based on a book by Gregory Maguire.

It opens with Glinda the Good Witch descending into Oz in her bubble and confirming that green Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, has been melted by some human throwing water on her. Then someone asks Glinda if it’s true that she was once friends with the wicked one. Of course they were, and the next couple of glorious hours is their story, which starts way before Dorothy and Toto arrive in Oz and continues until after the ruby slippers have been clicked.

It’s full of Wizard of Oz references (book and film) and ensures that you can’t see or read it again without this extra knowledge.

Jemma Rix and Lucy Durack  Image by Belinda Strodder
Jemma Rix and Lucy Durack Image by Belinda Strodder

This production is superb. It’s as fresh and exciting as if it’s brand new and is impossible to fault. If I’d seen this show as a child, I think I would have self-combused with a combination of heart-break and utter joy. If you know children who like theatre, music and stories, Wicked is an experience like they haven’t imagined yet.

And there still were plenty of grown ups crying and cheering and telling me how many times they’d seen it.

Then there’s the Australian cast. The energy and excitement of the ensemble fill the enormous of the Regent; Emily Cascarino (Nessarose), Edward Grey (Boq), Maggie Kirkpatrick (Madame Morrible) and Steve Danielsen (Fiyero) bring enough of themselves to their roles to make them unique and heartfelt; and Reg Livermore as the Wizard captures the greed and broken heart of the man behind the gold mask and makes him so human that his villainy is understood.

But Wicked can only fly if its witches take off. And they soar. Jemma Rix (Elphaba) and Lucy Durack (Glinda) are superstars. Rix’s voice goes straight to your heart and Durack’s has a clarity and tone that brings emotion to every note, but what makes them so unforgettable is that they make Elphaba and Glinda totally their own and ensure that every choice that they make is supported, clear and real. In a story of magic and unknown powers, it’s this reality that brings us into the hearts of the characters and lets us feel for them, no matter how unreal their world is.

Commercial producers don’t always get it right in Australia when they bring us the big shows, but Wicked is as glorious, funny and heart-pumping as any theatre I’ve seen.

Now, if they can just find a way and the will to give people and families who can’t afford hundreds of dollars the chance to experience this.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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