Sometimes I just don’t get it

I just don’t get it – what has the industry got against Wicked?

Way to kill a party.

The reviews of Wicked that ran online on our competitor websites and Australian Stage Online certainly left me a little more than confused this week.

Wicked of course opened at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney last week in a flurry of excitement, more than a year after it opened in Melbourne at the Regent Theatre in what was one of the most stunning openings of all-time.

Despite a minority within the industry itself who seem hell bent on doubting the success of Wicked, the show has a remarkable list of achievements next to its name and since opening in Melbourne in July last year has emerged as one of the most popular shows ever staged in this country.

Jack Teiwes of Australian Stage Online was less than impressed by the show, however. He declared it was “more than a little overrated”.

Wicked is a flawed but highly entertaining musical with considerable appeal, as its wide success has already shown. It may not be truly one of the best Broadway shows to come along in the last decade, but it certainly has one of the most intriguing and original concepts behind it, as well as such a sense of fantasy and fun that makes it hard not to get swept along.”

Diana Simmonds of Stage Noise was also unimpressed.

“I have to admit right here that although Wicked is a bona fide musical theatre phenomenon, I just don’t get it. And, if the quietly muttered comments and perplexed expressions of many in the opening night audience are any measure, I wasn’t the only one by a long way. Not that it would be apparent from the dingbat behaviour and wassailing that traditionally accompanies a Sydney musical first night.”

Can I deal with that last comment first. What is wrong with the behaviour at an opening night? Screaming, loud applause and standing ovations – how dare we! Again we see this industry constantly stabbing itself in the back, with a long-time reviewer declaring the supportive and sometimes over-the-top fun of opening nights is nothing short of “dingbat behaviour”. How dare we stand from our seats and break our dedicated silence and refinement.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Jason Blake gave the show a stunning review during the week and we can only hope people pay attention to it.

I admit, I’m a huge fan of Wicked. I first saw the show on Broadway in 2004 and have loved it ever since. The inspired and soaring Stephen Schwartz score combined with the unique and special story the show tells made it one of my top five musicals on the first viewing.

Since then, I’ve seen the show numerous times in Australia and my affection for it is not waned.

For me, it is the ultimate contemporary musical and the ultimate show to guide a new generation to the theatre. Such power is evident in the fan base Wicked has developed since word spread that it was coming to Australia.

The poor online reviews for Wicked and the older statesmen of the industry who seem to rate it only as an “also ran” show the major gap that exists between audiences and the industry itself. And that is a major problem – if reviewers are unable to connect to audiences on the whole, then what hope do we have as a genre moving forward?

It is a reviewers job to sometimes criticise shows but the universal success of Wicked suggests that critics against it have got it wrong.

Yes, the show also received a mixed response on Broadway but that was long before its list of achievements became known.

Some will say that the show must be taken on face value, ignoring the past successes and fanfare. I disagree. Past success and fanfare is the core element to the show working. It’s the core element to it having a long run, employing hundreds of Australians and being the springboard for the next 10 to 20 years of theatre lovers.

Consider this: Wicked has won three Tony Awards, seven Drama Desk Awards, a Grammy Award, a tonne of audience awards, a swag of Helpmann awards and has been running successfully on Broadway since 2003 – its audience rarely dropping below 100 per cent capacity.

This show is a cultural phenomenon. It is, without doubt, a guiding light for theatre in this country, if not worldwide.

Reviews have been a long-time part of the industry but perhaps we need to re-consider their worth in Australia when the gap between critic and general public seems too huge.

Theatre is all about differing opinions but every now and again those differing opinions can be destructive.

For Diana Simmonds to suggest we should “roll on Mamma Mia” makes me shake my head. Let’s suggest people ignore a true book musical and instead rush to get tickets to a show that was here just a few years ago and features songs from ABBA Gold.

Supportive lot, we are.

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