Welcoming WICKED into 2014… and beyond

Fellow Ozians – after an enormously notable absence (how have you possibly coped without my emerald ramblings), I am overjoyed to announce (cue brass section) the triumphant return of my Life Upon The WICKED Stage column for 2014… and beyond!

Jemma Rix and Suzie Mathers on opening night, WICKED Manila
Jemma Rix and Suzie Mathers on opening night, WICKED Manila

For any newcomers, it’s good to see me isn’t it? Please consider this column to be your one stop shop for all things behind the Emerald Curtain.

So then – where have I been? Where did we last leave off? To be honest – who can really say when exactly the last tick of the Time Dragon Clock struck, though I believe my last official point of contact came midway through the WICKED Australasian tour’s triumphant and lengthy sellout stint in Seoul, South Korea back in 2012.

Continuing on from our raging success there, South Korea used our production as a launching pad for staging its own local production – which was auditioned, prepared, rehearsed and opened by our own incredible Australian creative team and dedicated crew heads several months ago. The Korean production now playing is mostly identical to ours, except of course that it has been fully translated in to their native tongue. WICKED Korea can be seen at the lovely Charlotte Theatre in Seoul, the same theatre where I watched the Korean language production of the originally Australian premiered Doctor Zhivago. The world really does seem to just get smaller by the day.

After a brief hiatus (and a much needed deep breath for all of us) WICKED Australasia hit the road of yellow-brick again in 2013, opening with huge fanfare at the magnificent Civic Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand.

While a few things remained the same, much had changed here in the land of Oz by the time we got to NZ; most notably in the faces seen on stage each night creating the magic. A gaggle of new ensemble members have bought their insatiable energy to the company – making things snap, crackle and pop in so very many ways. We have a charming and gallant new Wizard leading the charge, New Zealand’s own Jay Laga’aia. We also have a shiny new and spunky Fiyero in Steve Danielsen and a perfectly cast pairing in the adorable and beautiful Emily Cascarino and Ed Grey as our Nessa and Boq respectively (clearly not biased at all).

Emily Cascarino (Nessa), Rachel Cole (swing), Joseph O'Sullivan (swing), Ed Grey (Boq), Chris Scalzo (ensemble) and Steve Danielsen (Fiyero with a WICKED fan - Opening Night Party Manila at The Diamond Hotel
Emily Cascarino (Nessa), Rachel Cole (swing), Joseph O’Sullivan (swing), Ed Grey (Boq), Chris Scalzo (ensemble) and Steve Danielsen (Fiyero) with a WICKED fan – Opening Night Party Manila at The Diamond Hotel

This company of wonderful new principals and vibrant ensemble joined our continually formidable leading witches Suzie Mathers and Jemma Rix to see New Zealand welcome us with open arms. Our arrival in Auckland was a long time coming and we very much wanted to hit the ground running, so the company settled in very well together and found our WICKED rhythm surprisingly easily. It can be a complex and protracted process being integrated into this show once it is already up and running, something I can offer from personal experience. The level of technical detail expected and demanded here across all disciplines is quite literally like speaking another language each night and the performing company are constantly pushing ourselves to sing with more gusto, move stronger and allow ourselves to be engrossed in the music, movement and text with no other purpose than to tell this story.

The Civic Theatre, for those of you lucky enough to have experienced its grandeur, was the perfect setting to enhance our spectacle – and it was with enormous swelling pride that we stood as a united new company on our very first preview performance to listen to the masterful composer Stephen Schwartz tell us our particular production was the best he had seen in the world and the single best performance of WICKED he had seen globally since the Original Broadway Company’s official opening night some ten years ago.

Both Suzie and Jemma received every bit of personal praise they so rightly deserve – and both were understandably and beautifully moved. To have even one brief moment of validation from the original creative visionary after our perpetual hard work to do justice to the show was the exact caffeinated inspiration we all needed. An unforgettable and uniquely Ozmopolitian moment!

I have had many, many adventures with this company across parts of the world over the last couple of years – where we have been able to spread the magnificent message of this show across different nations – all with vastly unique cultures and different social values and theatrical sensibilities. However – now bringing the epic (and affectionately termed) “Green Machine” to Manila in The Philippines has been, without doubt, our biggest challenge and adventure to date.

Wicked Manila
How our set looks at the CCP Theatre, Manila

The local crew and our (legendary) pre-rig team were in Manila weeks before the cast even touched down, preparing every square inch of the CCP Main Theatre to ensure that our Opening here proved to be a spectacle to rival all spectacles. The official Gala Night itself saw an audience packed with ecstatic fans and peppered with local and international celebrities (the legendary Lea Salonga and Imelda Marcos among them). Before we knew it, those infamous opening chords were played – and the rest is history.

We were treated to an incredibly lavish and decadent party in true Manila style. It’s not unusual to see green as far as the eye can see at these types of events, it is however unusual to have huge slabs of ice regally bestowing whole crabs, oysters, sashimi, roasted pork belly served in enormous brass terrines and a dessert bar watched over by an enormous mint green chocolate fountain. There was a special ice cream scoopery, a handmade chocolate bar, and make your own green creme brûlée and cupcake bars. I mean… Come ON. Moreover, there was a rocking local band fronted by The Philippines answer to Destiny’s Child (how do they sing like that?!) which was a particular hit with the cast and thus the dance floor was the scene for many sweaty Instagram uploads.

wicked popular Jemma Rix and Suzie Mathers
Jemma Rix and Suzie Mathers as Elphaba and Glinda in Wicked. Image by Andrew Ritchie

We finished our opening week with as much aplomb as we began and now find ourselves slowly settling in to the chaotic routine of living and performing here in Manila. As you may or may not know, Manila itself a bustlingly varied series of mass metropolises, overflowing with traffic driving whichever way it so chooses, street vendors selling all those High Street brands and the omnipresent heart-breaking smiling children; playing anywhere they can find a spare patch of pavement. The Philippines is only in the very early stages of beginning to recover from the November 2013 devastating Typhoon Haiyan (a little more on the this in the coming weeks) and our touch down here was a little wary for many reasons; if only from a timing perspective.

Just on this – I urge all of you to read my dear friend Sophie Wright’s insightful blog here on AussieTheatre which will give you an insight into our cultural experiences and observations while living and working here. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to come to a place like Manila – there are few other places in the world where you are forced to put into perspective everything your life really has to offer with every step you take. The audiences’ graciousness and thanks after our performances each night are testament enough to the power a magical night in the theatre can offer people in times of need.

Please stay tuned for more regular and insightful updates – including some new cast member profiles and my continuing behind the scene tour updates.

Just one last exciting thing – (perhaps) the most exciting thing of all, is what this week represents for WICKED Australia. It is the beginning of the incredibly magical and exciting ‘100 days till WICKED opens in Melbourne’.

Now look, I’m not one for hashtags. I don’t even know if they function outside of Twitter and all that, but here goes…



Visit www.wickedthemusical.com.au

for more information and bookings

Chris Scalzo

Chris is currently performing in the International Tour of Wicked (GFO/Universal).Other theatre credits include Doctor Zhivago, The Chaos Fairy, The Pirates of Penzance, Jekyll and Hyde, and Floyd Collins. A graduate of NIDA, Chris toured the USA with the Original Cast of Frank and Bryant’s The Silver Donkey (Echelon), including playing an Off-Broadway season with The York Theatre Company. He was a Grand Finalist in the 7th Annual Cabaret Showcase and also the 2nd Aussie Theatre Rising Star Award. He can soon be seen in Gavin Creel's music video debut entitled Make Some Noise, shot on location in NYC with all profits going to Broadway Impact. TV credits include: Neighbours, Blue Heelers, Wicked Science, Guinevere Jones, Thunderstone, Carols by Candlelight and Sunrise.

Chris Scalzo

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