Speculation ends as Harrison calls it quits

Elphaba (Amanda Harrison) and Madame Morrible (Maggie Kirkpatrick) in Wicked

Amanda Harrison has quit the long-running musical Wicked.

Her departure comes following months of speculation about her future, with Harrison last performing the role of Elphaba in November last year. Since then, other actors – including Jemma Rix and Pippa Grandison – have filled in.

Some weeks ago, the official line from Wicked was that Harrison would return, but it was known within some corners of the theatre industry that Harrison was seriously considering a permanent departure.

The Helpmann Award-winning actress suffered vocal problems, forcing her to take an extended break, and is leaving to ensure she does no permanent damage.

“I’ve had the most incredible time with Wicked, a wonderful roller coaster ride,” Harrison said.

“It has been a huge challenge conquering this role, the role of my career so far. It has given me so much, from the friendships I’ll carry with me forever and the opportunities outside of Wicked like singing at Carnegie Hall and at Carols in the Myer Music Bowl.

“But the very reasons I’ve loved playing Elphaba are the reasons I now need to hang up my hat and broomstick. It’s such a demanding and all absorbing role. I’m very much looking forward to seeing new Elphabas rising to the challenge, and to new challenges for me, be they film or TV or maybe down the track, more musical theatre, my first love.”

Harrison won the role of Elphaba late in 2007 after massive Australia-wide auditions. Along with Lucy Durack as Glinda, she was announced as part of the cast in early 2008 and went on a publicity campaign that was one of the biggest in Australian theatre history. The show finally opened in Melbourne in July 2008, where Harrison earned rave reviews.

Harrison, who first came to note in We Will Rock You, missed performances towards the end of the Melbourne season but opened the Sydney season in September last year. Just weeks into the Sydney season she disappeared, creating a huge theatrical mystery.

It is expected that Rix and Grandison will continue in the role of Elphaba as the Sydney season continues.

Harrison is regarded as one of Australia’s leading musical theatre stars, first appearing on stage in Aspects Of Love in 1992. A graduate of the Talent Development Project, she went on to star in Les MiserablesLeader Of The Pack and a host of other shows.

In 2004, she won the Helpmann Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her work in We Will Rock You. She has been nominated for two other Helpmann Awards, and three Green Room Awards.

Despite speculation, Harrison’s decision to depart was only made in the last couple of weeks. She was seriously considering a return to the show until then, but decided it would take too much of a toll on her already strained voice.

Elphaba is a demanding role, with several high-powered songs throughout the show. With a schedule of eight shows a week, it was perhaps impossible to maintain the role for a long period of time.

Harrison has moved to Melbourne, where she is considering her future and fielding offers.

Wicked continues to do good business at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney and is expected to run until mid-2010 when an announcement is likely to be made about a touring production.

With Mamma Mia! ending its Lyric Theatre run on Sunday and both the Theatre Royal and State Theatre dark, Wicked is now the only major musical playing in Sydney, though Spring Awakening opens for a limited run at the Sydney Theatre this week.

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