Musical casts a Wicked spell

Suzie Mathers as Glinda and Jemma Rix as Elphaba in Wicked. Picture by Bill Hatto



By Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman

3.5 stars

Burswood Theatre


Wicked, one of the world’s biggest commercial musicals, returns to Perth with its mix of the very good and the less than overwhelming pretty much intact.

One thing doesn’t change: it’s a very clever story, based on the novel Gregory Maguire spun from L. Frank Baum’s timeless masterpiece of American heartland fantasy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in a way that both expands and undercuts it.

It gives the two witches — Glinda and Elphaba, the wicked witch of the title — a backstory and the personalities to drive it.

The story precedes, and then parallels, the adventures of Dorothy in the original Oz. It’s an ingenious, expertly crafted plot (by Winnie Holzman), with effective messages about intolerance, oppression and the manipulation of public perception, that remains the best thing about the show.

Elphaba (Jemma Rix) is the result of an amorous liaison between the wife of the governor of Munchkinland and a mysterious stranger bearing a vial of green liquid. To everyone’s shock and repulsion, she is born green.

Her friendship with the perky, popular Glinda (Suzie Mathers) and their rivalry for the affections of the vapid but eventually stout-hearted prince Fiyero (Steve Danielsen), her rebellion, the fate of her troubled sister Nessarose (Emily Cascarino) and the eventual downfall of the Wizard of Oz (Simon Gallaher) and his right-hand necromancer Madame Morrible (Maggie Kirkpatrick) are the backbone of the plot.

Wicked looks spectacular and transitions seamlessly.

A few of composer Stephen Schwartz’s numbers — Defying Gravity and Popular in particular — have found a life outside the show but, by and large, the music is shrewd rather than stirring. A somewhat spongy sound and a less than ideal balance between orchestra and chorus in the Crown Theatre didn’t help its cause.

There’s plenty of colour and movement in Wayne Cilento’s staging, and the monkeys, munchkins and other massed folk end each number in very “dancerly” poses but how they got there doesn’t stand close scrutiny.

The limited depth of the Crown Theatre stage may have made these choreographic constraints inevitable but it’s hard for a musical to be great without at least some great dance numbers.

The performances of the principals make these shortcomings much easier to abide. Kirkpatrick is splendid as a demonic Mrs Malaprop and the other featured artists, especially Danielsen (who has an entertaining similarity to a youthful Jim Carrey), are all strong.

Everyone comes for the witches, of course. Elphaba has made Rix a star, and she remains the show’s stand-out performer with her magnificent stage voice and ability to create a nuanced, rounded character out of a green girl with a broomstick and a funny hat.

Suzie Mathers gives her a good run for her money, though.

Mathers may not have quite the translucent glamour and razor-sharp voice of her predecessor Lucy Durack — a fellow WAAPA graduate (there are eight in this cast) but her exuberant gaiety and spunk lifted the personality of Glinda in a way the more mannered Durack didn’t quite achieve the last time we were Wickeded.

Wicked runs until June 28.