The brand new Matt Ward Entertainment production delivers magic in spades on the main HOTA stage.
It’s easy to feel a little complacent about a production of Broadway hit Wicked. “It’s such fabulous material! Of course it’s going to be great!” But when you actually take a minute to appreciate the scope of the complicated sets, tricky costumes, safety factors at play and of course, the complex and difficult score, it suddenly becomes quite the feat to put on something even half decent.
Fortunately, half decent doesn’t even begin to do justice to the bedazzled, bewitching new production of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz that held its opening night at HOTA last night. Packed to the brim with splendid colour, powerful music, and lead cast worthy of any worldwide musical stage, Wicked delivers both an enchanting spectacle and a lasting emotional gut punch.
For the uninitiated, Wicked tells the story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two girls who first meet as sorcery students at Shiz University in the land of Oz: the blonde and very popular Glinda and a misunderstood green girl named Elphaba. Shenanigans unfold amidst the backdrop of the magical school where talking animals face an oppressive regime and Elphaba must choose between her dreams and her principles. While the politics give an added depth to the show, it’s the central relationship between Glinda and Elphaba which drives almost all of its emotional parts.
Sydney-based Samantha Dodemaide (Elphaba) and Gold Coaster Emily Monsma (Glinda) prove more than up to the task, each holding their own without outshining the other. Their ‘ultimate frenemies’ chemistry is palpable and both performers hold the audience in the palms of their hands for each of their scenes. The only trouble is choosing which one to watch when they are both on stage.
Dodemaide possesses an extraordinary Broadway belt that could probably shake the rafters, sans microphone, and plays a slightly cheerier Elphaba throughout than the more sardonic Idina Menzel original, which makes her quite engaging. She ranges through all of Elphaba’s depth and complexity with a professional hand and a nice touch of subtlety, demonstrating acting chops worthy of her significant vocal ones.
Monsma’s Glinda is the opposite of subtle, but that’s precisely why the bubbly blonde character, originally played by Kristen Chenoweth, is so beloved. She demonstrates utter fearlessness via an exaggerated countenance and awkward comedic physicality that raises guffaws throughout, and her soaring soprano is an absolute delight to listen to. Both ladies do the iconic originals proud.
Of course the success of the show is largely dependent on the two leads, but we would be remiss without mentioning that they were ably supported by a cast of experienced performers (veteran Kaye Tuckerman, in a perfectly cast and wonderfully grand performance as Madame Morrible, an excellent James Shaw as the duplicitous Wizard and Shannon Foley as a sympathetic Dr Dillamond) and also comparative newcomers Trent Owers as love interest Fiyero, Antonia Marr as Nessarose, and Tim Carroll in an impressively vulnerable turn as beleaguered munchkin Boq.
Back of house is not to be forgotten, with snappy, creative direction by Tim Hill, the ambitious production design of Maria-Rose Payne, which is characterised by soaring, larger-than-life set pieces and a wonderfully thematic clock design. And of course the quirky choreo by Queenslander Deanna Castellana deserves a mention. A nod also needs to be given to Jess Bennett and Travis Darcy, whose costumes and makeup respectively really brought the land of Oz to life.
There isn’t very much to fault in the current incarnation of Wicked, unless it’s to complain that the run is woefully short, finishing up on the Gold Coast on 6 July. If there are tickets left, you’d better grab them, and much like Dorothy, prepare to be blown away.