Photos – Jeff Busby

The theatrically inclined are fickle folk; simultaneously hoping for a return season of a favourite while longing for the arrival of something new. Cynical cash cow accusations might feel a little Rocky and Grease(y) to traverse for producers but given our theatre marquees can tend to reflect a treadmill of interchangeable titles, it’s an unsurprising allegation. The margin of risk for those footing the bill is high and so reruns, rehashes and sure bets make these kinds of staging choices understandable and thankfully keep the industry’s people afloat. There are some shows however, that are assured a free pass from that kind of scepticism and Wicked, without question, belongs to that canon.

Since opening on Broadway in 2003, Wicked has won over 100 major awards including Grammy’s, Olivier’s, Helpmann’s and Tony’s and remains one of the world’s most successful musicals. Its popularity in this country is also evident given it had seasons before this one in 2008 and 2013. This current production opened in Sydney in September last year and its arrival in Melbourne signifies a return to its original Australian home, our glorious Regent Theatre. Wicked has music and lyrics by Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz who wrote Godspell and Pippin and a book by Winnie Holzman. This is a replica production of the Broadway original and maintains its key creative elements including musical staging by Wayne Cilento and direction by Joe Mantello.

Telling the untold story of the Witches of OZ, Wicked begins prior to the arrival of Dorothy Gale. Far from a retelling of L. Frank Baum's original 1900 story, Wicked is an adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”. With its clever nods and explanations, the musical is a counter perspective to the original story that with the help of 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film adaptation, remains universally familiar.

Extraordinary in scale and spectacle, Wicked is classic big budget musical gorgeousness, but froth and bubble aside, it’s also laced with depth in its narrative. While significant changes were made to the plot line of McGuire’s original novel, the premise and examination remains; is evil born or is it made? As an outsider, Elphaba, (the green witch) embodies our fondness for ‘othering’ and fears of difference while her attempts to elevate the oppressed, speaks truth to power and propaganda that of course parallels a multitude of real life historic and current atrocities.

Wicked is also fantastic in its exploration of female friendship and power and is a narrative element that was heightened from the original text when bringing the work to stage. As a result, the show offers an extraordinary opportunity for two female performers. Taking on the roles of Glinda and Elphaba in this production are Courtney Monsma and Sheridan Adams. These now iconic roles are the stuff of dreams for musical theatre performers and there’s nothing but joy and delight here in seeing these astonishingly talented young women succeed in every possible way. Courtney Monsma has captured the kooky ‘blonde’ comedy of Glinda impeccably and hilariously while absolutely thrilling in the role’s soprano requirements. Sheridan Adams, meanwhile, brings incredibly rewarding dramatic punch and caustic wit to Elphaba and is jaw dropping in making this seriously tough role and enormous sing seem utterly effortless, particularly in the last moments of Act 1.

A chandelier hurtling toward the stage or a bunch of French people contemplating tomorrow in a synchronised box step is now theatre folklore but the last 10 minutes of Wicked’s first act is quite possibly the most exhilarating final moments before any interval of any musical and truly gives credence to that ‘ticket price alone’ comment.

This production is crammed full of talent with fantastic performances across the board in all supporting roles but of note for this Melbourne season is Australian theatrical royalty with Robin Nevin adding class as Madam Morrible. Stepping back onto the Regent stage only minutes after his final bow as Ziggler in Moulin Rouge is Simon Burke as the Wizard, delightfully conniving and in very fine voice.

With its incredible sets, costumes and lighting, fantastic songs and a well-constructed and directed story that is excitingly new and yet satisfyingly familiar, Wicked is everything you expect it to be and every bit the reason why it will continue to be the phenomena that it is.

It’s estimated that around the world, over 65 million people have been ‘Changed for Good’ by seeing Wicked – if you haven’t done so already – join them!

Event details

John Frost for Crossroads Live Australia, Marc Platt, Universal Pictures, The Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and David Stone present
Wicked – The Musical
music and lyrics Stephen Schwartz | book by Winnie Holzman | based on the novel by Gregory Maguire

Director Joe Mantello

Venue: Regent Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Dates: From 2 March 2024
Tickets: From $79.00
Bookings: www.wickedthemusical.com.au

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