Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wicked (Mediacorp Vizpro)

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Indeed, a lot has happened before Dorothy dropped in. The Wicked Witch of the West is Elphaba (Jemma Rix), whose peculiarly green complexion automatically turns her into an outcast from the time of her birth. The Good Witch of the South (or North, depending on which book you quote) is G(a)linda (Suzie Mathers), the helplessly self-absorbed popular girl who is blonde in every possible way. Together with some other characters both oddly familiar and new, their paths cross at Shiz, Oz’s very own magic school, in a time of looming crisis concerning the suppression of animal rights as well as their ability of speech. Elphaba originally comes along as her sister’s chaperone but her fate changes when her innate talents manifest in a fit of anger, evident enough to catch the attention of Madame Morrible (Anne Wood) who immediately takes the girl under her wing and bringing her closer to her life’s greatest dream, which is to meet the wonderful Wizard of Oz (Bert Newton).

I was not aware that it was going to be THAT funny. The one-liners. The gestures. G(a)linda. This really is a tale of a dark horse’s triumph, but it seems that the producers no longer found the necessity to rub that into our faces; no need to tell us, “Hey, this is an underdog story!” Instead, they present you with a hilarious production teeming with social and political undertones waiting to explode under that tight lid of great comedy. The critics got it right; this show could make you laugh and cry at the same time.

The set is plain awesome and the keen attention to detail is pretty much obvious, from the mechanical dragon soaring high above the stage all the way to the backdrop, the hues of which constantly change to denote the time of day. Even the brightness of the lights in the buildings on that backdrop is controlled to seem all natural. The way the stage lights up during Dancing Through Life and One Short Day is just wicked that it will leave you awestruck. The costumes are a mix of otherworldly and chic-ly modern that it does transport you into a new world, but you do not get lost because they also share some elements present in real life that you could still grasp. A minor quirk in the wardrobe department, though, would be Elphaba’s green bodysuit. It wrinkles at the wrist, although it might no longer be that visible when seen from afar.

Many people are so attached to Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth as Elphaba and G(a)linda, respectively. However, it could be very well said that it is the characters that you would bound to love. Somehow I see these two to be very similar to the Anita role in West Side Story. It does not matter who plays the role, she is bound to be a scene stealer in every possible way, and this is what exactly happens in this Australian tour of the show. You just fall in love with these two characters despite their flaws: Elphaba, her temper; and G(a)linda, her shallowness. More than anything else, it is the friendship formed between the two that leaves you in awe, and this is where this musical triumphs, in its portrayal of sincere friendship.

For someone who has listened to the soundtrack over and over again without having seen it onstage, the prohibitive favorites would be Defying Gravity, As Long As You’re Mine, and For Good. Or at least that is the case for me. The good thing about this is that one song  that you often skip in the soundtrack would eventually surprise you once you see it live. In my case, that would be No Good Deed. It is Elphaba’s solo after every single one of her misfortunes in life befalls her. The build-up of events and the actress’ combined vocal and acting prowess turn this number into an unstoppable tour de force, and is one of the most applauded of the night, second only to Defying Gravity.

Defying Gravity is a bit underwhelming at first. Listening to the OST, you could really feel the tension and the emotional build-up is so fast. Onstage, there are more dialogues inserted in between and the aural intensity is substituted by the tension brought about by the events unfolding before your eyes. It seems rather dragging at first but when Elphaba starts to levitate on her broomstick and announce to every single detractor down below that, nobody in all of Oz, no wizard that there is or was, is every gonna bring her down, you just could not help but believe and give her a standing ovation. After all, it is her moment; her big Fuck You to everyone who has ever put her down, and wow, does she not do it in style! The imagery itself is very powerful. Along with the blending of voices of the witch hunters and G(a)linda herself, this sequence is simply cathartic, and they could not have ended act one on a better note, both literally and figuratively.

As Long As You’re Mine is awesome because now you see the two lovebirds onstage and the sexual tension is running really high. Aside from that, however, what you would really appreciate are the bottled emotions that just run amok in this particular number: the anger; the passion; the grief. You no longer ask why, but those two clearly know that something bad is going to happen, yet the message of the song is clear: they would preserve every moment, come what may. And are we not plain suckers for such display of devotion despite the looming uncertainty?

For Good, on the contrary, is also powerful because of the recurring theme of friendship. Whoever wrote the script for the stage adaptation not only knew how to write the characters of these two women well, s/he also knew how to let their friendship develop in a way that it would not seem contrived within a short period of just around two hours. They might have had their differences, but For Good is the closure they are looking for, and the song simply reverberates with their friendship in such a sweet note that you could not help but feel for them, as well as feel melancholic having to see such true camaraderie come to an end. Such is the tragedy of  life.

Of course I recommend this to everyone! Heck, I would see it every day if I lived in Singapore and if I were a millionaire. It is awesome that way. For now, though, I would try to read the book and just continue listening to the soundtrack.

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