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“Wicked” The Musical

December 16, 2011

(photo credit: Andrew Ritchie)

Event: “Wicked” the Broadway Musical
Venue: Grand Theater at Marina Bay Sands
Run: 6th Dec 2011 – 26th Feb 2012

Gravity Defied

Arguably one of the best and most successful new book musicals in the last 10 years has finally made its way to our shores, and moors itself at the Grand Theater of Marina Bay Sands for at least the next few months.

The musical “Wicked” needs no further introduction, being winner of 3 Tony awards, 7 Drama Desk awards, and currently the 14th longest-running musical in Broadway history.

Fans who’ve seen the Broadway and West End productions would probably find that the Singapore production is almost an exact replica of those shows.

Yes, you’ve got the works – the huge flapping dragon at the top of the stage, the intricate detailing at the sides of the stage, the incredible sets, the beautiful lighting, the generously large ensemble down in the pit, etc.

It is a rather faithful representation of the productions you’d get in Broadway or West End.

But what truly elevates this production is the calibre of the two female leads Jemma Rix (Elphaba) and Suzie Mathers (Glinda), and especially Jemma, who shoulders the bulk of the emotional load in the musical.

After all, the entire musical hinges on the strength of the friendship between these two women.

Suzie, with soaring soprano vocals and all, plays the role of Glinda to perfection – blonde, ditzy and all Witherspoon-ish.

Her rendition of “Popular” – the biggest test for anyone who plays the role of Glinda – was incredibly well-played.

Jemma, whom I thought bore an uncanny resemblance to the original Broadway Elphaba Idina Menzel, was truly the gem of the show.

She managed to hit all the right notes brilliantly in “Defying Gravity”, and literally brought the house down at the end of the song to close the first act.

If that wasn’t an example of bringing the roof down at the Grand Theater, then it’s hard to imagine what is, really.

(I’m not sure if “Glee” had anything to do with the overwhelming reception at the end of “Defying Gravity”, but I have strong suspicions it did.)

You have to credit Stephen Schwartz – there aren’t a whole lot of top-tier Broadway songwriters outside of Sondheim who do both music and lyrics, and he proves incredibly competent in both aspects of the craft.

His rhymes are fresh and ingenious (my favourite being “Socrates” with “mediocrities” in the song “Wonderful”), and the music is sufficiently complex as well.

It has been said that the music in “Wicked” doesn’t really entrench itself in your mind upon first listening, but to be fair, not many new musicals do nowadays.

The first time I caught “Wicked” in London in Jan 2009, I came out of the theatre not being able to recall a single tune.

However, upon further listening of the CD, I’ve grown to appreciate the musical genius of Stephen Schwartz.

The story generally moves along at a rather brisk pace, as the first act tells the story of Elphaba’s growing pains and how she struggles to adapt to life at Shiz University while being viewed as an outcast because of the colour of her skin.

The book by Winnie Holzman sparkles, and like all good musical books, is succinct and filled with wonderfully clever lines.

But it is at the 50-minute mark where the first great song of the musical kicks in – “Popular”.

That is quickly followed by another of my favourites – “I’m Not That Girl”, and a few songs later the first act closes with the show-stopping number “Defying Gravity”, which represents the absolute emotional high-point of the entire show.

If you had to pick out the one defining moment in the show, then it would definitely have to be “Defying Gravity”.

The second act is where the comedy takes a back seat and things start to get more intense.

I loved the role reversal in the reprise “I’m Not That Girl”, sung by Glinda, in the middle of the second act as a direct contrast to Elphaba singing it in the first act, to show how they have suddenly both found themselves in completely opposite positions.

That was a beautiful touch.

And all the loose ends in the show are tied up nice and neatly in the finale “For Good”, which reaffirms the friendship between the two, since this friendship is what serves as the main emotional anchor of the entire story.

There is absolutely no doubt that one would get his or her money’s worth at “Wicked”.

True, it isn’t the most emotionally-gripping of stories, and the relationships portrayed aren’t exactly the most complex, but where “Wicked” shines is on sets, costumes, music, performances…and the sheer spectacle of it all.

Outside of Hogwarts, this is probably as magical as it gets within the confines of a large theatre.

Get your tickets early and go savour this marvellous spectacle of a musical.

I’m reckon it would be quite an unforgettable experience.

Who can say if you might be changed for the better, but you just might be changed for good.

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