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When ticket sales and statistics come into play, the cast and crew of Wicked the Musical, which opened in Singapore for the first time just last Wednesday, must feel some pressure. The Lion King Musical, also held at Marina Bay Sand’s Grand Theatre just before Wicked, sold a record-breaking 330,000 tickets for over 230 performances, making it the most successful musical in Singapore’s history yet.
Nonetheless, boasting 35 major awards, including a Grammy and three Tony awards along with an exceptional cast and crew, Wicked the Musical looks very set to take Singapore by a storm even greater than the one which swept Dorothy’s house off the ground and all the way to Oz.
It is easy to see why Wicked the Musical continues to be such a sensation. Bert Newton, who plays the Wizard of Oz, describes the musical as “suitable for all ages” and his fellow cast members as the “best ensemble [he] can truthfully say [he] has ever worked with”. However, Wicked the Musical’s success does not come without challenges.
According to author Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book for the musical, one challenge the creation team faced was to never contradict the original film, The Wicked of Oz. This is a challenge she evidently rose to. “There’s a whole lot of delicious little references throughout the entire show of Wicked that pertain to the original film so if you’re a film buff, you’ll have fun picking out this little bits and pieces,” actress Anne Wood, who plays the antagonist Madame Morrible, comments.
Lead actress Jemma Rix, who plays Elphaba, mentions the challenge she faces in getting out of character at the end of each performance; “It’s actually very difficult because the role is quite a big role to play. She’s quite an angry sort of character all the time.” Rix adds that this is something she has had to learn over much time and practice.
“I try not to bring the wicked witch home to my husband. I don’t think he would appreciate that very much,” she laughs. Getting into character bears out just as difficult, as Elisa Colla who plays Elphaba’s handicapped sister, Nessarose, can attest. “When I first started learning to use the wheelchair, I really struggled not to move my knees at all,” Colla recounts but is glad to announce it is now almost “second nature” to her.
Stephen Schwartz’s music score for Wicked have also largely contributed to its worldwide triumph. “My most difficult part [in the musical] would be “Defying Gravity”,” Rix says of the massive number she belts out at the climax of the first act. She credits her resulting performance of the song to intensive singing lessons and long hours of training. “When I hit my broom in the air right at the end and I hear the audience’s response back, it hits you. It’s pretty amazing.
And sometimes, my breath gets taken away by the response,” Rix beams as she recounts the satisfaction she feels as she completes each song. On the other hand, Mathers considers “Popular”, a bubbly zealous song characteristic of Glinda’s gusto and enthusiasm for all things positive, a cardio work-out and jokes that she no longer needs to visit the gym. Even so, both actresses pull off what they consider their most challenging songs beautifully and one can only imagine the amount of effort behind their achievements.
What is most captivating about the musical, however, is perhaps the many important messages and lessons it brings across. Apart from the larger lessons to always stand up for oneself and to never judge wickedness on outward appearance, many other points are scattered throughout the musical.
For instance, Glen Hogstorm who plays Doctor Dillamond, an animal professor cruelly stripped of his right to speak, points out how the musical addresses the question of equality in society today. “I certainly think it’s a very valid point in any country and any generation about how the ruling class chooses to treat everyone below them,” he elaborates, referring to how the voices of the animals in the musical are muted and they gradually lose all freedom of speech as the musical progresses.
Wicked also sees Elphaba eventually earning the love and affection of Fiyero, forming an unlikely match. “I’ve got three things that I stand by when I’m looking for a partner in a relationship and that is trust, honesty and respect and without those three things for me, the others don’t exist,” says David Harris who plays Fiyero, the handsome prince who establishes that physical appearance is of little consequence in true love when he, unexpected to all, falls in love with green-skinned Elphaba and chooses her over the beautiful Glinda.
The musical’s plot also witnesses the formation of strong friendship bonds between Elphaba and Glinda, two characters who started off with an intense “Loathing” for each other, as the title of their first duet suggests.
“The main message of friendship in the show is that friendship knows no barriers. It really applies to today with race and gender and sexuality,” Mathers aptly summarizes the relevance of the musical’s message to the world today.
Together, the dedicated crew, exemplary costumes and stage sets, and the cast which shares just as much chemistry off-stage as they do on-stage is what brings the fairytale plot its greater meaning and significance; there is nothing but praise to be had for Wicked.