Wicked the Musical - Lyric Theatre (NSW)
Lyrics and composition by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Winnie Holzman. Directed by Joe Mantello.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Lyric Theatre, Pyrmont
Booking Until 31st December
- The broadway smash-hit returns to prove why it's so loved by Australian audiences, with a fresh cast and some "popular" performances throughout -
The Broadway smash-hit WICKED the Musical has returned to Australian shores after nearly 10 years, and it’s fresher, sleeker and just as splendiferous since it was last with us. Composed by Stephen Schwartz with a book by Winnie Holzman written 20 years ago this year, WICKED has captivated audiences since by encapsulating the magic of the Wizard of Oz and adjusting the lens of the story to focus on one of the most enduring female friendships in all of musical theatre.
In all honesty, there’s nothing that can be majorly faulted with the return of WICKED. Audiences will applaud when Galinda the Good enters by bubble, they’ll tear as the first notes of ‘Defying Gravity’ start and be crying by the end. Instead, let’s sift through the thoughts on how this particular version of WICKED is performed and what makes this musical so enduring and voted by many as their favourite musical of all time.
The Australian cast of WICKED the Musical (2023). Images by Jeff Busby.
The 1939 film The Wizard of Oz captured the magic of the Land of Oz and the story of Dorothy, her little dog Toto and the formation of three unlikely friends, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion as they skipped along the yellow brick road to see The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. All the while they were hunted by the Wicked Witch of the West and aided by Glinda the Good Witch. Helmed by a very young Judy Garland, the technicolour film was a smash hit and has been adapted in many forms throughout the years such as through the hip musical The Wiz, and of course the stage version of The Wizard of Oz - my first experience was seeing Nikki Webster as Dorothy back in the age of ‘Strawberry Kisses’.
WICKED takes this timeless classic and changes the lens to see the “Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” where it’s revealed that the Wicked Witch of the West, may not actually be all that “wicked” after all. Glinda the Good may not always have been as good as she makes out, and the “wonderful” Wizard may not be as wonderful as his moniker lives up to.
Sheridan Adams takes to the stage as Elphaba, our “wicked” protagonist. As a relatively new performer to the Australian theatre scene, this is a heck of a role to take on board. The role of Elphaba is said to be one of the hardest in musical theatre, and for good reason. Schwartz’s vocals for Elphaba require vocal athletics, not to mention the acting that is required on top.
‘The Wizard and I’, the first chance we get to see what's in store from any Elphaba, changes key five times with a whopping nine dynamic changes, and requires some heavy acting to be thrown into the mix. From there, Elphaba doesn’t leave the stage for a significant time all the way until that showstopper, ‘Defying Gravity’. With some making comparisons of this song being the ‘Jerusalem’ of songs for mezzo sopranos, ‘Defying Gravity’ has four keys within it the time signatures change twice and it has multiple dynamics. So before even entering the stage, we know that Adams has been chosen for this role for a reason. And she delivers.
It’s exciting to think where Adams will go with her Elphaba.
Adams’ Elphaba is young, her anger and frustration at the Ozians’ vitriolic attacks on her looks are worn on her sleeve. In the first act, she is somewhat withheld, with her desire to finally see the Wizard being her main driving force. There is an air of freshness to Adams’ performance, yet to fill the gaps of Elphaba’s character with the experience that comes from being on stage. It’s exciting to think where Adams will go with her Elphaba.
Adams’ rendition of ‘The Wizard and I’ shows us just what she can do, with some impressive scales thrown earlier into the song, Adams plants herself on the stage. She’s here and she’s ready. Then it comes to ‘Defying Gravity’, which in comparison to her absolute powerhouse vocals in ‘No Good Deed’ was played relatively straight, nothing over the top or added, but enough to make the audience go wild.
Playing as Elphaba’s opposite and absolutely stealing every moment of the show, Courtney Monsma’s Galinda (or Glinda) the Good is the highlight of the production. As with the role of Elphaba, Galinda’s role too is demanding, both vocally and through the performer’s acting. Whilst Elphaba receives the showstopper belters, Galinda has the high notes thrown upon her, requiring her to bring a breadth of humour and depth of humanity to songs such as ‘Popular’ and ‘No One Mourns the Wicked’.
Monsma is a revelation as Galinda, making every movement and choice entirely her own. It’s interesting to consider if she felt a weight on her shoulders following on from Lucy Durack’s career making turn when first in Australia, but once you see Monsma in action, there is no question. This Galinda is entirely her own.
Every “toss toss” of her hair is utilised at moments when she isn’t even in the spotlight, her comedic timing is knife sharp and her rendition of ‘Popular’ brings bouts of laughter through pink-filled leaps, quips and changes in tone that had the entire audience in stitches. Monsma’s harmonies with Adams’ Elphaba are gorgeous to listen to, and herein lies the true power of WICKED.
The blockbuster of musicals proves itself yet again why it’s a draw card to audiences across the theatre world and beyond.
With nearly every major theatre in Sydney currently starring a female lead, it’s the era of the female-led musical. And none other than WICKED has such a gorgeous pairing of talents take the audience on a journey that seems like it flies on the back of broomstick. Holzman’s book carefully builds the unlikely friendship of Elphaba and Galinda throughout, from their ‘Loathing’ of each other, through to their trip to Oz, the reveal of the Wizard’s true nature and their eventual clash over their love for Fiyero (Liam Head). But it’s their final duet, ‘For Good’ that brings the tears to audiences’ eyes. Adams and Monsma are a gorgeous pairing and the casting for the two together is pure delight.
Both Adams and Monsma are supported by a stellar Australian cast that add flavour and humour to the production. Head’s Fiyero is wily, with a thickly cut jaw and smooth vocals which he matches with slick movements. Whilst yet to truly find his footing as Fiyero, Head comes into his own in the second act when paired with Adams’ Elphaba. Their duet, ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ was crafted sensually and hats off to the intimacy coordinator who helped oversee this. Instead of a soft and romantic duet, this version was imbued with sexual tension and chemistry and almost made you blush for looking.
Todd McKenney treads the board as the Wizard of Oz, presenting a crafty and giving a somewhat oily charm to the Wizard. You could never truly trust his words but McKenney’s charm was layered over the Wizard’s real motivations. Paired with McKenney, Robin Nevin’s Madame Morrible was bitingly evil. Her comedic timing quite literally cut through each character, bringing the show to a halt with some cracking one liners.
Particular interest came from Shewit Belay’s version of Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister and the eventual house flattened Wicked Witch of the East. With Nessarose’s story being a side plot, it’s very easy to have this as a minor role, but Belay brings a fractured Nessarose to the stage. Torn between her jealousy of her sister’s magic and her lust for love from Kurtis Papadinis’ Boq, her penultimate scene in Act Two was given a captivating light.
It’s no surprise that WICKED is yet again selling out shows in its return to Australia. Susan Hilferty’s costume design is as exquisite as ever, Eugene Lee’s set design lights up the entire theatre with emerald, and Schwartz music brings goosebumps. Its subtext of truth and facts, crossed with villainy and political manipulation means that those who have seen WICKED countless times will see much resonance with the current climate of our own world. I could feel the politicians sitting two rows in front of me shift in their seats at certain one liners.
The blockbuster of musicals proves itself yet again why it’s a draw card to audiences across the theatre world and beyond. With some neat added features to this staging - monkeys flying through the audience are a highlight - there’s plenty to enjoy for the aficionado and the newcomers. It truly is a wicked time (sorry) at the theatre!
WICKED the Musical - Australia
Courtney Monsma GLINDA
Sheridan Adams ELPHABA
Robyn Nevin MADAME MORRIBLE
Todd McKenney THE WIZARD
Liam Head FIYERO
Adam Murphy DOCTOR DILLAMOND
Shewit Belay NESSAROSE
Kurtis Papadinis BOQ
Zoe Coppinger ELPHABA STANDBY
Christian Ambesi ENSEMBLE
Conor Bann-Murray ENSEMBLE
Brittany Carter SWING
Olivia Castagna ENSEMBLE
Eli Cooper SWING
Matt Cranleigh SWING
Joseph Donovan ENSEMBLE
Sage Douglas ENSEMBLE
Bayley John Edmends ENSEMBLE
Todd Jacobsson ENSEMBLE
Rohan Khanna ENSEMBLE
Andrew Kroenert ENSEMBLE
Elisha Zion Lee ENSEMBLE
Jordan Malone ENSEMBLE
Emily Monsma ENSEMBLE
Matilda Moran ENSEMBLE
Jackson Reedman SWING / DANCE CAPTAIN
Amelia Sanzo SWING / ASSISTANT DANCE CAPTAIN
Edward Smith ENSEMBLE
Ksenia Teliatnikova SWING
Lucas Van Rhijn ENSEMBLE
Jessica Vellucci ENSEMBLE
Mietta White ENSEMBLE
Jun Woodfield ENSEMBLE
Stephen Schwartz COMPOSER, LYRICIST
Winnie Holzman BOOK
Joe Mantello DIRECTOR
Wayne Cilento MUSICAL STAGING
Eugene Lee SET DESIGN
Susan Hilferty COSTUME DESIGN
Kenneth Posner LIGHTING DESIGN
Tony Meola SOUND DESIGN
Elaine J. Mccarthy PROJECTION DESIGN
Tom Watson HAIR AND WIG DESIGN
Joe Dulude II MAKEUP DESIGN
Stephen Oremus MUSIC SUPERVISOR / MUSIC ARRANGER
William David Brohn ORCHESTRATIONS
Alex Lacamoire MUSIC ARRANGEMENTS
James Lynn Abbott DANCE ARRANGER
Edward Pierce ASSOCIATE SET DESIGN
Lisa Leguillou ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
Chic Silber SPECIAL EFFECTS
Gregory Maguire AUTHOR OF ORIGINAL NOVEL
321 Theatrical Management GENERAL MANAGER
Marc Platt PRODUCER
Universal Stage Productions PRODUCER
The Araca Group PRODUCER
Jon B. Platt PRODUCER
David Stone PRODUCER
John Frost AM PRODUCER