Review by Carly Fisher
Few shows could approach their 20th anniversary and find that the content has remained completely relevant, the production elements remain in step with modern counterparts and the music itself feels just as exciting and new as it did in the early naughties. Let’s face it, few could ever dream of simply approaching their 20th anniversary, let alone the rest of it! But the 2003 Blockbuster Broadway show, featuring 2 female leads (groundbreaking at the time!) and offering the story of what happened before Dorothy got to Oz has continued to delight, excite and most importantly, inspire, audiences for 2 decades.
Meeting so many people in the foyer who told me that this was their first time seeing Wicked shocked me. Very early to the party, I have been listening to this music since December of 2003 when the Original Broadway Cast Album dropped, I’ve seen the show comfortably in the double digits of times around the world, and attribute Wicked with being the show that made me ‘know’ that I was going to work in the Arts, no matter what it took…so yeah, I’m a super fan.
Thematically, Wicked feels frighteningly on point. The idea of needing a common enemy to make us content with all that we have in comparison, of xenophobia and otherism reigning over society, of leadership being given too much power and not enough accountability, etc. Even the idea of feeling like activism is the only option to call on change. Similarly though, the power of friendship, of seeing beyond what is skin deep, remains an important and timely theme too.
The production elements of Wicked are fantastic - they always have been. A stage of total fluidity with some of the most expert original direction and choreography to seamlessly transition scenes…for those that read a lot of my reviews, you’ll know of my total aversion to black outs. Go and see Wicked and you’ll understand why! Here is an example of a show that exists with barely a single black out and instead with moments of storytelling, of creativity and of clever plot advancement between scenes. Wicked has always been a masterclass in my eyes - that absolutely remains true.
Before we delve into the show itself, I want to give a shout out to the publicity, events and marketing teams that would have worked so tirelessly on the opening night event. Rarely are these teams considered in enough detail but the vibe upon arrival at the Lyric for opening night was really unlike any other opening I’ve been to in some time! Greeted with a green carpet, pink and green cocktails and a genuine buzz of excitement to see this gem of a show, the mood was high and the energy so exciting!
Despite feeling as though the show has really aged well, something in this production felt a little tired on opening night - unpopular opinion, I know. But having seen this show as many times with as many casts as I have, something felt like it just didn’t pop as much as I expected it to. This show is an exceptionally hard sing, particularly for the leads, and if I’m honest, I felt that the reduced energy came from a careful consideration to conserve the voice through some songs, to leave it ready for others. I know that as performers, we have to make these adjustments for safe practice. But unfortunately, it felt increasingly obvious as the show went on that voices were being ‘saved’ for big belts and high complexity numbers and that, the songs along the way were reserved. For me, this not only impacted the overall oomph of the show, but also impacted the chemistry between the lead cast.
Once again, the ensemble cast was flawless and so continues a phenomenal tradition of Australia being at the absolute top of the game when it comes to fabulous ensemble, swing and understudy casts! This cast hits the well-known Wicked choreo hard and with many of the tracks so physically demanding, it is awesome to see them execute these roles with such precision.
Shewit Belay offers a beautifully reserved Nessarose and I really enjoyed her interpretation of the role. As a side note, in reading her bio I learned that as well as mastering it on stage, Belay continues to practice as a doctor…I’m so very impressed!!
Todd McKenney surprised me. The risk of seeing the same performer in so many roles in a row can be high but actually, McKenney was right at home in the skin of the Wizard and this part suited him beautifully.
Courtney Monsma and Sheridan Adams - Glinda and Elphaba.
Few roles are as iconic in modern musical theatre as these. Added to that, the roles have become synonyms with two major names in the Broadway world - Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel. They’re complex characters with big emotional arcs and even bigger songs.
Adams is the relative newcomer of the group and this is a massive role to take on!! Her top notes of Defying Gravity were surprisingly great and I really loved her version of the Act 2 showstopper No Good Deed. I do think that as Adams continues to get more and more used to just how gruelling the show is when you’re in green, her performance will continue to elevate and we will see her reaching equal power in numbers like What is this Feeling and The Wizard and I as we see later in the show. It’s a slower start but when she gets there, she hits hard! I wish her every success as the run continues because I think we all are so keen to see a fantastic new face on the musical theatre scene!
Monsma comes to the stage with more experience on the back of Six and then Disney’s Frozen. An unsurprising choice for this role, Monsma is very comfortable here, you can tell. Her characterisation of Glinda is perfect and she finds a beautiful balance between the comedy of the role and the heart. The opening operatic high notes (Chenoweth’s signature) don’t seem the most natural for Monsma but she works quickly around that and as soon as we get back to the more ‘traditional’ musical theatre, Monsma has plenty more opportunity to show off her vocal chops. Three times makes a habit and with this being her third role in a major musical in a row, I hope that the habit is that we continue to see the name Courtney Monsma on the top of our casting notices.
Overall, Wicked is fabulous - I hope it will continue to be for many many years…who doesn’t want to see it overtake Phantom as the longest running show, let’s be honest!
Usually a review ends at the curtain call but this time, I just couldn’t shake this frustration. No show, but certainly one with the technical intricacies of Wicked, happens without hundreds of people making it work behind the scenes every single show. It’s so consistently disappointing to see large commercial companies that, come bows, do not acknowledge the tech team! It would simply take 5 additional seconds to raise one arm in the direction of the lighting booth, just to thank the team for the exceptional amount of work that they put in that goes into making a show like this happen. To see an Independent show not do this nowadays is rare. Come on Commercial theatre! It’s time to be better and set a stronger industry example!
So this review will end with a large clap for all involved in bringing one of my favourite shows back to the Aussie stage, a standing O for the fabulous team on stage, led by two excellent performers, and in the pit and an absolute roar of applause for the LX teams, Sound teams, dressers, wig stylists, mechs, props teams, fly teams, stage management teams, company management teams and the enormous slew of others that were backstage at the Lyric on opening night making the world of Oz come to life for us all!!
You’ll be hard pressed not to keep singing this one on repeat for the rest of the week!