Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Winnie Holzman. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire. Musical director Nicholas Griffin. Conductor Ian McLean. Choreographer Michelle Heine. Directed by Shaun Rennie. Free-Rain Theatre Company. Canberra Theatre. Until October 27. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 62752700.
Free-Rain Theatre Company once again successfully brings one of the big musicals to Canberra with style and skill. Wicked is a rather enjoyable extension of the world of The Wizard of Oz, being a kind of back story to Dorothy's visit. Here she is a shadowy figure and the focus is on the relationship between Elphaba (Loren Hunter), the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good (Laura Murphy).
The green-skinned Elphaba and the rather silly Glinda meet when compelled to share rooms at a Hogwarts-style university run by the formidable Madame Morrible (Bronwyn Sullivan). Elphaba, the product of a mysterious alliance by her mother, also has a sister, Nessarose (Teya Duncan), who is confined to a wheelchair. Enter handsome Fiyero (Drew Weston) and the humble Munchkin Boq (Alexander Clubb) who nurses an unrequited passion for Glinda. It's clear love will tangle the plot.
The show also deals with various forms of discrimination. Elphaba's green skin and Nessarose's wheelchair give rise to the most obvious but there's also a chilling subplot concerning prejudice against speaking animals. Fraser Findlay is particularly affecting as the kindly goat professor Dr Dillamond who loses both job and voice. When Elphaba finally finds Steve Amosa's breezy Wizard, his moral shortcomings suggest why Oz might be in trouble.
It's the tensions between Glinda and Elphaba that dominate, however, and Murphy and Hunter are powerful leads. Murphy navigates Glinda's growth well from status-seeking airhead to someone who will care more for others. Hunter's Elphaba begins with the green and hungry look of Margaret Hamilton in the Judy Garland film but matures into great personal strength. Defying Gravity, the number that finishes the first half of the show, is quite a moment. And any competition for the affections of Weston's straightforward and likeable Fiyero is rightly submerged by the need for witches to serve a greater good.
They are supported by an outstandingly strong ensemble of singers and dancers and an orchestra that feels as if it is enjoying itself. Only some moments of painfully loud sound amplification disturbed the flow on opening night.
The set and costumes are largely hired but any denial of local design opportunities is more than offset by the creation of a gorgeously lush Oz. And of course there is green light. A lot of it.
It's a very enjoyable visit to Oz, complete with loads of atmosphere, flying monkeys and cunning references to the 1939 film.
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