It was too wet on Wednesday for a broomstick, a bubble or even a balloon. So the witches of Oz, Glinda and Elphaba, made do with a helicopter at Snowy Hydro Southcare for the launch of Free Rain Theatre Company's Canberra premiere production of the musical Wicked.
Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked is an alternative telling of The Wizard of Oz from the perspectives of the so-called Wicked Witch of the West, here given the name Elphaba – after the original Oz author L. Frank Baum's initials – and Glinda the Good Witch. Director Shaun Rennie said Wicked "asks the questions, 'What is good? What is evil? Do they actually exist?' "
Maybe, he said, it was all a matter of perspective and the stories people believed, whether in Oz or in the here and now.
Rennie, a professional actor and director who played Bert the chimney sweep in Free-Rain's Canberra premiere production of Mary Poppins last year, saw the original production of Wicked on Broadway in previews over a decade ago as a guest of Schwartz. That was "musical theatre heaven" for the then 21-year-old, who is now excited about bringing Wicked to the Canberra stage, flying effects and all.
"It is scary and a great challenge, but if something doesn't scare you it's not worth doing."
One area he was not scared about was the talent with whom he was working, on stage and off. Playing Glinda is Laura Murphy and playing Elphaba is Loren Hunter with Canberran Kirrah Amosa as the alternate.
Hunter said the green-skinned Elphaba was always a misfit because she was different and this was only made worse when she went to her new school, Shiz, in the story.
"Everyone can relate to this in one way or another, being told we can't do something – she's been told she is limited with the powers she's been given."
Elphaba has to learn to conquer her fears and self-doubts and find out who she is and what she can do.
"It's a feeling we all have," said Hunter, who studied musical theatre at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and has worked consistently since in musicals such as King Kong, Strictly Ballroom and Georgy Girl.
Elphaba's friendship with Glinda initially seems an unlikely one. Murphy said Glinda is "Miss Popular, daddy's little princess, privileged and shallow".
But being forced to be roommates with Elphaba – less privileged, awkward but with her own sense of integrity – awakens something in Glinda, who begins to become aware of, and question, the injustices taking place around her.
"Her journey is huge."
Murphy's mother Jennifer was the original star of the Australian premiere production of Evita and her father Spud is a veteran musician, arranger and composer.
She studied musical composition and became a songwriter before moving into performing, including seven seasons on TV's William & Sparkles' Magical Tales and stage shows including Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Sally in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Jan in Grease.
"I've always had pigtails except this – it's my first grown-up wig."
Wicked is on at the Canberra Theatre from October 13 to 23. Bookings: 62752700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
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