Left – Lucy Durack, Amanda Harrison, Helen Dallimore and Jemma Rix
Lucy Durack and Helen Dallimore, Jemma Rix and Amanda Harrison, all stars in their own right from other shows, each pair are perhaps best known in music theatre circles for playing the roles of Glinda the Good Witch, and Elphaba, the titular “Wicked” Witch of the West, in various hugely successful runs of the now modern classic hit musical. While you might be forgiven for expecting otherwise, this is not however a concert version of Wicked, although as it is the common thread between the stars. Witchcraft and magic provide the loose theme for this charming and entertaining evening of music.
Aided and informally hosted by recent Love Never Dies Phantom Ben Lewis, who fulfills the male roles in a few ensemble songs as well as a solo or two of his own, the four leading ladies are backed by the redoubtable Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the show’s musical director, Kellie Dickerson. The songs vary from obviously and clearly linked “witch” songs from other musicals such as Into the Woods and Hocus Pocus, introduced with quotes from Roald Dahl’s famous book on the subject. Other numbers have a more tangential relevance, such as “Pure Imagination” from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or “Magic to Do” from the musical Pippin.
The chanteuses share some wry and entertaining banter to bridge the transitions between many of the songs, with Durack and Dallimore providing most of the personality. The former plays to type as the bubbly girlish enthusiast she later played in Legally Blonde, while her co-star in that show (yet her predecessor as Glinda) Dallimore is all archly acidic false sweetness and exaggerated distain. They form a great double-act, especially when modifying their shared character Glinda’s most notable solo “Popular” into a duet, singing alternate lines to each other and thus transposing the song’s original context into an alternately bitchy and sincere duel between the two irrepressible blondes, one of the highlights of the evening. Durack provided another high point by debuting an original song written especially for her, rather comedically relating an obsession with Disney Princesses and the pitfalls of seeking to identify with their unrealistic expectations of fairy-tale romance and glamorous adventure.
Speaking of Disney, the showstopper for Act One was another solo-turned duet, in this case with Harrison and Rix singing the brilliant (yet overexposed to many parents of young girls) “Let it Go” from mega-popular animated musical Frozen. However this was no random assignment of tune to songstresses, as the observant might realise a certain metatextual connection here. Not only is the oft-covered empowerment song extremely similar in theme and style to “Defying Gravity”, the signature number from Wicked that both these ladies sang as Elphaba, but the role of Elphaba was originated by Idina Menzel, who went on to voice Queen Elsa in Frozen and for whom the later song was essentially written. Thus, these two former green witches appropriately took on the other great “Menzellian” aria in the musical canon, to thunderous applause from the crowd.
Of the four leading ladies, Harrison was perhaps the most powerful in solo performance, especially with the number “I Put a Spell on You”, whilst the vampy Dallimore frequently stole the show with her Munroesque va-va-voom and brilliant comic timing, yet she was able to impressively shift gears between a sultry performance of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” to a heart-wrenching rendition of the darkly moving “Last Midnight” from Into the Woods. Often most fun though were the ensemble pieces, with all four ladies and Lewis also in the mix, such as the ‘80s pop standard “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, its inclusion in the night’s witchcraft theme tenuously justified by it having featured in the quasi-jukebox musical Dance of the Vampires.
The evening came to a satisfying climax with the three main hits from Wicked, the aforementioned Glinda duet followed by the duet-turned quartet of “For Good”, and concluding with the iconic “Defying Gravity”, generally thought of as an Elphaba song yet truthfully a duet after a fashion. An unexpected encore was an initially a cappella rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, leaving a warmly satisfied crowd, if the multiple rapturous curtain calls were anything to go by.
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Witches of Wicked
Musical Director Kellie Dickerson
Venue: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Dates: 15 – 16 July 2016
Bookings: www.sydneysymphony.com | (02) 8215 4600