Stephen Shwartz’s musical Wicked makes an impressively triumphant return to Sydney at The Lyric theatre this week. It is dazzling production, taking the familiar elements of a show many have grown to love, and infusing it with a new energy, largely from superb casting choices for both soloists and ensemble.
For those unfamiliar with this modern classic, it is a prequel to the Wizard of Oz, revealing the back story behind the Witches of Oz and how they came to be. But more than a mere fairy tale, this story explores very human characters giving them a depth and reality beyond the traditional stereotypes. And the best gift from Gregory Maguire’s original book, is that it also explores the politics of Oz, and the dangers of corrupt officialdom. Told through some very moving songs and stylish staging, it explores the concept of what it truly means to be good or wicked, and how the perception of each depends from which point of view you are viewing the unfolding events. And importantly whether you have all the facts or only the media release.
The staging is spectacular, and this production has somehow managed to add additional layers of texture and style into the design that refreshes the experience. The set seems somehow better, the costumes a little more lush, the lighting more dazzling and the performances feel alive and rediscovered.
Courtney Monsma as Glinda and Sheridan Adams as Elphaba are quite simply wonderful. While the shadow of the original Broadway performers looms heavy over their shoulders, both have nevertheless managed to achieve a unique take on their roles, adding fresh and individual detail to the now well-known characters. Both voices soar appropriately when required, and both handle the humour with immaculate timing. When their voices finally join in the duet ‘For Good’ the moment is sublime. Simply staged and beautifully emotional, it becomes the rightful highlight of the evening and brought forth screams of joy from the audience.
Liam Head as Fiyero is the best I have seen. With lantern-jawed hero good looks, he surprises with remarkably effortless dancing and lovely vocals that give no credence to his characters claim of shallowness. He gives the role a real and heartfelt dimension.
Shewit Belay adds a lovely vulnerable truth to Nessa Rose and Kurtis Papadinis breaks our heart as Bock, really taking us with him on the touching journey of this bright-eyed Munchkin. Adam Murphy’s Dr Dillamond also achieves a warm honesty in his small but pivotal moments.
Adding to the dance skills of this production, Todd McKenney brings a slick showmanship to the Wizard, again contributing a revealing new dimension to the show. You can really believe the misplaced traveling salesman grasping at this unexpected opportunity. And Robyn Nevin as Madame Morrible is as deliciously evil a villain as you could wish for. While not known for her vocal prowess, Ms Nevin nevertheless succeeds wonderfully, bringing a power and malevolence to the role rarely seen before.
And to round out this exemplary collection of performers, the production team have assembled an energetic and exciting ensemble of ‘triple threat’ performers. They inhabit the land of Oz with commitment, focus and enviable flexibility as they sing, dance, caper and fly impressively throughout the story.
The audience screamed as moment after moment landed perfectly throughout the evening, and the curtain call received thunderous applause. If you haven’t seen Wicked before, this production will be a very rewarding introduction. If like me, you have seen it several times, including the original Broadway production – yes be jealous – this production not only meets but exceeds expectations and feels like a brand-new experience. Dress in Emerald, put on your ruby slippers and get to the Lyric!
John Frost for Crossroads Live Australia, Marc Platt, Universal Pictures, The Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and David Stone present
music and lyrics Stephen Schwartz | book Winnie Holzman | based on the book by Gregory Maguire
Original direction Joe Mantello
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre | Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont NSW 2009
Dates: from 7 September 2023 – check website for details
Tickets: $79 – $295