Let’s be real here – Wicked (written by Stephen Schwartz and based on the book by Winnie Holzman) is such a big musical that it will sell itself. Because of its well-known status, it is always interesting to see how each director and production team create a new spin on the story (well known musicals are akin to opera or Shakespeare in that regard – the content remains the same, yet there are subtle alterations with each interpretation).
Fortunately, the Young Australian Broadway Chorus – an organisation that features performers from the ages of 10 to 24 – creates an engaging and dynamic interpretation that is equal to all but the most efficient Broadway productions. The YABC’s Wicked (directed by Robert Coates) doesn’t disappoint.
Before getting into the performers themselves, congratulations need to be given to the design team – they spared no expense with costuming or stage-props, and everything looked magical. Whilst this was not a Broadway-level glitz-fest, the steampunk cogs, the clever use of lighting, and colourful fantasy costumes made for a strong visual spectacle. The ability to use the entire stage effectively (including off the stage in some cases – which made for a very engaging Wicked experience probably not enjoyed by many audiences in the past) was evidence of the performers and director’s clever ability to utilise space to maximum effect.
The star of the show has to be Galinda/Glinda (Jasmine Arthur), who managed to nail the operatic and glitzy/girly part perfectly. Her vocals were so strong they basically carried the show initially, and they were almost a detriment (because they sometimes overshadowed the other singers). The thing is, the other singers were not weak – Elphaba was a strong and solid singer who carried the tune emotionally, and who was very well cast (and she conveyed the emotions while acting well as well – from fiery passion through to envy and dejection). Their onstage relationship was sweet and wonderfully handled – but Arthur’s performance was just that little bit extra.
The villains were particularly strong in this regard as well. The Wizard (Jackson Hurwood) was the sly and conniving showman, who was performed very well – more impressive considering Hurwood is only 17. Madame Morrible (Emily Palmer) was also impressive, especially as the voice really sounded like an older woman.
This cast were supported by an impressive array of chorus singers and dancers, who came from a variety of different ages, and managed to give that weight of numbers that makes Wicked such a powerful show and story. Because it is a story about power, public relations, and politics as much as love, friendship, and growing up, which can really be conveyed best with a sizeable chorus, which YABC has: there are a total of 114 cast members. The choreography was also impressive, utilising the stage space well and having a solid blend between moving enough to be interesting without descending into chaos.
That being said, the show was not perfect. Whilst some leeway must be given due to the youthful nature of the performers, there were some glaring mistakes. The most obvious one was a technical error – the microphone mess-up with Dr Dillamond, where the microphone worked so poorly and garbled the sound so much it broke the spell the musical had previously had over the audience. Although after that scene the microphone was eventually fixed, the damage had been done.
Whilst the leads and dancers were solid in this performance, there was one lead singer who was a little bit flat. Perhaps it wasn’t her night, but Nessarose (Taylor Troeth) seemed quite weak in comparison to the others. Although an accomplished performer, and it wasn’t something that was necessarily a bad performance (her acting was superb), the singing did detract slightly from the show.
Unfortunately, the music was a bit flat as well. Whilst most songs were strong and emotionally impactful, the opening mixing was out a bit (especially the interplay between the brass and synth strings, which didn’t seem well balanced initially), and was distracting from the interesting dancing and singing onstage. There were some tuning errors with the brass and synths that were distracting during elements of the second half. Fortunately, the percussion and rhythm sections kept strong for the singers and audience.
It is worth noting that these errors are more slight slip-ups than in-built errors, and did not detract from the overall strong performance of the show.
So, in conclusion, a very strong performance, and definitely worth seeing. Once the technical issues are fixed, the show will easily be something to consider on a night out in St Kilda. And it is also humbling to be reminded that this show was performed by younger people, especially considering how professional the show is; it is easily on par with adult productions. Let us hope these performers continue their careers.
Wicked show of Wicked!
Wicked is on at the National Theatre, St Kilda from 19 – 27 January 2018. Tickets are available via the Wicked Musical website.