Review: Wicked is a great musical with standout leads

Hong Kong audience basks in the music and magic of the back story of The Wizard of Oz’s two witches in a production replete with nods to the 1939 film which inspired it and marked by superb performances

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 December, 2016, 11:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 December, 2016, 11:40am

Touring productions of Broadway or West End musicals can be a bit of a hit or miss, a lot of the times depending on the visiting cast. Wicked, playing at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, is a resounding hit, featuring two superb leads, a small but charming ensemble, a beautiful set and gorgeous looking costumes.

Written by Stephen Schwartz (previous credits include Godspell and Pippin), Wicked the musical is based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a spin-off of the children’s fiction classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by American author L. Frank Baum. This back story to the friendship between Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West is adapted for the stage by Winnie Holzman.

The show opens at the point when the Wicked Witch of the West is announced as dead. Glinda then recalls how they – Elphaba and Galinda as she was known when younger – first met as sorcery students at Shiz University. They cannot be more different. Galinda is blonde and popular (albeit a bit ditzy) while Elphaba is feared and shunned because she was born with green skin.

But despite their differences the two young women eventually become best friends and it’s through this friendship we learn how they became who they were in The Wizard of Oz story (of the 1939 movie).

Jacqueline Hughes is superb as Elphaba. Despite being unpopular – even with her father – her Elphaba never wallows in self-pity and is confident, intelligent and deadpan from the word go. And when she belts – and what a voice – she hits all the (top) notes with control, power and emotions, delivering The Wizard and I, No Good Deed and For Good (duet with Glinda) to a rapturous audience. And her show-stopping number Defying Gravity? Hughes totally kills it.

Not to be outshone, Carly Anderson gives a three-dimensional interpretation of Galinda/Glinda the Good, drawing out the complexity of that character.

I was told her take on the role – which is not as black and white as Elphaba – was more comical, but on the night of this review, while Glinda played to the stereotypes of a popular college girl (and she was funny), she also has a darker side and kept the audience guessing – is she good or is she really bad – until the very end.

The actors in supporting roles are also excellent, notably Kim Ismay as sorcery teacher Madame Morrible, Iddon Jones as the hapless Boq, Bradley Jaden as the love interest Fiyero, and Steven Pinder as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Also competing for the audience’s attention are the costumes, designed by Susan Hilferty, which are meticulous in their detail and scrumptious in design, style and colour.

Act Two, in particular, is peppered with references that would delight any fans of the 1939 film classic.

It’s interesting how this musical, which made its debut on Broadway 13 years ago, has stayed relevant. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz turns out to be not that wonderful after all and is, in fact, a useless fraud full of “smoke and mirrors”, and quite a nasty man – the kind of character that we can all relate to today.

And is the Wicked Witch of the West really dead? Or is that just fake news?

Wicked the Musical, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai. Reviewed December 10.

Until January 22, 2017