When I first caught Wicked a few months back in London, I was blown away. Being a Wizard of Oz fan (and having just caught its Broadway version a day before), I was astonished at how Wicked subverted Wizard of Oz and brought fresh new perspective into the motivations of the well-loved characters.
Wicked, based on a novel written by Gregory Maguire, essentially tells the 'true story' of Wizard of Oz long before Dorothy dropped in with her little puppy. It is about the friendship between the green-skinned fiery Elphaba — the eventual Wicked Witch of the West — and blonde ditzy Glinda, better known as the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz.
Wicked kicks off on a high note with Glinda merrily announcing the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West. Forced by the munchkins to admit that she was once friends with the wicked witch, Glinda then goes back in time to tell the story of Elphaba and herself — how they met in school and hated each other, how they eventually became the best of friends, how they travelled to Emerald City to meet the Wizard, how their friendship was torn apart by the love of a man, and how their respective fates were eventually sealed in history.
I was fortunate enough to catch the blockbuster — which is currently running here in Singapore — again last Thursday at Marina Bay Sands. My verdict? You could watch Wicked again and again, and still enjoy it immensely. The winner of 35 major awards including three Tony Awards and six Helpmann awards deserves all its accolades.
The story itself has many layers, and one can thus enjoy it on different levels. It is a heart-warming tale of love, loss and friendship, a deeper social commentary about power struggles and human behaviour. At the same time, it is a grim reminder of how there is always much more than meets the eye, and that how a story unfolds and is presented depends on who is telling it.
If you have watched Wizard of Oz, you would be fascinated by how creatively Wicked explains the beginnings of main characters such as the Lion, the Tin-man and the Scarecrow, and the real reasons why the Wicked Witch of the East suffered the sorry fate of being crushed by a house. You would also find out the 'truth' behind the Wicked Witch of the West's obsession with those shiny red shoes.
Fret not if you are not familiar with Wizard of Oz. The magnificent stage settings, catchy songs, top-class performing standards and the enchanting storyline are enough to ensure a magical experience which can be understood and appreciated by viewers of all ages.
Kudos to the cast and creative team for making the story come alive. I loved how Glinda — with all her high-pitched self-absorption — and Elphaba — full of frustration and righteousness — played off each other to hilarious results. Nessaros, Elphaba's selfish, wheelchair-bound younger sister, also stole the show during her scenes. The handsome Fiyero had such strong chemistry with Elpaba that their Prince Charming and green-skinned witch pairing was not only believable, but also intense and touching.
The only quibble I have about the musical: the scene in which Glinda and Elphaba made the decision to take on different directions in life somehow failed to soar, especially in comparison to what I have seen at the West End. The pair's rendition of 'Defying Gravity' was pleasant enough, but did not convey fully the strong emotions involved. While very moving on the lower keys, Elphaba did not make much of an impact when hitting the high notes and her voice seemed to trail off to an unsatisfying conclusion.
All in all, Wicked is still, I dare say, the best Broadway musical I have seen so far. Sit back, relax and enjoy being taken on an amazing journey full of surprises.
Tickets to Wicked can be bought at all Sistic channels or at the Wicked Singapore official website.