MANILA – It's been three years since the musical Wicked was last in Manila, so it was no surprise that the country's musical lovers were abuzz when news first broke last year of its impending return. The award-winning Broadway and West End Musical featuring the unforgettable music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz opened at The Theatre at Solaire this past February 2 and has already announced an extension until March 12.
Based on Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (which itself was inspired by the stories and characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), Wicked offers a decidedly different look at characters most of us have known since childhood. Offering an origin story for “the Wicked Witch” Elphaba and Glinda the Good, it examines a friendship that began as a rivalry before eventually spawning mutual respect. It also makes the audience re-evaluate their perceptions of “wickedness” and “goodness.”
The lead characters of Elphaba played by Jacqueline Hughes and Glinda played by Carly Anderson have been established as two of the most memorable characters in recent musical theater history, thus it is a daunting task for any two people to take on the challenge. Add to that the sheer number of brilliant women to play the roles originated by Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, and the task seems even more impossible. Happily, Hughes and Anderson are more than worthy of wielding the broomstick and wand respectively.
In the preview given to select media a week before the show opened, the show's producers shared that Hughes and Anderson are friends in real life, adding to the depth of their connection as they performed. The moment the curtain rises and the people of Oz are shown celebrating Elphaba's demise, we are immediately brought into that strange land over the rainbow. Anderson's Glinda flashes back to her flightier days as “Galinda” when she first met Elphaba at university.
Winnie Holzman's stage adaptation of Maguire's novel weaves a tale of how the previously unnamed Wicked Witch was considered a freak from birth, how her own father loathed her, and how she blamed herself for her younger sister's disability. By the time she leaves for Shiz University and is forced to be roommates with the privileged Galinda, Elphaba is used to being an outcast. She displays a talent for magic that her teacher Doctor Dillamond and headmistress Madam Morrible take note of.
Even as Galinda sets her sights on wooing the handsome prince Fiyero when he arrives at Shiz, Elphaba instead focuses on wanting to meet the mysterious Wonderful Wizard of Oz, hoping to be cured of her green skin. A surprising friendship develops between Elphaba and the renamed “Glinda,” though Fiyero unwittingly comes between them. As for the aforementioned Wizard and Madam Morrible, their hidden agendas are revealed to be more malevolent than anyone expects, and this forces Elphaba to embrace a destiny and power that she didn't expect to have.
Composer Stephen Schwartz has long been praised for the music of Wicked, and it is easy to hear why. In the hands of a brilliant cast, the songs soar, particularly when Hughes and Anderson perform their power duets such as “The Wizard and I,” “Popular,” and the crowd-pleaser that is “For Good.”
Bradley Jaden as Fiyero is more than adequate when he is introduced in “Dancing Through Life” and duets with Hughes in “As Long As You're Mine,” while Kim Ismay as Madam Morrible and Steven Pinder as both the Wizard and Doctor Dillamond capably show the dark side of Oz's leaders.
But any performance of Wicked is measured by their Glinda and Elphaba, and these two deliver in spades. Anderson's giggly, shallow Glinda delivers her lines with glee, though not fully winking at the audience to show that she's in on the jokes.
By the time Hughes gets to the much-awaited showstopper that is “Defying Gravity” to close Act One, you are already fully invested in her Elphaba, and she embraces the awkwardness and discomfort that the witch has grown up with. As expected, it is this number that fully displays Hughes' vocal talents, as with Elphabas before her, and she literally takes flight with it to raucous applause.
Presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Concertus Manila, and Globe LIVE, seats to Wicked can be booked through ticketworld.com.ph and all Ticketworld outlets.
All photos by Matt Booth.