‘Wicked’ was elegant.
With incredible marketing hype, and a vogue-esque vision for the show, Matt Ward Entertainment has presented ‘Wicked’ with both a flavour of their own and a strong sense of connection to early renditions.
After several years of the production being available to community theatre, and over fifteen years since the show first opened in the US, director Tim Hill has managed to incorporate the right balance between what audiences expect, as well as a sense of newness.
‘Wicked’ is the untold story of the witches of Oz, and follows young Elphaba in her path to discovering the extent of her power, and the corrupt nature of those around her. The musical is celebrated for its empowerment of strong female characters, acknowledgement of the strength found in human differences, and its ability to add a new level of depth to the familiar story that is The Wizard of Oz.
Original Art Design and Photography by Kenn Santos Photography brought Matt Ward Entertainment’s vision to life, even before the show began. As with many events in this digital world, branding is everything, and Santos created a series of high-end imagery to introduce audiences to the world of Oz and to set a level of expectation.
One of the standout elements, and a point of originality for this rendition, were the ensemble costumes, mostly designed by Sheree Barnes, and managed by a team of twelve. As with the photography, graphic design and marketing of this production, these costumes were catwalk ready and high-end-fashion in styling, with a ‘no expense spared’ appearance. The motif of these costumes was amplified by the body language and model like posing, cleverly incorporated by director Tim Hill and choreographer Deanna Castellana. An interconnection between the wardrobe pieces and how they were worn and utilised, highlights the clear vision of style and elegance that became Hill’s signature in this production.
A seventeen strong orchestra, directed and conducted by Craig Renshaw, made the complicated score sound effortless. As a collective, they allowed the audience to be absorbed into the show and simultaneously encouraged empathy among viewers. A true mark of professionalism was their ability to avoid becoming a distraction, with music that stirs the emotions so strongly.
Lighting, designed by Wesley Bluff and operated by Josh Braithwaite, was a useful tool throughout the show, and worked seamlessly and in tandem with the set and digital projections. Unlike other production aspects, the set, projections and lighting took little risk in style and form. They were handled with quality but were of little surprise to those who have seen earlier renditions of ‘Wicked’.
Unfortunately, the audio and props were not always to the same standard as other elements in the show. Designed by John Taylor and operated by Nick Willner, technical challenges were noticeable with the sound. At times, there seemed to be difficulties in balancing the volume of microphones, and performers became either too quiet or too grainy to understand well. As for props, managed by Brodie Cornish, they did not quite fit the boutique styling of the costumes or branding, instead opting for items that appeared mass produced and unnoteworthy.
Another consideration was the loss of grit, in shifting gears and presenting the show in an elegant manner. Much of the choreography, vocal tones and body language had an airy quality, and whilst this aligned with the vision for the show, it would have been nice to see a little more groundwork in the dances, some more bass in the ensemble vocals, and less softness in some of the characters’ body language.
Samantha Dodemaide, in her role as Elphaba, nailed the elaborate vocal work, with standout moments in ‘The Wizard and I’ as well as ‘No Good Deed’. Show stopper, ‘Defying Gravity’, was no different, but Dodemaide’s unwavering vocal skill allowed the other two stunning songs a chance to shine, more than perhaps other Elphaba’s have done in the past. With audible gasps from the audience throughout her songs and many standing ovations given during her bows, she clearly connected with the audience on an emotional level. Without deterring from the recognisable strengths of Elphaba’s character, Dodemaide managed to add a touch of originality, exchanging the usual geeky nature for more of a well-grounded and confident persona.
Creating the perfect balance, and matching Dodemaide’s professionalism, was Emily Monsma as Glinda. A role made famous by Kristin Chenoworth as a vain but ambitious young witch, Monsma gave her own flavour to the character. She added a new take on the comedic and sassy undertones, at times portraying a Tinkerbell-like stage presence. In addition to breathing new life into the characterisations, she added a delightful and controlled vibrato throughout her songs and gave Glinda’s vocals an operatic quality.
Stealing the show for many in the audience was James Shaw as The Wizard. He presented a man torn by his own thirst for power, and his moral compass. He connected with his fellow actors with realism and gave a strong vocal performance to match. Also noteworthy was Trent Owers as Fiyero, who brought a delicateness to the role with his calming vocal tones, and showed diversity in his ability to traverse between a nonchalant college student and an activist in the fight against the discrimination in the plot.
As one of musical theatre’s biggest shows, ‘Wicked’ is no easy feat. It remains one of the highest grossing musicals of all time, and there is no wonder why this rendition is just as successful. Matt Ward Entertainment has presented a cohesive show, that tackles the complex score, lighting and set design with professionalism. A show with such an extensive history proves a challenge, in order to both please audiences familiar with the production, and revitalise the experience with original ideas. Matt Ward Entertainment’s entire company have blown it out of the water.
‘Wicked’ performs until Saturday, 6 July 2019 at HOTA, Surfers Paradise. For tickets, book online at www.wickedinoz.com.au.
Editor’s note: The original article mentioned a twenty piece orchestra, this was a small error and there are only seventeen wonderful musicians.