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No one mourns the wicked

By: - Columnist
/ 12:01 AM January 31, 2014

JEMMA Rix as Elphaba (left) and Suzie Mathers as Glinda in “Wicked”. Andrew Ritchie

Friday night last week, my family headed to the CCP Main Theater to see one of my favorite shows: “Wicked.” Based on the Gregory Maguire novel, this Stephen Schwartz musical (book by Winnie Holzman) offers a probable backstory to the events prior to, concurrent with, and following those that took place in the film, “The Wizard of Oz.” With clever references to the beloved Judy Garland starrer (“… lemons and melons and pears, oh my!”), it has endeared itself to the millions who have seen it since it opened on Broadway in 2003 (the night before Halloween).

Rob and I saw the Broadway production in 2004, just after we got married. A friend who happened to be in the show helped us get tickets. It was a lot of fun spotting him on stage whenever he appeared—as a student, a guard, or a resident of Emerald City. Seeing shows is a lot more fun when friends I love, respect and adore are in them.

Not that “Wicked” needed any more value than it already had. Starring as Elphaba was Idina Menzel, fresh from her Tony Award win; Carole Shelley as Madame Morrible, George Hearn as The Wizard, Jennifer Laura Thompson as Glinda (whose rendition of “Popular” made Idina laugh far more than was apparently appropriate), and Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block as Fiyero. Don’t laugh. The guy had the chops, both as singer and actor. Watching him and Idina sing “As Long as You’re Mine” raised the temperature in the theater a couple of degrees.

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I had no idea what to expect. My experience of “Wicked” at the time was limited to Idina singing “Defying Gravity” during the Tony Awards. Knowing that watching something like this on television was nothing like the real thing, I went into the Gershwin Theatre looking forward to something special. I was not disappointed.

As soon as Idina made her first entrance in her Shiz uniform, round-rimmed glasses and a beanie (looking more like a scholastic nerd than a powerful witch… think Hermione, but green), the audience roared with applause—and it lasted a while, in recognition of her Tony Award. Every song she sang, she sang with such commitment and wild energy, not to mention infectious charm. I was sitting far enough away, and could still see her smile. Although the evening was chock-full of excellent performances (the ensemble’s dancing of Wayne Cilento’s choreography was crazy amazing!), Elphaba was my favorite character that night.

Electric in Manila

Fast forward to the Manila show. From the driveway to the lobby, the CCP was outfitted in green—lights, decorations, even the guests. The atmosphere was electric and swelling with expectation. Many had seen the show before—on Broadway or in London, or on an international tour stop—so they knew what they were in for.

Of course the most applauded number was “Defying Gravity,” not only for its performance by Jemma Rix, who played Elphaba, but for all the technical elements that came together. The ensemble was on point, the lighting was spectacular, the sound system sounded fantastic. It was one of the few times that I didn’t want for something better from the sound department.

There are two performers that I have to give props to: Maggie Kirkpatrick (Madame Morrible) is one. Tall and imposing with a regal presence, she was riveting to watch, going from being this motherly figure to the bitch you wanted so badly to hate. It takes someone special to do this.

The other one I fell in love with was Suzie Mathers, who played Glinda. From the moment she opened her mouth, she had all of us watching her in the palm of her hand (all of two and a half hours). Her big number, “Popular” kept me in stitches. Her voice reminded me of Kristin Chenoweth’s (Kristin created the role), clear and precise. But it was Suzie’s acting that was most impressive. Her story arc was wonderful to watch, from the vapid, stereotypical “blonde” Galinda to the more insightful and wise Glinda, the more familiar figure that flies into scenes in a bubble. Witnessing Glinda’s friendship with Elphaba grow from beginnings of disdain and loathing into a deep kinship and love—down to her utter heartbreak when she knew she would never see Elphaba again—was wonderful. I thank her for taking me on such a wonderful ride.

Everyone should experience “Wicked” at least once. More than the theatricality, the excellent performances and stirring music, this is the story of a girl pushed aside and thought of as evil because she is different. Many young people nowadays are treated that same way… bullied, taunted, teased, abused—all because they don’t fit the status quo. If there is anything we could take away from a show like this one, it is that every human being deserves to be treated with respect and love.

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TAGS: Defying Gravity, Musical, Wicked
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