Wicked casts its spell in Singapore

Nikka Santos

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You can still catch it in the Lion City up to April 1

SINGAPORE – Remember “The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland as Dorothy? Maybe you’ve even read the book it was based on. The Broadway hit now showing in Singapore reveals a parallel story that devilishly complicates the classic children’s tale by L. Frank Baum.

Most of us know what happened to Dorothy, but it’s also worth hearing the untold story of her tormentor, the Wicked Witch of the West. This is the tale the musical spins, and like all untold stories, this one is juicy — involving love triangles, adultery and intrigue. They even threw in commentary on fascism and propaganda.

Discover why The Wicked Witch of the West isn’t all that bad. She is Elphaba, a misunderstood rebel-with-a-cause who gets a bad rap, thanks to a PR demolition job orchestrated by the Wizard of Oz. He is, if you recall, a wiz at deception. Beyond the bad PR, the green-faced witch you’ll meet here is tormented but resilient. She’s a smart, gifted sorceress with strong convictions. She wants the world to be a better place. I want to be her friend.

As for The Good Witch of the North, she isn’t a total saint. She does have a good heart, though she is as flawed as any of us. She can be vain and shallow, but she’s also surprisingly funny, earnestly charming and ambitious. The Glinda you’ll meet in this Oz story is more relatable than the saccharine sweet character in the MGM movie. I like her better.

Once upon a time, Glinda and Elphaba were actually best friends. (Watch video here)

The musical is based on Gregory Maguire’s re-imagining of Oz in his novel Wicked: “The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.”

As the author’s website blurb says: “When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?”

Writer Winnie Holzman takes it from there and weaves a feminist story sung power pop style to the music and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz.

Holzman’s writing credits include critically acclaimed TV dramas “Thirtysomething” and “My So Called Life.” Schwartz is well known for composing the Broadway classics “Godspell” and “Pippin,” as well as movie soundtracks for “Enchanted,” “Pocahontas,” and “The Prince of Egypt.” Both have won Drama Desk Awards for Wicked — Schwartz for Outstanding Lyrics, Holzman for Outstanding Book. In 2004, their collaboration also won The Drama Desk Award for Best Musical.

Holzman and Schwartz turn Maguire’s darkly subversive version of Oz into something that resonates with a wide audience. Maguire’s book was well received in literary circles when it came out. The great John Updike called it an “amazing novel,” but it took a long time to make it to the New York Times bestseller’s list. The musical version was an instant hit and eventually helped sell more books.

Adolescents love it

Since opening in 2003, at least 38 million theatergoers have watched the show — from Broadway to West End, San Francisco to Tokyo.

A lot of those millions happen to be teenage girls. This isn’t really surprising, as all girls are a little bit Elphaba and a little bit Glinda. Aren’t we all, no matter what age? And how can adolescents not love it? This Broadway hit also involves a makeover, a handsome party boy, teenage angst, struggles fitting in, youthful idealism, rebellion, and a whole lot of female drama.

Holzman’s story and Schwartz’s music, combined with the fantastical staging and whimsical costumes, come together as one enthralling show.

There is no profound revelation on the true nature of evil, which some critics say Wicked should have strived for.

Still, I found the characters endearingly nuanced. Allusions to the original Oz are clever and laugh out loud funny — the punch lines stronger if you remember the movie. The plot twists are, uhm… wickedly good. It’s one of the best times I have had inside the theater.

If you love the musical’s signature hit, Defying Gravity, you should see it as the stage spectacle it’s supposed to be.

No YouTube experience can truly capture Elphaba literally defying gravity on stage while belting it out — with the lighting effects, the billowing smoke and the live orchestra’s crescendo ending Act I. Bring a hankie. You’ll also need it in Act II when Glinda and Elphaba sing For Good, one of the most touching anthems to friendship.

The Australian cast I had caught in Singapore gave a stellar performance.

Allyce Martins was a perfectly bubbly Glinda, hitting those high notes like she had real witch powers. Zoe Jarret as Elphaba had a deeper voice that could go from hauntingly-tender to belting-out with the wave of a wand. The two had great chemistry. To think they were understudies. Principal actor Jemma Rix has rabid fans claiming she’s the best Elphaba they’ve seen from New York to London, while Suzie Mathers is one of Australia’s most beloved Glindas.

It looks like the two witches and the rest of the cast have spellbound audiences in Singapore.

Wicked’s run in the Lion City has already been extended twice. You can catch it there up to April 1, 2012 at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theater. Watch Wicked Singapore TV spot. – Rappler.com

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