Feb 2, 2012

[Theater] Wicked (Marina Bay Sands)

About four years ago, I finally got to watch Wicked at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles since I happened to be in the US for business and some relatives were really, really generous. It was certainly a life-changing experience since it was also the first time I had seen play outside of the Philippines and it's certainly an experience I'll treasure forever.

Fast forward to last year when it was announced that the Marina Bay Sands Theater would be hosting an international staging of the play - naturally I was pretty stoked. And since my partner Tobie had not had a chance to see the play, it wasn't even a question whether or not we were going to make the trek to Singapore.

Thus this review is one of the rare cases when I get to compare one staging of a show with another. Each have their merits to be certain, but it's only when you watch two different groups put up the same play that you really get to compare how each handled it and also what you liked and what you didn't like so much.

It certainly gives one an interesting perspective for things. Perhaps I should try to do this more often - assuming my budget can allow for it, hehe.

Marina Bay Sands
Image by edwin.11 via Flickr
First, the usual recap. Wicked is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz based on a book of roughly the same name. It won 3 out of 10 Tony Award nominations along with 6 Drama Desk Awards after its debut in 2003. This particular run mainly featuring the Australian cast was staged at the Marina Bay Sands Theater.

Very briefly, Wicked tries to tell the story of Elphaba, who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda, who eventually becomes Glinda the Good Witch of the North, in classic Oz terms. The story presented pushes that the two were once friends during their school days and thus we follow their story all the way to her death at the hands of Dorothy Gale and a bucket of water. And the story has a lot of quirky twists and turns that present some interestingly plausible explanation for things in the core Wizard of Oz story, but I'll leave it to you to actually watch the show to see what those changes are.

Now I have to admit that at first, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the individual performances of Suzie Mathers as Glinda and Jemma Rix as Elphaba. While both can sing well, there was something that felt a little off as they delivered some of their lines. One could attribute it to American humor being wielded by folks from other countries. It's not about mispronouncing things, but more along the lines of the stresses and some of the timing being a little off, thus taking away from the effect. But this is mainly for their individual performances. Together, the pair work amazingly well together and they truly shine in their scenes. Clearly a lot of time and effort went into building that kind of a bond that helps each feed off the energy of the other.

A lot of the rest of the primary cast felt somewhat disappointing to me for various reasons. I think my main frustration was Anne Wood as Madame Morrible. Her character had a lot of potential for flair and sassiness in terms of delivery of lines but that just didn't come across very much. I think she recovered to some extent during Act II, but that may have been a wee bit too late. I also felt bad for Glen Hogstrom as Doctor Dillamond. While his time on stage is rather limited, I found him to be quite the compelling character when I last watched the show. Again this cast left him a bit hollower than he could have been, although it's hard for me to pinpoint precisely why I feel that way.

However, I'll be the first to admit that my critique of the actors may border on nitpicking given I do have the perspective of having watched an alternate cast. On their own, they were still a phenomenal group who certainly did justice to the overall production. And outside of casting, everything was pretty much as I had remembered it including the quality of the costumes, the dynamism of the sets and of course the power of the music through and through. From start to finish it remains an amazing production, which says a lot about the controls put in place to ensure the consistency of the play regardless of where it is shown.

The Marina Bay Sands is a somewhat smaller theater compared to the likes of the Pantages, but its size is not a detrimental factor. In fact, I felt that I caught more details that I had missed the first time around because of the differences in stage size and theater capacity. I didn't exactly have orchestra center seats during either time, but Marina did give me the option to see more than the Pantages did.

Overall, Wicked is a great show and one that carries well from the US all the way to Singapore. Given the show has been extended until April 1, I strongly urge fellow theater fans in Asia to make the effort to get yourselves over to Marina Bay Sands so you catch the production before they close shop. And for review purposes, this staging of the show still deserves 4 fabulous Oz dancers out of a possible 5.

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