Feb 6, 2014

[Theater] Wicked (Cultural Center of the Philippines)

I wasn't sure if I wanted to post a "review" of sorts of the local staging of Wicked since this marks the third time that I've seen the play and the second time I've seen this particular theater company - Lunchbox Theatricals. They were the same group that staged the play in Singapore some time back and even featured the same lead actors in the key roles of Elphaba and Galinda.

But still, each performance is different, and for traveling shows like this we also get to factor in actor changes and the venue itself in terms of how it affects the production. And thus I've decided to push forward with this review, which may be more of a reflection piece more than anything else.

After all, it is interesting to note that I've invested so much into this particular theater production. As much as I'm willing to travel within the region to see good shows, that doesn't necessarily obligate me to watch the same show should it finally come to the Philippines. But Wicked is a unique theater experience indeed and one that I don't regret seeing over and over again.

This run of Wicked was still performed by Lunchbox Theatricals as I had mentioned earlier. They're the same theater company that typically puts up shows at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and they do travel around Asia with their productions quite a bit. This particular run began on January 22 and is expected to run until March at the CCP's main theater.

If you really need a synopsis of the show, I suppose I can just refer you back to my review of the Singapore staging of the production. The lead roles of Elphaba and Galinda / Glinda were portrayed by the same actresses, Jemma Rix and Suzie Mathers respectively.

This time around, it's clear that both Rix and Mathers have really grown into their roles. They were pretty brilliant throughout the production but major kudos need to go out to Mathers, who was totally on point when we watched the show last night. She's really defined her flavor of Galinda to a tee and her various asides and comical inserts throughout the show we pretty well done. I have to say that I enjoyed her antics this time around even more than I did back when we watched her in Singapore.

The casting change for Madam Morrible with Maggie Kirkpatrick was also a positive one.She was certainly a much stronger character during her acting bits in this version of the show, although I will concede that her singing still wasn't anything to write home about. Still, she did a great job of really capturing the audience during her scenes and she had quite a stage presence to her.

I'm on the fence about Jay Laga'aia playing the Wizard though. Maybe his take on the character was just too different for me or perhaps I'm being biased in other ways, there was just something a little wrong with how he came across. It was almost as if he was trying a little too hard to impress us and show that he's a serious stage actor and not just that guy from the Star Wars prequels. I didn't really care for Steve Danielssen's performance as Fiyero. And Glen Hogstrom still isn't a great Doctor Dillamond for me.

All those nitpicks aside, the show remains an amazing production and it always impresses me how well it transports from country to country. The overall set remains pretty much consistent no matter where you watch the show and the costumes also remain as beautiful as ever. That says a lot about how the folks behind the show and how it is licensed to different groups around the world has really invested in ensuring a consistent theater experience.

That said though, I'm really not happy with how the CCP hasn't really evolved to meet the changing needs of the global theater community. We were in the upper balcony and the air conditioning felt pretty much like an afterthought for the most part. By the first intermission I was already sweating, even though I hadn't dressed up too formally or anything like that. The sound system also remains solely focused on at the front of the theater and I wish that they had some something to have the sound surround the audience more or at least find ways to cheat the acoustics to address things better.

Theater management is also horribly understaffed with only a single usher helping guests per theater door. And this means that there's no stopping the hoards of ignorant Filipino theater-goers who take photo after photo while in the theater. Even when the show was actually in full swing, no ushers were checking on the audience and thus I actually saw a lady taking video of certain key performances with a tablet. I wanted to call her out but she was too far away and I'd need to shout and make a more of a scene in order to get her reprimanded.

But what can we do, Wicked has always been a show that has managed to endear itself to Filipinos even though this is the first time that it was staged her. There's something about the music that has appealed to folks around here ever since the first pirated tracks of the show were available on the internet and most folks are able to sing along with most of the show just because of how popular the soundtrack is around here. And I'll admit, it was nice to hear the little side comments from nearby members of the audience as they finally got to see the full story behind the lyrics. There's a certain wonder in that moment when a fan sees the actual play for the first time and thus the songs stop living in isolation from one another in the confines of one's mind.

Wicked is still a brilliant play and I don't think I need to make any recommendations as to whether or not you folks should try to catch the show while it's still in the country. And just so I can throw out a rating, I'd still say that it's a 4 out of 5, mainly because of my complaints about the venue.
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