Jen and I recently went to check out the Australian stage production of Wicked – The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. The Australian adaptation of the enourmously popular Broadway musical boasts an impressive cast of young local talent, television icon Bert Newton performing as The Wizard and big budget production values. Just how big is the budget? The stage has a giant mechanical dragon rigged above it that bellows and roars at the start of the show. It serves no other function and isn’t related to the story whatsoever.
Jen and I went into the show not knowing what to expect, with both of us having little to no knowledge of the story and songs beforehand.
We came away disappointed and a tad underwhelmed.
The two lead girls Lucy Durack (Galinda) and Jemma Rix (Elphaba) were both excellent performers with impressive vocal range and a solid sense of comic timing. The set designs were excellent. The supporting cast decent. So what went wrong?
Wicked is written and performed in the style of an American rom-com. The story arc, the character archetypes and the set up for the gags all have a familiar feel. Even Lucy Durack appears to be channelling Megan Mullaley with her performance. The story of the lime-skinned social outcast Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, plays out in a highschool setting that is highly evocative of She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You.
Only this is a three hour theatre production. No matter how polished the presentation, 180 minutes is a veeeeerrry long running time for the material they’re working with. Brevity is the soul of wit after all.
Another criticism I had about the show which might be specific to the Australia production is the incredibly pedestrian stage direction. There are a lot of musical numbers where the cast are simply rooted to the spot, standing or sitting, for the entire duration of the song. Given the lavish set design, it would’ve been nice to see them interact with it a bit more, moving around, or doing something.
I’ve only seen a handful of musical productions in the last few years at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre but I’d still comfortably place Avenue Q and Euro Beat above Wicked as superior shows. Ultimately, I felt the story was pretty bland and the songs mostly forgettable. For that I blame the source material. I don’t know if there is a name given to the sub-genre of ‘novelty literary spin-offs’ that include Wicked, Rozenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters but I’m yet to be convinced that any of them are any good.