I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
What happened before Dorothy arrived in Oz?
Manly Musical Society's final show of the year is the epic pre-Dorothy story of the wizard and witches of Oz – Wicked. A Broadway staple since its debut in 2003, Wicked is a marathon for all involved and a remarkable challenge for any actor given the opportunity to tackle one of the leading roles.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Wicked takes place in Oz before Dorothy arrived. Galinda and Elphaba are two pupils at Shiz University and become unlikely friends after a rocky beginning. Elphaba's skin is a bright green colour which makes her the laughing stock of the school, and Galinda is the popular, pretty and shallow 'mean girl' who eventually realises that there is more to Elphaba than meets the eye. As the two grow to be fast friends, they embark on a journey to meet the Wizard of Oz in the hopes of working alongside him. But when they meet him, they reveal a dark secret that ends up turning their worlds upside down and setting them on the path to become the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West that we know from The Wizard of Oz.
Declan Moore has assembled a capable cast and used them to great effect throughout the production. His direction is cohesive and he has done a great job in navigating what he describes in his Director's Note as "the largest and most technically adventurous production the company has ever mounted". Musical Direction by Anthony Cutrupi is solid and the pit orchestra is tight and energetic. The choreography by Sarah Friedrich compliments the show nicely and even in whole cast numbers where the risk of sloppiness is high, the ensemble deliver crisp and clean dance numbers that make good use of the stage. Graeme Smart & Ben Mills' sound design encounters a few issues in the performance, mostly with solo lines where the mic cues are late. Elle Cantor's work on costuming this complex show is fantastic, with a particular highlight being Madame Morrible's two gorgeous outfits. Matt Osborne's lighting design is one of the most adventurous community theatre lighting designs I've ever seen with a large amount of LED screens used to display settings on. At times, it's a bit over the top, but on the whole, it's inventive and very clever. Linus Karsari's technical direction overall is effective, however, rather disappointingly the epic defying gravity moment comes across as a bit awkward and doesn't really pack a punch. There's also a few very slow transitions that I'm sure will be cleaned up as the run continue.
Elphaba, the green witch, is played by Belinda Robinson who is quite audibly struggling from the demands of what I imagine has been a rather unforgiving and tiring tech week. Her characterisation is there and she sings well enough to his some stellar notes, but her voice is ragged in the big numbers and it's clear her voice needs a rest. That said, her ability to act through the vocal challenges and remain in character to drive the show along is to be commended. Melody Beck is a delight as Galinda. With gorgeous soprano notes and cheeky patter, she absolutely nails the effervescence that is Galinda. Her energy onstage is palpable and you can't help be caught up in her bubbly manner. Eric Presnall is a charismatic Fiyero whose big number, 'Dancing Through Life', has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. His character transformation throughout the show gives Fiyero a lovely arc.
Keira Connelly is marvellous (and almost steals the show) as Madame Morrible, the shady Shiz professor cum Press Secretary for the Wizard. Her timing and vocals are spot on and she stands out onstage in every scene. Another standout performance is delivered by Rachael Mayrick as Elphaba's wheelchair-bound sister, Nessarose. Her voice conveys all the sweetness of Nessa's innocence and as Nessa becomes more bitter and twisted in Act 2, she proves that she has the acting chops to pull it off. Harrison Riley's Boq is endearing if not slightly overplayed at times, but we definitely feel for him when things don't go his way. Lachlan O'Brien is a capable Wizard of Oz, oscillating between charm and smarminess with his rendition of Wonderful going down a treat.
All in all, Manly Musical Society's production of Wicked is solid. It's a different take on the show to the professional production and there are definitely performances worth buying a ticket for. For a community theatre group, this is an incredibly ambitious production and whilst it isn't perfect, it's certainly a great night out at the theatre.