Since 1983, Murray Bridge Players and Singers have been producing quality productions, providing anyone, regardless of their abilities or prior experience, opportunities to perform on stage or behind the scenes. Following the success of recent productions such as Alice in Wonderland, Chicago, Into the Woods, May 2019 sees Murray Bridge Players and Singers undertaking their biggest and most ambitious task yet, producing the smash hit Broadway musical Wicked. Producing a show of this magnitude is no easy feat and presents quite the challenge for all involved. It is commendable therefore that Murray Bridge Players and Singers have chosen to give themselves this challenge, and under the direction of Trent Baker, for the most part, it is a successful production. However, there are several necessary minor changes which can be made to turn this show from good, to exceptional.
Featuring music by Stephen Schwartz, and a book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked is one of Broadway's longest running, highest grossing, and multi-award winning musicals, and it's easy to see why. The book is entertaining and fascinating, and the score is fun and lively and features memorable songs. Based on Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked: the Life and Times and of the Wicked Witch of the West, a retelling of L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Wicked is essentially the back story for The Wizard of Oz, and follows the story of the unlikely but profound friendship between popular girl Glinda and misunderstood green girl Elphaba. Both experience different journeys and life experiences, which result in them fulfilling their ultimate destinies, as Glinda the Good, and the Wicked Witch of the West. It is a show which ultimately makes one question whether or not Elphaba was really wicked at all.
Katelin Kneebone is Glinda, and Kurt Miegel is her love interest, Fiyero, a charismatic and charming Winkie prince (who later becomes the scarecrow). While both actors have an understanding of their character's self-focused and self-centred vain personality, Kneebone's diction appears forced and unnatural, and it seems that vocally, hitting the high notes is a struggle for her. Similarly, Miegel could benefit from presenting Fiyero with more confidence and stamina, while projecting his voice further and not relying on his microphone to carry his voice. These points though are likely to be the result of opening night nerves, and I'm confident that by the end of the season, this point will no longer be relevant.
In the role of Madame Morrible, headmistress of Shiz University where Glinda first meets Elphaba, Val Schubert is good, however, she could benefit from a slower pace in speech and walk, to further reinforce the manipulative, deceptive and stern personalities which Morrible manifests.
As University professor Doctor Dillamond, Iain Lewcock's portrayal needs significant work. Lewcock needs to slow down his diction and modify his tone, emotion and inflexion, to give his character more emotional substance and clarity.
Ronald Mafara as munchkin Boq, Breigh Angove as Elphaba's normal sister Nessarose, and Noel Kneebone as The Wizard are also charming and deliver fine performances, both in dialogue and vocals.
However, the stand out actor is definitely Emma Love, in the coveted lead role of Elphaba; Love is exceptional and very suitably cast. This production allows Love to demonstrate her sublime talents in both acting and singing, and her first solo song The Wizard and I, is a highlight of the show and demonstrates her singing talent well, setting the standard high for the rest of the show.
Emma Love as Elphaba. Photo by Jay Birdy
It is unfortunate, however, that the sound for this production was not balanced well, making it very difficult to hear the actors at times meaning that some of the vital witty dialogue didn't have the effect intended by the author. Similarly, while the orchestra (musically directed by Peta Davis and Jack Love), are good, their concealment underneath the stage and poor sound balance, means that the orchestra sounds pre-recorded.
In addition, while choreography by Shae Shulz is lively and relevant to each scene, at times it appears awkward and messy, with actors occasionally weaving between each other in a disorderly fashion.
While actors, choreographer and the orchestra deserve appropriate recognition, set and costume designers also are most deserving of recognition. This production team's designs transcend any other designs I have seen from other amateur companies who have produced Wicked, and the designs in this production are simply brilliant. More specifically, Mari Reu and Trent Baker, have designed a set that although simple, is effective. Featuring a large arch of cogs, and a separate wall with a large sliding door and two outward opening doors on either side, the set allows for the easy entrance and exits of actors and set pieces, making for quick and smooth scene changes. Samantha Pope's costumes are also exceptional and of the highest quality, and the costumes of The Emerald City are a beauty to behold. However, while the costumes are excellent, Madame Morrible's overly large bun wig is perhaps slightly over the top and unnecessary, and Doctor Dillamond's costume should also feature "goat gloves".
Further to these designs, the design of the famous Defying Gravity scene is original, clever and inventive, but could be implemented better by revising the lighting design, so that the material around the platform is concealed more effectively.
Finally, something which isn't usually mentioned in reviews is that of foyer displays and program design. In this case, it is something which demands commenting on. In something unique only to Murray Bridge Players and Singers, the foyer display designed by Brenda Watts, presents fun and exciting photo opportunities for patrons. Watts' choice of props and set pieces for this display are most substantial and help to build excitement. Patrons are advised to arrive early, to maximise the opportunity to enjoy the display, and ensure you don't forget your camera. I would also recommend that patrons purchase a program as it has incredible graphic design and features some sketches of the costume design, something not usually featured in an amateur program. It is one of the best programs I have had the pleasure of perusing.
The slogan often associated with Wicked, is "so much happened before Dorothy dropped in." The same can be true for this Murray Bridge Players and Singers production, but edited to "so much happened before the audience dropped in.", as staging Wicked has by no means been an easy road. It has been over a year in the making, and during this time, so much has had to happen before the audience dropped in: blocking scenes, compiling prop lists, designing lighting, costumes and sets, auditioning lead roles, rehearsals, the list continues. This production is a testament, however, to what happens when all these aspects combine, and while this production still requires some improvement, by the end of the season on May 18, this production will be something that is nothing short of wicked.
Interesting comments by Thomas but the review was not complimentary to amateur actors who love and enjoy what they do and the general public enjoy their passion for live theatre. These actors are not professionals being paid for their performance. It is about the love of what they do.