For audiences, stage productions are such immersive experiences. We basically enter an alternate world for several hours. When done right, the combination of timeless storytelling, beautiful movements, striking costumes and makeup, and memorable sets will bring out positive, visceral reactions every night.
And when the production’s consistent with this combination, it can see years—or even decades—in the spotlight. Which is exactly the case of Wicked, an award-winning musical based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 fiction best-seller providing a new perspective to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. First lifting its curtain in 2003, it’s now a long-running sensation on Broadway with a 14-year (and counting!) run, and with multiple casts and crew bringing their shows around the world.
Manila has already played host to Wicked back in 2014: the sold-out shows at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and an already extended season still left local audiences wanting more of Elphaba, Glinda, and the other characters of Maguire’s Oz. With the amazing reception and support from the theater-going public, the folks behind the 2017 Wicked International Tour knew three years was far too long for an encore.
This time around, The Theatre at Solaire in Parañaque City substitutes for the Land of Oz, and an all-new cast and crew—most of whom came from the UK and Ireland productions—are in town until mid-March. Jacqueline Hughes and Carly Anderson bring Elphaba and Glinda to life on stage; while Bradley Jaden, Emily Shaw, Steven Pinder, Kim Ismay, and Iddon Jones are in supporting roles as Fiyero, Nessarose, Doctor Dillamond, Madame Morrible, and Boq, respectively.
Members of the media were treated to two show excerpts during Wicked’s Manila Media Call last February 3, a day after the musical’s second run officially began. With us enjoying the view from the Orchestra section, the entire Emerald City ensemble sung and danced along with Elphaba and Glinda to the lively and frenetic One Short Day, and the two female leads bid each other farewell in the climactic duet For Good.
The invisible wall between the stage and the audience began to break down between performances. Lunchbox Theatrical Productions’s James Cundall and resident director Leigh Constantine told the media about some unknown aspects of the production, like Wicked having as many as 3,000 performers audition for various roles, and their use of new choreography by Tony award-winner Wayne Cilento for some numbers. And there are some interesting trivia about the cast’s costumes, too: this production uses 350 costumes, 150 pairs of shoes, and 150 wigs, with many of the costumes made especially for the international tour, and the fabrics sourced globally.
The production’s design sensibility was also a surprise to me. Until Constantine mentioned it, I never noticed that there are actually 13 hours on the main set’s clock face, or that the costumes were made specifically to be, in Constantine’s words, “a little bit off-tilt”. No two sleeves are the same, no fabric is cut symmetrically, and even Glinda’s tiara doesn’t sit on her head properly. This choice reflects the offbeatness of the Land of Oz, that things don’t seem quite right here.
It’s one thing to talk about costuming, casting, and aesthetics, and quite another to take a guided backstage tour to see for ourselves. I snuck away from the media group for a few seconds to stand on stage, and it felt surreal to be right behind the illuminated map of Emerald City. The stage seemed so large when viewed from the “house”, but it felt small and cramped as I was standing in the middle of it.
Hidden in the stage wings are the technical areas, enormous trunks and big set pieces, like the Wizard, and the Shiz University statue. Some huge pieces were also hung midair for easy deployment during show time.
At the Wardrobe Village (situated right behind the big clock face), we got to see and touch the costumes and accessories, from one of Glinda’s white ball gowns to the gruesome masks worn by some cast members. It was like checking out someone’s colorful, quirky, and lavish walk-in closet!
During the tour, the backstage manager also went for more numbers. Wicked has close to 2,000 costume accessories for its actors, goes through up to 14 laundry loads after every show, and uses 1 liter of vodka to mix in with water and tea tree oil for cleaning both clothes and masks. I had already known that Elphaba’s black Wicked Witch dress has 50 layers of ruffles and uses 40 yards of various fabrics, thanks to Wicked Manila’s Instagram post, but it was amazing to hear more factoids dropped like candy backstage.
The media also got to ask the producers and principal and supporting actors questions at the Theatre’s main lobby, with five groups getting equal time among them in group interviews. In the first round, Anderson stated that one particular costume change—from the opening number to the next —takes only 15 seconds! And even actors aren’t immune to Wicked’s magic: she noted that she reviewed both Maguire’s novel and the original Wizard of Oz after securing her role, and read the book even before that. She also touched on the enduring fascination with Oz, and what she called the dark and sinister feeling underneath these fictional worlds: “there’s something unexpected that can happen at any moment.”
Thankfully, that only happens on stage, and it goes exactly as planned each night. Which brings me back to what Constantine said earlier about the production’s job—that “every single audience member feels that we are performing this show for the first time, and just for them.” I’d say it worked for me; even after reading the book and watching the 2014 shows, I still felt I was seeing Emerald City anew.
Wicked: The Musical will be at The Theatre at Solaire, Solaire Resort & Casino, Parañaque City, from February 2 to March 19, 2017. The Manila run is presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Concertus Manila, and Globe LIVE. Buy your tickets at ticketworld.com.ph.