Wicked twist on Oz was long awaited

WICKED is the musical Brisbane had been anticipating for more than two years, and it did not disappoint.

After long-running seasons in Melbourne and Sydney, eager ticket holders had to wait a bit longer after the swollen Brisbane River inundated much of South Bank during the Brisbane floods.

But no one wanted the production to go ahead more than its cast and crew, says Lucy Durack, who plays bubbly blonde witch Galinda.

“The anticipation for us as a company has been so great,” she said.

“We were two and half hours away from our first preview performance when we were evacuated from QPAC.

“I don't think we've ever wanted to be up and running as much as we have for Brisbane.

The musical opened with a matinee show on January 25, exactly three weeks after its original preview show was scheduled.

I attended the Sunday matinee and despite glowing reports from family and friends who had seen the show in London, New York, Melbourne and Chicago, I was blown away by the sheer scale and attention to detail in the production values.

A mechanical, smoke-breathing dragon looms above the stage while the cast below perform in a dazzling array of intricately designed costumes and props.

“The entire backstage choreography is pretty much as complicated – if not more complicated – than the on-stage choreography,” said Durack.

“Enormous sets are flown in and out, there are crazy costume changes, make-up changes, monkeys quickly putting beards on – you have to be pretty careful, but we've got it down to a fine art.”

But the actors' performances deservedly take centre stage as Winnie Holzman's dark, yet hopeful tale of Oz unfolds to the music and lyrics of Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz.

“I think what's great about Wicked is there's still hope. It's not one of these light, fluffy musicals that doesn't get to any depth,” said Durack.

Wicked's Brisbane production features a mix of iconic actors and fresh faces.

Maggie Kirkpatrick is devilishly delightful in her role as meddling school head mistress Madame Morrible, delivering stinging one-liners as she helps guide the fate of young pupils Elphaba and Galinda.

Bert Newton stepped on stage to a roar of applause as The Wizard of Oz. Despite his relatively short time on stage, Newton's booming voice made its mark on the production.

Young talents Jemma Rix and Durack play the demanding lead roles of Elphaba and Galinda, boarding school roommates whose sudden friendship is tested by upheavals in Oz.

But Galinda provides much of the comic relief with her spoiled outlook and ditzy comments made in her trademark, high-pitched voice.

“It's the speaking voice more than the singing voice that got me initially into trouble,” said Durack.

“Laughing and crying and screaming in this one sound that isn't my own took me a while to learn, but I've been doing it for two and a half years now.”

A handful of new cast members made their debuts in Brisbane, most notably David Harris as Elphaba and Galinda's love interest Fiyero. He is also Durack's long-time friend.

“We were brother and sister in the Australian premiere of Thoroughly Modern Millie a few years ago, and my first job was in Brisbane in the ensemble of Mamma Mia! where David and I were dance partners,” she said.

“I was thrilled when I heard he was going to be Fiyero. He has just slotted in so easily. He's a great company member.”

Whether you reflect on Wicked's political undertones or simply bask in the spectacle of it all, this musical is two hours you'll never forget.

Wicked plays Tuesdays through Sundays at QPAC's Lyric Theatre through March 6. Tickets from $69.90.

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