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THEATRE: 26 SEPTEMBER 2014

By SANDRA BOWDEN

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire (original novel), Stephen Schwartz & Winnie Holzman | Directed by Joe Mantello

Capitol Theatre, Sydney CBD | Until 20 December

It’s not hard to find The Capitol Theatre these days. Just look for the eerie green trademark glow of Wicked’s witch, Elphaba. Once inside, it’s hard to miss the gauntlet of merchandising, especially the funky cocktail glasses with the built-in light, as patrons sip the house speciality, the Ozmopolitan.

The excitement in the foyer is palpable. It’s definitely A Night at The Theatre, and The Capitol is such a theatre — dim and close, yet once through its doors the stage stands grandly framed by a massive animatronic dragon with steaming nostrils and glowing eyes.

The journey from L Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, to the musical Wicked highlights the enduring fascination of this tale. Inspired by the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, author Gregory Maguire penned Wicked (The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz). The Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, was now a more complex and interesting character, not a black-and-white example of evil, but rather shades of green.

The musical version of today, adapted to the stage by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman, has the sort of following and success that most stage productions can only dream of — and quite deservedly so. This is a spectacular production, slick and extravagant and hugely entertaining.

Elphaba (Jemma Rix) and Glinda (Lucy Durack) meet when thrown together as roommates at sorcery school. Like your typical high school drama, a love triangle forms with the entry of Fiyero (Steve Danielson). Will he pick the pert popular girl or the geek with surprising depth?

Cleverly weaving in aspects of the original, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion’s back stories are fleshed out, although Dorothy and Toto remain an off — or rather under —stage presence.

Aside from a couple of numbers — mainly the big finale to Act 1, Defying Gravity — the music of Wicked lacks memorable punch but this is more a composition than performance issue, and is compensated for by the overall experience.

Wicked certainly defines lavish, from Susan Hilferty’s stunning costumes to the exhilarating lighting of Kenneth Posner. Eugene Lee’s set is a masterpiece of wacky bits and bobs, shifting smoothly between scenes like, well, magic.

Most magical of all, however, are the performances. Durack’s perky Glinda is a comedic delight, all sweetness and light with a steel core. Danielson is a strong and likeable Fiyero, and the inclusion of theatrical royalty in Maggie Kirkpatrick and Reg Livermore ensures depth as well as flash.

It is Rix that truly owns this production, however. Her Elphaba is an intriguing, sympathetic character and her voice is quite simply stunning. Despite having played Elphaba hundreds of times in various venues since 2010, she continues to bring energy and brilliance to the role.

My only regret of the night? I didn’t buy the cocktail.

All images: Jeff Busby