Reviewed by Matt Markham
Editor, Ashburton Guardian
As someone who has never cared much for the Wizard of Oz, the prospect of a stage show based entirely on the untold story of the witches of the same imaginary land left me feeling a little apprehensive.
The process of munchkins, men made from both tin and straw and an afraid lion all mixed in together with a girl in red slippers never really piqued my attention growing up and so I headed to the Isaac Theatre Royal on Saturday night for the second showing of Showbiz Christchurch’s latest production, Wicked with some strongly mixed emotions.
Knowing there was some incredibly talented Mid Canterbury faces in the cast had eased my apprehension somewhat and within two minutes of the curtain rising I found myself captivated, intrigued and sitting on the edge of my seat enjoying every moment.
The world-renowned show, that has been a hit across the globe for a decade now tells the untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two girls who first meet as sorcery students at Shiz University: the blonde and very popular Glinda and a misunderstood green girl named Elphaba.
Following an encounter with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, their friendship reaches a crossroads and their lives take very different paths. Glinda’s unflinching desire for popularity sees her seduced by power while Elphaba’s determination to remain true to herself, and to those around her, has unexpected and shocking consequences for her future.
Their extraordinary adventures in Oz sees them fulfil their destinies as Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Nothing is left unturned here by a star-studded line up of directors and their staff, from the programmes sold at the front door, to the shoes worn by those on stage, everything beams professionalism and brilliance and the entire production team from the set design, choreography, costumes and music were fully deserving of every plaudit thrown their way.
As luck would have it, former Ashburton lass, and NASDA graduate Jane Leonard was on one of her alternate nights of filling the lead role of the green-skinned Elphaba, playing alongside Wellington’s Ellie Neal who fulfilled the role of Glinda.
The pair were, quite simply a match made in heaven. They bounced off each other with the right amount of enthusiasm and humility that you’d expect from such a high-end show and were the deserving shining lights of the night.
It is hard to imagine the show without these two playing their respective roles.
I sympathise with Leonard’s character somewhat, because I too am green. Green-eyed with envy at the incredible talent this former Ashburton girl possesses.
She commanded the stage, her presence unwavering and demanding and her vocal performance was nigh on perfect.
The show’s most well-known song, Defying Gravity is somewhat of a double-edged sword in the fact that it is such a tune that it’s hard not to enjoy, but equally as difficult vocally and requires some skill to perform.
Leonard’s effort, was quite simply put, perfection wrapped up in green and black. So much so there was the sense of a standing ovation as the curtain fell down on the first act with her powerful tones ringing through the ears of the packed house.
The ovation didn’t come then, but it did as she made her curtain call with the large Ashburton contingent in the crowd making sure that others there new just how proud they were of her effort.
Leonard wasn’t the only local on stage though.
The experienced Greta Casey-Solly made an appearance as an interestingly attired mid-wife and her own usual manner exuded confidence and power while young rising star Jack Hanrahan was a prominent figure in the ensemble showing up numerous times with his usual amount of flair and skill.
The only gripe I can muster, and it is a very minimal one, is that at times the abrupt loudness of the very brilliant band drowned out some soloists, and understand their lyrics became a little more difficult than it should have.
This was more an issue in the opening act and only for certain performers (not Leonard) but seemed to have been ironed out by the time the curtain rose again for the second act.
So, take it from this former Oz-Doubter, that Wicked is a show not to be missed.
At around $60 a ticket, it’s well worth the trip up the road for a night of good, quality entertainment and one I’ve got no hesitation in recommending to anyone.