A backstage look at the award-winning Broadway and West-End musical
In 2014, after their final curtain call at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the touring cast of Wicked who performed in Manila thought they would simply call it a night and bid adieu to their delighted fans. Little did they know that outside the theater, around 500 Filipinos had gathered to serenade them in appreciation before they fly out of the country.
This unprecedented stunt was so special to Lunchbox Theatrical Productions—one of Australasia’s leading producers of live entertainment —that president James Cundall couldn’t help but recall it. The show is back in the country for its 2017 tour at The Theatre at Solaire.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before. It was perhaps equivalent to Elvis’ last departure,” the producer remarked with a chuckle.
According to Cundall, that scene plus the fact that Wicked’s first run in the country played to 99-percent audience capacity in 2014 sold them the idea to revisit Manila for another season.
“There were many people that didn’t actually get to see it, thus, when the international tour was mooted, we grabbed it as quickly as we could so we could do a period of time in this wonderful city,” Cundall added.
While the serenading of cast was something new for Wicked, the almost sold-out ticket sales aren’t.
The musical premiered in Broadway on October 30, 2003 and has since been played 5,000 times at the Gershwin Theatre, making it the ninth longest-running show in Broadway history. Almost three years later, Wicked premiered in London’s West End and has since saw 4,000 performances at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.
Around the world, the record of the musical—based on the novel The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, author Gregory Maguire’s ingenious re-imagination of the great L. Frank Braum’s stories and characters—is even more astonishing: over 50 million people in 15 countries have seen it.
In the awards department, Wicked is also a force to reckon with what with over 100 major awards, including threee Tony Awards, six Drama Desk Awards on Broadway, two Olivier Awards and nine WhatsOnStage Awards in London, six Helpmann Awards in Australia and a Grammy Award.
With all these, what makes Wicked such a hit both for critics and the audience?
Seeing the musical and witnessing the incredible untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between Glinda, a popular blonde girl, and Elphaba, a misunderstood, green-skinned girl, from the beginning when they were just sorcery students at Shiz University, until they eventually fulfilled their destinies as Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West is one giveaway.
Glinda and Elphaba’s story of friendship and love remains universal up to this day. But their lessons on bullying, women empowerment and finding one’s self is now even more relatable to the millennial generation.
“There’s something Wicked that grabs everybody. It’s a story of friendship between two women which is also something that isn’t often portrayed in the media,” resident director Leigh Constantine told the press during their media presentation.
Another “thrillifying” factor for Wicked is its grand production value. Both Constantine and Cundall were proud to say that no expense was spared for this edition of the beloved musical –from getting topnotch actors and actresses to setting up the right stage and spending fortune on extravagant costumes and props.
To begin with, the 31-member Wicked cast were picked from a whopping 3,000 applicants in UK – almost a third of the total number of performers in the country, guaranteeing that Jaqcueline Hughes (Elphaba), Carly Anderson (Glinda), Bradley Jaden (Fiyero), Steven Pinder (The Wizard and Doctor Dillamond), Kim Ismay (Madame Morrible), Iddon Jones (Boq) and Emily Shaw (Nessarose), among others, were the best of the best.
It would be interesting to also note that it took 13 trucks and 18 containers to get all the props and set designs from one city to another. Among their contents were 350 costumes, 150 pairs of shoes and almost 150 wigs.
“Costume design is a huge part of the success of the show and great care was taken with all of the details of the costume,” Constantine reiterated.
No room for error
A few more details were revealed by company manager Anthony Field as he toured the local media, including The Sunday Times Magazine, on Wicked ’s backstage and costume village.
“It takes four to five weeks and about 70 wardrobe staff to produce the costumes before the cast’s first day of rehearsal. As for the wigs, it would take four months to make a single wig from scratch,” Field proudly imparted.
As meticulous as the production members are with their costumes and props, an audience member may notice that the clock face in the stage has 13 hours, or that Glinda’s tiara doesn’t sit square in the head, or that a member of the ensemble’s sleeve is different from its pair. These details, according to Constantine, were not lapses in judgment but rather intentional to make Wicked a little bit surreal and out of this world.
As the media walked along the stage towards Wardrobe Village, Field pointed to the hanging cables that are used to facilitate their flying system, which director Constantine earlier remarked as currently the most advanced in all the tours around the world.
At the Wardrobe Village, Field then described that to make costume changes as swift as possible, each of the cast gets their own panel where their costumes are already arranged.
“Sometimes it’s a lot busier and crazier here than it is onstage, most particularly during the song ‘Popular’ where only the two ladies are up there and the rest of the cast is here changing for their next scene,” Field said.
Two of the fastest costume changes, Fields then revealed, involve a complete costume change for character Glinda which must be done by 2 sets of dressers in exactly 30 seconds and a 13-second quick change by both Glinda and Elphaba during their Emerald City scene.
“Part of the five-week preparation that we undergo before hitting the stage is reserved for technical rehearsal.
For one-and- a-half week, we practice these costumes changes over and over again. It’s a musical so we have to be in time for the music. There’s no room for error,” Field explained.
By the end of the tour Field has revealed that the whole Wicked production costs four- to five-million pounds, one-million of which was for the elaborate costumes of the 31-member cast.
Wicked will be running at The Theatre at Solaire, every day except for Mondays until March 12. Tickets are available at ticketworld.com.ph