Review: Wicked (HK tour 2017)

Ever since coming across “For Good” when I was around 15 years old, where it was the quintessential cheesy song which seemed to sum up notions of fond farewells and never-ending friendships (which, in hindsight, is more than a little dramatic – it is perhaps best actually that friendships do end once they have run their course, because in the grand scheme of things I think it might be better to be a semi-loner than someone with a full but unfulfilling social schedule 24/7), Wicked has been a favorite musical to hum to. Unlike some other musicals that I have learnt to love (see: Evita, Hamilton – these required some studying of the plot), Wicked was a relatively easy musical to love.

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By a stroke of fate (or rather, because I liked the musical and, like Glinda, I tend to enjoy getting / try my best to get my way), Wicked was also the musical we adapted for a short 20-minute production in high school. Instead of a convoluted plot about a green witch who saved flying monkeys, we set the story in a school and made it an exercise in comparison between a strait-laced, prim-and-proper Model Student, and her more rebellious friend with voracious interests in everything but excelling in the traditional confines of schooling (à la Hong Kong) . Then again, this dichotomy between the overachiever and the rebel has always been a slight obsession of mine: it’s hard not to dabble in “what-ifs” and hypotheticals, and to plot one’s life in an alternate universe always seems more exciting. I must confess to always romanticizing myself as a slightly martyred achiever, in the sense of someone who “doesn’t play by all the rules” (and still, if I may say so, be relatively “successful” by orthodox metrics) – though I suppose a fair assessment would not support this theory. For all my alleged “rebellious streaks”, I am probably much more Glinda than Elphaba; I only hope I am not as annoyingly obnoxious as she is.

But I digress: the production was aesthetically amazing, and I expected nothing less of Wicked. When I saw Wicked in London way back in late 2013, I recall also being starstruck at the beautiful sets and effects, and the Hunger Games-vibe costumes. Thankfully, the HK production was staged in APA instead of at the Asia-World Expo (like Phantom of the Opera was, when it came to Hong Kong on tour in 2014); this meant that there was much more of a theatrical experience, aided by the moving dragon who breathed smoke and periodic strobe lights. This was probably one of the main highlights of the show: I will say that Wicked’s plot has always been a little loose for me, and many questions remain despite having (i) read the Wikipedia plot summary several times; (ii) watched Wicked twice. These include: why the talking animals are actually relevant to the plot (as in: why is the Wizard so intent on suppressing animal speech? How do they actually threaten his rule?); why the Wizard wants flying monkeys as spies if he actually locks them up; why Fiyero was turned into a scarecrow, given that this doesn’t help the coherence with the original Wizard of Oz story since Fiyero does not go seeking his heart’s desire together with the Tin Man (Boq) and the Lion (the cub Elphaba and Fiyero freed in Act 1), etc.

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But plot holes aside, it was a very pleasant experience where both female leads were powerful singers, and whose voices suited the roles. Elphaba was particularly impressive, in my opinion: “No Good Deed” was the star of the show for me, trumping even “Defying Gravity”, because Jacqueline Hughes (Elphaba) seemed to play around more with her range and adding a more modern, “pop” vibe to the show tune. Glinda was brilliantly perky – perhaps a bit too perky at times. I felt that she played up the “annoying blonde persona” a little bit too much, especially in the middle of “Popular”; her eccentricities there felt a little out of place – even a little manic (though perhaps explicable, based on Glinda having a little too much to drink in the Ozdust Ballroom?). Perhaps this was because outside “Popular”, Glinda managed to toe the line well between blonde and likeable / bubbly, so when she went full-blown blonde in “Popular”, it felt a little forced and it also ate into some of the lines of the song, which was a shame. The Wizard (who, I am 98% certain, also played Dr. Dillamond) was also great; that shruggy persona was captured to a T, and played off well with Madam Morrible.

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I thought Fiyero, however, was a bit of a disappointment (compared to the rest of the stellar cast) – he was pretty good in “Dancing through Life”, but then I suppose that is technically not as difficult a song to nail. His duet (“As Long As You’re Mine”) with Elphaba was just not…sizzling enough, partly because the couple lacked chemistry in my opinion – although I actually felt that Fiyero didn’t really look right generally, such that it detracted from any potential chemistry with either Elphaba or Glinda. Their voices also didn’t really go as well together as I hoped they would (see OST with Idina Menzel, the OG Elphaba). Still, this is not to say that he was a bad egg or anything; I thought the shoulder-length hair added to Fiyero’s 二世祖 (roughly translated as “second generation son”, meaning a spoilt son born to a rich family) feel, and he was good enough as that couldn’t-care-less, slightly debonair Playboy of Shiz – he just wasn’t right as Elphaba’s beau here.

All in all though, the music was fantastic and I didn’t really recall any difference in quality compared to the London production. I was told by my companions that Elphaba missed her cue in “Defying Gravity”, and had to rush a line (leading to the orchestra having to play catch-up), but to my uncouth ear I really didn’t catch that at all.

Also: this experience may or may not have been improved by the free upgrade we received despite buying the cheapest tickets ($445) which originally placed us in the very last row of the gallery. We were bumped up to the last row of the stalls, which were probably worth $895. This was a pretty significant difference since this time we were close enough to actually see people’s faces…and getting free stuff always makes my day, so I’m not complaining!

NS

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