Since its Australian debut in Melbourne last year, hit musical Wicked has cast a slightly green glow across all those who’ve seen it -” a glow that Sydneysiders are about to experience when the show opens here on September 5.
A prequel of sorts to The Wizard Of Oz, Wicked delivers a humanistic portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba), focusing on her youthful relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch of the East, and casting her as the misunderstood martyr to Dorothy’s bratty kleptomaniac.
Amanda Harrison, who plays Elphaba, has a particularly demanding role -” not only is she the show’s central character, she must also cover herself in green body paint before each performance (that’s eight shows a week, and a lot of scrubbing afterwards). However, she refuses to be drawn on any suggestion that it’s not easy being green.
It’s part of the gig, she said brightly when speaking to Sydney Star Observer.
And I’ve loved playing her. Elphaba’s an amazing character -” fiery, independent and smart, even though she is downtrodden so much by others through the show.
Seeing as the show has been running for over a year, how does she summon up the enthusiasm to put in such a powerhouse performance, night after night?
It’s the joy of doing it. There’s something new to discover every night with every new audience -” the material just lends itself to enjoyment. Obviously there are times like in any job where it can be tiring, but I think if you’re going to do a job, you may as well get applauded for it.
It’s an enthusiasm that Rob Mills, who plays Elphaba’s love interest Fiyero, shares. Speaking to Mills, best known before Wicked for his highly publicised stints in both Australian Idol and Paris Hilton, it’s clear that the caddish performer can’t believe his own luck -” he’s been reborn as a matinee idol.
I love every minute of it, he raved. Playing Fiyero was my dream role for about two or three years before I even got the audition -” even being able to audition for the role was an honour. Since then, I’ve been having the time of my life.
Mills originally saw Wicked in London in 2006, and fell in love with the grand spectacle of the show.
Everything about the show is spectacular -” it’s as good as any live show that I’ve seen. I saw Justin Timberlake a few years back, and that would have to be the only show that comes close to Wicked for me.
And ol’ Trousersnake didn’t bother to paint himself green or fly around on a broomstick.
Harrison also came to the show with a prior appreciation for its charms. She was particularly excited to perform the -˜money shot’ -” the jaw-dropping moment at the end of act one when Elphaba flies for the first time, delivering the anthemic ballad Defying Gravity as she soars high above the audience.
That moment is such a rush. You can never take it for granted that you’re being flown high above the stage, singing this song that’s affecting the audience so much. When I first saw the show in New York, it was the moment that made me burst into tears … It’s such an act of defiance, it’s Elphaba’s moment to say -˜Fuck you all, I’m going to do what I want.’ It’s really inspiring.
Of course, with the show playing for so long, there have been occasional hiccups. Harrison admits her show-stopping moment hasn’t always gone to plan.
There have been a few times when I haven’t flown -” the apparatus hasn’t worked so I’ve just had to stand at the front of the stage and sing. That’s been a bit disappointing, but thankfully it’s only happened a couple of times.
Mills has experienced a few embarrassing mishaps of his own, including one particular gaffe that almost saw him join Axle Whitehead as another Idol alumni with a penchant for on-stage flashing.
In one of the very first shows, I had my fly undone for a whole scene on stage, he confessed. Everyone was laughing, and I had no idea what was going on. Amanda was off stage whispering, -˜Millsy! Millsy! Your fly!’
Even without that wardrobe malfunction, there’s a lot of Rob Mills on show in those pants. When he first bounds on stage looking rather pert in his impossibly tight costume, he’s met with a collective dreamy sigh from the housewives and gay boys of the audience.
They’re very tight. With the fly undone, you see it all. The pants are like a second skin -” they’re slightly latexy, so they stretch and fit like a glove, he said sheepishly.
Both Harrison and Mills acknowledge the huge support Melbourne theatregoers have given the show during its mammoth run, but both say they’re looking forward to a change of scenery as Wicked heads north.
I’m a Sydney girl, so I’m looking forward to coming home and being around family again. I’m sad to leave Melbourne, because I’ve made a bit of a new life here in the past year with my husband and daughter, but I can’t wait to get back to Sydney -” if only for the weather. I want to hit the beach in summer, Harrison said.
I always thought, with the success of the productions overseas, that there was a possibility it would be this big. It’s one of those shows people want to see more than once.
Queer theatregoers have been particularly enthusiastic supporters of Wicked. It would appear Elphaba is something of a gay icon.
I haven’t noticed it so much in my daily life -” I don’t get chased down the street by screaming gay fans, Harrison chuckled, but I can understand why anyone -” in particular the gay community -” would love Elphaba. She is such a strong character. She knows who she is, and she’s proud of who she is. And she’s a strong female like so many other gay icons -” Barbara, Liza … strong women with strong voices.
Mills has felt the love from queer Wicked fans too.
I definitely notice how much the gay community has taken this show to it’s heart. My friend Courtney Act even did a Wicked-themed show recently. We had a gay gentleman come in the other day before a show who had won the chance to be painted green. He was a bit of a larger man, but when he came out in the green make-up, all dressed up, he looked like Elphaba. Someone started playing Defying Gravity, and he just busted it out -” he went for it!
info: Wicked opens at the Capitol Theatre on September 5.