Metropolitan Players. Civic Theatre, Newcastle. Ends September 3.
THIS staging of the musical subtitled “The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” will have audience members in wide-eyed awe. The performances, direction and technical work more than compensate for songs by Stephen Schwartz that reveal the lives of the characters but aren’t memorable.
The tale starts with the supposed death of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, then moves back in time to show how she (Elphaba) and the Good Witch, Glinda, became room-mates and friends as young women at Oz’s Shiz University. The origin of each of the characters in the Oz story is shown, but you don’t have to be familiar with that narrative to enjoy this show.
Director Julie Black and the large staging team have made it magic. A basic set that looks like the framework of a warehouse becomes an amazing range of places, including fields and castle rooms, through colourful backdrops, props and costumes. When the story moves to the Emerald City, for example, all the costumes are different shades and pattern mixes of green.
And the transformation of people into characters such as flying monkeys is awesome.
The performances of the large cast, led by Rachel Davies as green-skinned and caring Elphaba and Tayla Choice as blonde good-time girl, Glinda, bring out the natures of the characters. And the uncertainties of Chris Maxfield’s Wizard show that he is more sinned against than sinning.
Elphaba and Glinda (initially known as Galinda) are reluctant to share a room, with Elphaba unsmiling as Glinda tells her in the bright song Popular how to attract people. And Elphaba’s subsequent private response, I’m Not That Girl, as she watches Glinda flirting with men at a party shows how the green skin has deprived her of confidence. But friendship between the two gradually develops, with Davies and Choice making their relationship amusing and moving.
The other actors bring out the very different natures of a wide range of characters, with Luke Baker a dashing Prince Fiyero who is initially attracted to Glinda but gradually develops an affection for Elphaba, Alana Wilson an assertive Nessarose, the wheelchair-bound sister Elphaba initially tries to care for at the university, Sharon Stoltenberg as the disquieting university head, Madam Morrible, who teaches Elphaba the dark arts that produce magic and who also manipulates the Wizard, Dominic Lacey as Boq, a Munchkin who is attracted to Glinda but desired by Nessarose, and Andrew Black as Dr Dillamond, a learned goat who is the only animal teacher at Shiz, but whose future is threatened when officials begin a campaign to deprive animals of the ability to talk.
But the strength of the overall ensemble is impressive, and I found the show even more engrossing than the Sydney professional production I saw in 2009.
A friend who saw the original New York staging likewise found this to be a stunning show. All members of the large staging team can take a deserved bow.