Updated 19:03 PM PHT Mon, February 6, 2017
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The first thing you notice, stepping into the theater, is the dragon. It hangs above the stage, majestic and terrifying, painstakingly detailed. It transports you, immediately, into the world inhabited by the characters of the renowned musical, “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz.”
Adapted for the stage from the Gregory Maguire novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” itself a retelling of “The Wizard of Oz,” the musical has captivated audiences the world over since it opened on Broadway in 2003. In 2006, production came to London’s West End, and 10 years later, the first international tour was launched, bringing the full West End staging to theaters in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Istanbul. For the time being, it has made its way to Manila.
It’s a given that during a live show, there’s bound to be a stark contrast between what happens onstage and what goes on behind the scenes. Entering the backstage area at “Wicked” Manila, you come across a sort of organized chaos that’s no less magical than the spectacle audiences see from the other side. In one corner, the head of the Wizard, the statue at Shiz University, and a poster for “Wizomania,” the musical-within-a-musical, lie and wait to be used for the big numbers and scenes. Set pieces hang overhead — from a bed to a piece of the Yellow Brick Road adorned with flowers — set to tracks on the floor that make them easily movable and accessible. The intricacies of the production start to show.
And then there are the costumes. The entire section parallel to the stage is occupied by makeshift wardrobes for the cast. It’s a dream come true for anyone who’s ever wanted to step inside Glinda Upland’s closet and try on her sparkly bubble dress. Fiyero’s outfits, labeled according to scene, hang neatly in a row. The wigs of and prosthetic pieces for various creatures are lined up along one shelf, as though they are being showcased in a museum for the strange. Even stranger, there’s something a bit off in the seams of even the grandest of dresses, a certain crookedness, perhaps, which is revealed to be intentional to make the show much more larger-than-life.
Here is the “Wicked” international tour in numbers: The props, costumes, and set pieces arrive in 13 trucks and 18 shipping containers. They take five weeks to ship. There are 147 wigs and 350 costumes. The fastest costume change takes place within 13 seconds, right after “One Short Day,” when Glinda, the Good Witch, and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, arrive in Emerald City. Around 3,000 actors auditioned to become part of the touring cast.
Jacqueline Hughes, who plays Elphaba, calls the experience of touring “amazing.” She says, “It is beyond anything you could ever imagine. We are so fortunate to be able to take this incredible production worldwide. This is a phenomenal show and people love it all over the world, so the fact that we are able to come over to this side of the world and see the reaction is just incredible.”
Manila audiences first experienced “Wicked” two years ago, when the Australian tour came to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). This year, with revamps like a new cast and venue beg the question of what could possibly be different for a show that’s been around for over a decade. There are reportedly new scenes and new choreography for the numbers. But how else do they keep it fresh?
“It comes down to so many different things, you know,” says Bradley Jaden, who plays Fiyero. “It can be the audience reaction, it can be being with an understudy or an alternate. But also every night, there’s different emotions.” He adds: “What’s nice about us as a cast is, we get these little breaks off, one week between venues, and that kind of just changes the whole atmosphere.”
According to Kim Ismay, who plays Madame Morrible, taking “Wicked” to audiences from such diverse countries has shown them how different cultures react to different points of dialogue or plot. “We had Mandarin and Cantonese subtitles on the side of the stage,” she says. “So sometimes the nuances of the little wordplays were missed.”
The tour first opened in Bradford, a city in the North of England. “Different things in the story mean different things to different people, so we find that we get different reactions to certain points of the story,” Ismay shares. “And in England I’ve never heard anybody laugh when Boq sings [to] Nessa [in the number ‘The Wicked Witch of the East’], ‘Surely now I’ll matter less to you. You won’t mind my leaving here tonight.’”
In England the people felt bad for Nessa, highlighting the sadness of the line. But, Ismay says, in Asia, it’s a different story. “When we got to Singapore, everybody fell about laughing! So that was quite interesting.”
“Because of the live theater, you see that the reactions of audiences [can sometimes] change the way the scene is geared,” says Steven Pinder, who plays the Wizard and Doctor Dillamond.
Ismay and Pinder aren’t the only members of the team who have noticed the shifts between audiences. “Every type of audience has its own character as well,” Constantine says. “[Through them] we get to know and love each city [and its inhabitants].”
Yet despite the interesting cultural shifts affecting the way the musical is appreciated, resident director Leigh Constantine stresses that Elphaba and Glinda’s friendship, against the odds, is at the heart of the show, and both Carly Anderson (who plays Glinda) and Hughes (Elphaba) are proud of what “Wicked” is able to do for women and their representation.
“This is a musical led by two women,” Anderson says. “Two very strong, powerful women. And that is such an amazing message to be able to send out in this day and age, standing up for equality. It’s a proper girl power show.”
While Elphaba and Glinda are central to the story, the other characters are also easily relatable on account of how richly they’ve been written, says Jaden. “What’s amazing about ‘Wicked’ is that you can take whatever you want from it,” he adds. “You don’t have to just follow the story of Elphaba.”
Constantine agrees. “Every single character that enters a scene leaves it changed in some way, and that’s another thing why 'Wicked' is so exciting and accessible to people,” she says. “Because people can relate to it, you know, it’s like, in the day-to-day life, you walk into a room and you’re going to walk out of there a changed person.”
“Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” is on an extended run at Solaire Resort & Casino from Feb. 2 to March 12. Tickets are available online at Ticketworld.