Put a spell on you
MUSICAL:Hailed as the best new musical of its time, ‘Wicked’ is finally coming to Dublin. SARA KEATINGgoes backstage to see the magic at work
Backstage at London’s Apollo Theatre Victoria, more than 200 people are scuttling around in the wings. These are the 38 cast members and 170 production crew who work day and night to bring the musical Wicked to the stage. You can hear them chattering among each other – calling out instructions, saying goodnight after another exhilarating show – but somehow, despite the cramped surroundings, they remain invisible throughout my backstage tour. They are clustered in tiny rooms having their microphones and hairpieces unpinned, or disguised beneath a pile of laundry that needs to be dealt with before tomorrow’s matinee.
What you see instead are the individual elements of scenic designer Eugene Lee’s remarkable mechanical vision of Oz stacked up in every available space and hanging from the light fixtures above. Turn your head to the right and there are clockwork bubbles and industrial scaffolds, to the left robotic dragons and engineered thrones. The Victorian silhouettes of Susan Hilferty’s Steampunk costumes, meanwhile, throw spooky shadows on the dim-lit walls: Chistery’s winged monkey suit looks like a bat splayed against the theatre’s bare brick back wall; Madame Morrible’s stiff layered dress looks like it could stand up on its own and walk across the floor. Wigs sit uncannily on faceless mannequins, fake beards are pinned heartlessly to the wall, and masks – dead and waxy without actors to animate them – are lined up like victims of a ritual sacrifice.
If you mention Wicked to anyone under 30, you are likely to get one of two responses. They will either give you a rapturous review of the musical, which has been running continuously on Broadway since it opened almost 10 years ago and in the West End since 2006, or they will tell you that they are dying to see it. Based on Gregory Maguire’s cult fantasy novel, Wicked tells the story of the witches of Oz, the memorable minor characters from Frank L Baum’s classic novel. The plot centres on a battle between good and evil. You probably know the bigger picture already, most likely from the 1939 film of Baum’s novel, in which, Oz is under siege by unknown magical forces. Where The Wizard of Oz, draws its moral lines clearly, Wicked asks us to question our assumptions by telling us a different version of the same events.
Baum presents The Wicked Witch of the West as the embodiment of evil. She is ugly, wizened and green; a veritable alien to our human eyes and eminently boo-hissable. Wicked re-imagines her story from a different perspective. Who was the Wicked Witch of the West, it asks. Was she born evil or did the world make her that way?