Ipswich Musical Theatre Company (IMTC) have been going from strength to strength over recent years, staging adaptations of big, glitzy, newly released shows like Phantom of the Opera and Mary Poppins. With Wicked, they really hit their straps. Forming an incredible production team, with a casting panel headed by Australian legend and The Wizard from the professional tour of Wicked, Simon Gallaher, IMTC proved from the outset that they were going to create something special.
Under the direction of Robbie Parkin, the phenomenal cast moved around the stage with the confidence of a seasoned group of professionals. Parkin’s direction showed clear thought, took unique chances to explore moments of the show that are not as exposed during the professional staging, and honoured the originators of the show appropriately. The drilling of the direction is clear in how the ensemble maintained their focus throughout the show, with no one looking out of place or unsure, and this is a credit to Parkin.
One of the things that I love most about non-professional staging of a musical is the chances that can be taken, and the freshness that can be breathed back into the show. This was evident through Simon Lind’s fantastic choreography. Including just enough nods back to the professional production, Lind’s choreography was crisp, original, and wonderfully executed by the cast. A particular note is the tap routine in “One Short Day”.
A show like Wicked would be nothing without its musical direction and orchestra and we really got to experience something phenomenal through the work of Robert Clark. During intermission, while everyone was raving about the show, the cast, the set (more on that later) and the quality, more than half the comments overheard were about the incredible sound coming from the pit. The orchestra was wonderful to listen, and lifted the already gifted cast up another notch.
The role of Elphaba (Heidi Enchelmaier) was played with such nuanced perfection that it was like watching her story unfold for the first time. Enchelmaier showed the depth and conflict of The Wicked Witch and showed off her incredible acting chops, finding moments, especially in the silences, to explore choices that are not shown in the professional version of the show. The image of her standing at the top of the steps leading into the OzDust Ballroom beaming with pride at her new hat and her newfound friends, and watching her realise that she has been horribly betrayed in front of her peers is heartbreakingly seared into my mind.
Throughout the show Enchelmaier’s vocals were entirely unmatched. The sheer power on display for the big numbers of the show such as “Defying Gravity”, and “No Good Deed” were wonderfully balanced against the sweeter, softer moments of the show in the closing “For Good” and “I’m Not That Girl”. In particular, her vocal and acting abilities were shown in a scene that I have always felt unsatisfied with, until now. “As Long As You’re Mine” is often played as the love song of the show, which it is to a point, but I have always felt that the moment was cheated of it’s true potential. Enchelmaier’s portrayal of a young woman in love, afraid of trusting, guilty for her best friend, wanting to fall but being terrified to trust herself or Fiyero was so balanced and intimate it was a joy to behold. If you had told me that Enchelmaier had been called over from Broadway to take on the role, I would have believed you.
Arguably one of the most difficult roles in popular musical theatre canon is that of Glinda (the ga is silent). Her vocal range, and character development are both enormous, and she carries arguably one of the most difficult jobs in the show. Glinda (Annabelle Harbison) moves the show along, and nudges Elphaba in the direction that will ultimately turn her greenness into legend. Harbison is a powerhouse. Her cali-girl portrayal of Glinda was wonderful to experience. She never took it too far, and allowed her character room to breathe, grow, and develop. Vocally she started out slightly struggling in the crystalline soprano notes in the opening of the show, but quickly recovered. Her pop inspired “Popular” was fantastic and was just bursting with energy and charisma. Her lower register is divine, and by the end of the show, she returned to her crystal soprano effortlessly. A nod must be given to her dressers who got her out of the stunning blue gown and into her school “uniform” so quickly that it seemed effortless. It is easy to see a production where the leads are not evenly matched, but Harbison more than held her own against Enchelmaier’s Elphaba, and offered some moments that purely stole the show.
Among the many highlights of the show was a refreshingly honest portrayal of The Wizard of Oz (Robert Shearer). Often played up as a bumbling old man who doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, Shearer played him as a functional alcoholic megalomaniac who genuinely believed in what he was doing for the people of Oz. A part that can so easily become two dimensional was given humour, pathos, by Shearer who at times made The Wizard a genuinely terrifying figure, and at other times made him the curiously drunken uncle you might invite to Christmas for a laugh. His scenes with Madame Morrible were quite lovely in their maliciousness.
Madame Morrible (Susan Glosko) is a delicious role that is full of sensational one liner’s. Glosko ate them for breakfast, clearly relishing every moment of her time onstage and the audience enjoys it right along with her. Her vocal sparring with Harbison throughout is a treasure and gives the audience a great number of laughs.
A role I have always felt is overdone, or has certain aspects of his character leant on too hard, is Fiyero. However, William Toft’s performance as the ill-fated prince is wonderful to watch. Toft holds the line between charming dandy and genuine human being that the audience could rally behind. Vocally, Toft wonderfully delivered Fiyero’s songs with a particular note again to “As Long As You’re Mine” for finding the balance and depth of the song.
A nod must be given to a relative newcomer to onstage for community theatre, Justin Collier’s Boq was sassy, love sick, piny, and in the end entirely bitter and judgmental. His relationship with Nessarose (Lauren Roche) was wonderful and uncomfortable in equal measures.
An unsung set of heroes for this production were the incredible set (originally designed by Chris White) and the jaw dropped costumes (originally designed by Victoria Horne, with additional design done by Mary Slattery). These costumes could have been from the professional tour of the show they were so wonderful to look at onstage, and the set moved in and out seamlessly as if it were just another character in the show and is a credit to the Stage Manager (Jacob Olsen) and his team. One of my few critiques of the show is that there were a handful of moments were a stage crew member could be seen onstage in all blacks. It was so unexpected, and it jarred the otherwise flawless production. Particular note is the setting of the broom and cape in the Emerald City “attic”, where a crew member tried to hide behind a pole to set the props.
The sound and lighting for the show were incredible, the balance of the sound was amazing from the audience, and the rich lighting design added wonderfully to the set design without being too overpowering. There were a handful of moments were the mics were brought up late, but this was barely noticeable in the flow of the show.
In truth, this sold out season of Wicked should be held up as an example of what community theatre groups can really achieve. Ipswich Musical Theatre Company are quickly emerging as a force to be reckoned with, and one of the premier groups in Queensland. If you missed your chance to see this production, you really missed out on something extraordinary and I hope we see much more of it’s like in the future.