The scene described is akin to what would normally be expected at the concert of a global music superstar: seas of screaming fans waiting outside a theatre to meet their idols, meaning that the only feasible exit for stars – after signings and photos – is via chauffeured vehicles.
On a nightly basis, that’s the scene that greeted Helen Dallimore as she finished performances of Wicked at London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre. Dallimore was the first actress to play the coveted role of Glinda on the West End when the production opened in September 2006. Playing opposite Idina Menzel, Dallimore descended onto the stage in the bubble for the first 10 months of Wicked’s London run – a run that, as the production approaches its 10th anniversary, shows no signs of reaching its end. For Dallimore, a long-time stage and screen actress, Wicked marked only the beginning of her successes in the musical theatre arena.
Among the members of Dallimore’s excited West End audiences was an Australian performer by the name of Lucy Durack. Watching Wicked, Durack was completely blown away by the twisted take on The Wizard of Oz. She knew immediately that Glinda was a role she had to play herself. It was less than two years later that Durack stepped into the bubble to originate the role of Glinda in the Australian premiere of Wicked. And according to Durack, Glinda remains the role of her career.
On Friday July 15, Dallimore and Durack will take to the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall stage with fellow Wicked veterans, Amanda Harrison and Jemma Rix, to revisit Stephen Schwarz’s spellbinding score, accompanied by the full Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The ladies will reunite to perform not only the much-loved Wicked tracks, but to also bring to life favourites from Frozen, The Witches of Eastwick, Dance of the Vampires, The Wizard of Oz, Into the Woods, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Love Never Dies.
Durack expects performing in the world premiere of Witches with your SSO to be a career highlight.
“It’s a triple dream come true,” she says. “Performing our brand new show with my dear friends, who just happen to be fellow Witches, as well as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House… Somebody pinch me! I’m so excited!”
Reflecting on her own experience in Wicked, Amanda Harrison describes being cast as Elphaba back in 2008 as “life-changing”.
Harrison had already worked extensively in musical theatre. Her professional debut was in the 1992 Australian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of love, and her subsequent credits included Ellen in Miss Saigon, Liza in The Boy from Oz and a role in We Will Rock You in both London and Australia’s premiere seasons. Harrison, in fact, received a Helpmann Award for her portrayal of Oz in the original Australian company.
But when she was cast as Elphaba, she appreciated immediately that this role and this show were an especially big deal.
“Lucy and I, once we were told that we had the roles, had to keep it secret for a good seven weeks before we were taken over to New York for this big announcement that we were going to make live on [morning television show] Sunrise.
“That was enormous, I’d never been through a similar situation before.”
Cast as the standby for Elphaba in Wicked’s Australian premiere was Jemma Rix. It was her first time on the professional stage in Australia. Previously, Rix had worked at Universal Studios in Osaka, where she was cast as Elphaba in a truncated, 30-minute version of Wicked that performed three times a day and required her to perform parts of the piece in Japanese.
Returning to Australia to standby for Elphaba, Rix was grateful to have the opportunity to watch and learn from the highly accomplished Harrison.
“Amanda has been in the business for an amazing amount of time,” says Rix. “So you’re learning from somebody who knows so much about the industry, and I was so green.”
Rix assumed the role of Elphaba full time in early 2010, and it was only fairly recently – in June 2015 – when she took to the stage in the green make-up for the last time, as part of the Perth season of Wicked’s 10th anniversary tour.
“Wicked means so much to me, and the character means so much to me,” Rix tells Theatre People.
“How much I got to detail Elphaba and grow my Elphaba over the years was something that I really treasure… I didn’t just have the one Elphaba over the many years, and that’s a great thing to have the opportunity to do.”
It’s hardly surprising that, since ending their time with Wicked, each of these four exceptionally talented women has gone on to be involved in a cavalcade of exciting projects. Durack won another coveted female leading role – that of Elle Woods in the Australian premiere of Legally Blonde, a performance that earned her a Helpmann Award in 2013. She’s had a number of screen roles and, at the time of speaking to Theatre People, had just returned to Sydney after completing filming on the third season of ABC comedy series, Upper Middle Bogan.
Dallimore has continued adding to her impressive list of stage and screen credits, reuniting on stage with Durack in Legally Blonde as the scene-stealing hairdresser, Paulette, for which she also earned a Helpmann Award. More recently, she’s won further critical acclaim for her performance as Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. This month, she’s appeared in her own cabaret show, Don’t Bother to Knock, at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre. Additionally, Dallimore stars in, and is also writing for, the Nine Network’s hit comedy series, Here Come The Habibs! Turning discussion to times ahead, Dallimore, a Stephen Sondheim fan, tells Theatre People she’d like to, one day, play the role of Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street should the opportunity arise.
Harrison has spent time in recent years travelling her own cabaret show, Up Close and Reasonably Personal, after originating the role of Paula Pokrifki in the world premiere of the musical An Officer and a Gentleman. And Jemma Rix has just completed the Australian tour of Ghost: The Musical, in which she played the lead role of Molly Jensen.
So, the question that arises is how the foursome came together for the Witches with your SSO concert project. The ladies tell Theatre People it was the concept of Bernadette Hayes, one of Wicked’s executive producers in Australia, and Wendy Richards of Working Management. When asked to participate, each of the four ladies was quick to sign on.
“To share the stage with these really talented and beautiful women is going to be really special,” Rix says.
The project also reunites the performers with Kellie Dickerson, who’s taking on responsibilities as musical director. Dickerson was previously MD on both Wicked and Legally Blonde.
“Honestly, there’s no one else like her. She’s so, so talented,” says Rix.
“She [has] the words of wisdom, [and] she has the best ears in the industry… She can make you be the best you can be… She can give you notes without you feeling any form of insult because you know that she’s only going to make you better. So I’m excited to work with her again!”
And for Durack, Witches with your SSO is also a family affair.
“My husband, Christopher Horsey, is choreographing,” she says.
Recently, the cast roster has expanded slightly. Australian theatre performer Ben Lewis, best known to local audiences for his critically-acclaimed portrayal of the Phantom in Love Never Dies, will join the four ‘witches’ on stage for the SSO concerts. Lewis will travel back to Australia from London, where he’s taken on roles in a number of shows over the past three years.
“I think he’s got an amazing talent and a wonderful voice, so it’s going to be great to have his involvement,” Harrison says.
While we’ve been told of some of the shows from which the concert’s setlist will be drawn, the ladies are tight-lipped when it comes to specifics. Durack does share, however, that she’ll be performing a song written by close friend, Matthew Lee Robinson, one of the country’s most successful up-and-coming composers and lyricists, who’s currently being mentored by Wicked composer, Schwartz.
Aside from that hint, it’s a case of wait and see.
“I think that everything the crowd will be expecting we will definitely deliver,” says Rix.
According to the ladies, those who attend are in for a magical experience!
“I think anyone who came to see Wicked will definitely be getting something out of it… being able to re-live those magical songs from the show, and also to see four really powerful wonderful women performers up there in front of a symphony orchestra,” says Harrison.
“I’ve had the joy of being able to perform in front of symphony orchestras before. It is just such a wonderful experience.”
And on the night, the women will be wearing gowns designed by Adelaide designer, Jaimie Sortino.
“It’s just going to be spectacular,” Harrison says.
Given the calibre of talent appearing, it’s difficult to imagine Witches with your SSO being anything less!
WITCHES WITH YOUR SSO – DETAILS
Venue: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Dates: Fri 15 July 8pm, Sat 16 July 2pm
Bookings: www.sydneysymphony.com or phone (02) 8215 4600