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Wicked Virtue: One Broadway’s Manila run as good as it gets

MANILA, Philippines – By now, the resounding success of the Wicked run in Manila has been told and told again. I might have been tempted to weigh in with an opposing thought, but then I’d be lying. Short version: it’s as good as people say, if you don’t have a ticket yet, go get one. They’ve extended the showings for a reason.

Wicked tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West’s version of events leading up to The Wizard of Oz. At its core, it is based on the Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, but it plays out its own wonderful interpretation onstage in a visual and musical treat that has lasted more than ten years. It’s one of the longer-running Broadways, having premiered in 2003, and happily its tour passing through here was only a matter of time. The run here in Manila has been playing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines to standing-ovation kind of success for the cast, originally from the run in Australia.

Now I’m left with the problem of writing a review that has not already been done. You’ve probably heard it all — how wonderful and, ah, wicked it is, and so on — so I’m not left with a lot more to say. It’s been suggested I do a comparative piece, since I was fortunate enough to catch a showing of Wicked on Broadway two years ago, but in some ways I think this is a useless exercise. I can give you the comparison in two sentences: The one I saw on Broadway was lovely because it was on Broadway, and the one I saw last Tuesday was amazing because it was in Manila. I enjoyed them both, in different ways, because watching a show you’ve seen before is a different experience from watching it for the first time.

I notice, however, that people seemed to expect me to say outright that the one on Broadway was much better. It’s nice that people have so much faith in the authenticity of Broadway, not so nice that our immediate attitude is always to assume what we get here in Manila is sloppy seconds (or thirds, or fourths). There are variables, for sure, and I’ll take it on faith that nobody can recreate the magic of the original cast — the recordings of which have sown obsessive fans in our country, bless them—but is it so hard to believe that the show was really good?

So I’m telling you now: it was really good. If you’re like me, and you appreciate a good story told with good costuming and good sets and good singing, then you’ll enjoy Wicked because it is a good show. It is such a good show that we owe to its goodness the fact that it could be brought here, since international tours are always spawned by the original success. If you’re like the nice family who sat directly behind me, though, complaining the entire time about meagre points (“He’s not supposed to sound like that, why does he sound like that?” “Her voice is supposed to overpower her, but I doubt she’ll make it”) you probably wouldn’t enjoy it even if it threw its Tony awards at your face.

Popular long before it made it to Manila, Wicked is just one of those shows that is a near-perfect musical experience. Witty, heart-warming and outright magical, it’s a beautiful production that has been wonderfully packaged and sent to us to enjoy. The Australian cast (Jemma Rix, Suzie Mathers and more) delivers performances that will leave you enchanted for days. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gawk at the splendid costuming and the magnificent set —you’ll be impressed they do it all there at CCP. Wicked is well worth the extended run.

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