[Herald Review] Seoul finally gets “Wicked”

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Jun 3, 2012 - 20:04
  • Updated : Jun 3, 2012 - 21:07
Australian production receives standing ovation for the first Seoul show

Some 1,700 people, many dressed in “witch-like” green and black, packed Seoul’s major musical theater venue on Thursday night.

The huge crowd was in attendance of the opening night of “Wicked” in Seoul, one of the most highly anticipated musicals this year. The show is another ambitious project by musical production house Seol & Company, who has brought other foreign masterpieces to Korea, including “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats.”

Thursday’s unveiled show turned out to be a ravishing spectacle and fantasy, mixed with the touching account of one’s experience of difficult youth, life-changing friendship and growing up.

The show, which tells the story of the two very different witches in the Land of Oz -- green-skinned and often-alienated Elphaba and beautiful and popular blonde Glinda -- was greeted with tumultuous applause and an instant standing ovation at Blue Square’s Samsung Electronics Hall in Seoul. The sold-out audience repeatedly cheered as the Australian performers took their bows. 
Actresses Jemma Rix (right) and Suzie Mathers star in musical “Wicked.” (Seol & Company)

Based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel “Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” a parallel novel of the classic “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the show is staged in Seoul for the very first time by an Australian production company -- with actresses Jemma Rix and Suzie Mathers taking the lead roles.

Prior to the Seoul run, some 30 million people have seen the legendary musical since its 2003 Broadway debut -- breaking box office records around the world. It has won 35 awards, including three Tony awards, one Grammy award and six Helpmann awards.

Suzie Mathers, who played the ambitious blonde Glinda, was radiant throughout the show. Her bubbly charm particularly shined when she sang her solo number “Popular” in Act I, where she tells socially-awkward Elphaba that she, too, can be “popular” like herself.

Jemma Rix, on the other hand, delivered a convincing portrayal of her extremely talented but often-misunderstood character -- who discovers her own potential through her friendship with Glinda. She nailed the last number of Act I, “Defying Gravity,” with her magnetic presence and engrossing charisma.

One of the most touching scenes, arguably, was the one where the two witches sing their duet number “For Good,” before parting ways forever by the end of the show. In the scene, Elphaba confesses to Glinda that she was “the only friend” she’s ever had, while Glinda says Elphaba was the “only friend that mattered” among her countless friends. The song sums up one of the major themes of the show, exploring how our temporary presence sometimes unintentionally takes crucial roles on someone else’s life, leaving a lasting impact on their future.

“Now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine by being my friend,” sings Elphaba. “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

The Korean-translated subtitles were extremely well-done with a great sense of humor, creating a number of laugh-out-loud moments throughout the show. But the production crew should consider changing the color of the subtitle text into white, as the current “Wicked-themed” green text in its black background board can tire the eyes of the audience.

The notorious sound quality of the venue -- Blue Square’s Samsung Electronics Hall -- still remained a problem. The venue has been receiving complaints about the poor handling of the sound volume for quite a while, even during its previous big-name shows “Zorro” and “Elisabeth.”

But the opening show was undoubtedly a success, foreshadowing another triumph of Seol & Company following “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats."

A number of celebrities and musical stars attended on Thursday night -- including “Elisabeth” star Ok Ju-hyun, popular K-pop group Girls’ Generation member Seo-hyun, supermodel Han Hye-jin and actress Park Shin-hye.

“Wicked” runs until June 30 at Blue Square’s Samsung Electronics Hall in Hannam-dong, Seoul. Tickets range from 50,000 won to 160,000 won. For more information, call 1577-3363.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)