What it takes to stage ‘Wicked’ in Manila | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

DEFYING gravity
DEFYING gravity

“I thought ‘Phantom of the Opera’ was big until I started working on ‘Wicked.’ It’s a real fulfillment to bring it to the Philippines,” said James Cundall, CEO of Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, one of the companies that will bring the blockbuster Broadway musical to Manila in January 2014.


Since its debut in 2003, “Wicked” has won numerous awards including three Tonys and a Grammy, continues to break records and has been seen by 38 million people on Broadway and the West End, and through touring productions that have made stops across North America and the rest of the world.


“Wicked,” which is based on the L. Frank Baum-inspired novel by Gregory Maguire, tells the untold story of the witches of Oz.


HEAD of wardrobe Paul Flanagan holds up Elphaba’s hat

“It’s a story that happens parallel—what you don’t see when you read the book or see the film,” said Jane Ross, “Wicked”-Australia’s marketing and touring consultant. “What’s been interesting is that you don’t need to be familiar with ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to really enjoy this show. You can go on the journey regardless. But if you have seen ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you’re going to pick up a few little jokes along the way.”


Huge undertaking


Lunchbox, Concertus Manila, David Atkins Enterprises and 105.9 Radio High, and presentors VISA and Smart Infinity, are all working on bringing the show to the Philippines in just a few months. It’s a huge undertaking, one that started long before tickets went on sale in August.


“The first challenge was, of course, to persuade the Cultural Center of the Philippines to allow us into the venue,” said Cundall. “Quite understandably, we have to fit in with the local companies that live in the CCP. That was the first thing. Once we had done that, it was like, phew.”


SOME of the costumes designed by Susan Hilferty

The second thing was making sure the theater could be transformed into the land of Oz. Cundall said they will be spending some P20 million just to make CCP “Wicked”-ready.


“It’s not that the venue doesn’t work, but the show is just so complicated. We have a computer flying system, we have to put in new dressing rooms,” he explained.


All the effort is necessary to fulfill the producers’ promise—that Filipino fans will get to see exactly what audiences in Broadway and on West End have been enjoying. No shortcuts, nothing stripped down.


Successful runs


The production that will be arriving has had successful runs across Australia, has toured in Singapore and Seoul, and is currently running in Auckland, New Zealand.


Kellie Ritchie, head of wigs and makeup, and some of the “Wicked” wigs

Inquirer Lifestyle got the chance to see firsthand the amount of work that goes into each performance when we visited the “Wicked” production in Auckland. There’s a lot more to it than just flying in talented actors, although this production has that. Suzie Mathers is a delightful Glinda, and we are looking forward to seeing Jemma Rix work her magic as Elphaba.


To bring “Wicked” to Manila, the company will transport 22 40-foot containers that carry the things they need to take Filipinos with them on the journey to Oz. This includes the intricate Eugene Lee-designed set which can transform into 54 different scenes and locations.


According to head mechanist Wayne William, his crew usually needs five 24-hour days just to get the set into the theater. This includes Glinda’s mode of transport—the bubble made of burnished aluminum, the dragon and the Oz head.


Lighting, costumes


Head electrician L’arge Wilson said that, out of the 22 shipping containers, four are devoted to lighting.


Glinda’s bubble dress

“Wicked has one of the biggest lighting rigs at the moment. We have 360 fixtures, 96 moving lights, little bits of lighting everywhere, LED, two sidelights always on Glinda and Elphaba,” he said.


Also traveling to Manila are the incredible Tony Award-winning costumes designed by the talented Susan Hilferty—over 300 of them—from the fantastic Emerald City outfits and the more subdued but still interesting Shiz University uniforms, to Elphaba’s “Defying Gravity” cloak and Glinda’s 25-kilo, $20,000 bubble dress.


Wigs will be flying to Manila, too—70 of them and all but one are made from human hair. Kellie Ritchie, head of wigs and makeup, said: “The wigs are hand-knotted. It can take 18 to 40 hours to make one.” Each wig costs from $2,000 to $6,000.


There are 180 “Wicked” props used at every show and these will also be brought in, like the green baby Elphaba that is made of silicone and weighs as much as a newborn baby, plus Elphaba’s multiple brooms and Glinda’s wands.


Local musicians


Company manager Bec Windsor said, “We tour with a cast of 33, a crew of 26 and six musicians. We bring in local crew and musicians as well. Every night when we put this show on, there are over a hundred people working on it and it will be the same in Manila.”


Glinda travels by bubble;

The company hires local dressers and other crew members. “It’s part of the touring crew’s jobs, when we first arrive in a country, to train the locals who are working on the production,” said Bec. “It’s the same with our mechanism stage hands, it’s the same with lighting, the same with sound.”


The show will need nine musicians to complete the orchestra and Filipino talents will soon be auditioned.


“We need to look to getting musicians who are experienced in playing in a pit because it can be very different to playing onstage,” said Bec. “It’s quite an acquired discipline. We are looking for people who have some experience and who are very talented players. This is a very difficult music score, it’s not a straightforward music score. It’s quite complicated. Some musicians play two or three instruments each and part of learning the show is not just the notes but learning how to swap instruments in a very small space at a very quick pace.”


Cundall added, “We always try to use locals as much as we can, which is really important. There’s no point bringing an orchestra from Australia when you’ve got such talented musicians in the Philippines.”


Manila theater fans have embraced the show’s arrival, quickly snapping up tickets, leading producers to announce that the show has been extended until February 23.


“We’ve done ‘Cats,’ ‘Mamma Mia!’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ To bring in something that’s really brand-new is very very exciting. ‘Wicked’ is truly one of the new megamusicals of our generation,” said Cundall.


Welcome to Oz

Mathers said she is as excited to play Glinda in Manila: “‘Cats’ was huge, ‘Phantom’ was huge, and this is the next must-see blockbuster. It is an event of a show and not to be missed.”


“Wicked” will start its run on Jan. 22, 2014. Ticket prices are: P7,000 (Emerald), P5,800 (A Reserve), P4,500 (B Reserve), P3,500 (C Reserve), P2250 (B Reserve) and P1750 (E Reserve). Call Ticketworld at tel. 8919999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph. Visit www.wickedthemusical.com.ph.