Wicked in Seoul: A new beginning
I don’t really know where to begin. One would assume to simply begin at the beginning, but it isn’t quite the beginning per se is it? It’s a new beginning in a way. It’s really more of a phase two; a second chapter perhaps? Maybe Act 2 is the most appropriate way to describe it, all be that a little camp. Whatever it is – it really has well and truly begun and as predicted, with one big, shiny, emerald BANG.
The Australasian Tour of WICKED packed its many, many trunks and trundled off to South Korea, landing in Seoul just over a month ago. Since our touchdown, we have been greeted with nothing but truly uproarious ovations and audiences so genuinely appreciative, thankful and vocal that night after night we are taken aback as a company.
The Blue Square Theatre where we’re playing almost feels like it was purpose built for our show. While the outside is a mega series of harsh and pretty uninspired angular blue glass panels (making is quite literally just a giant blue square), the interior colouring and layout of the auditorium seems to blend seamlessly into our intricate Ozian world of cogs and gear portals. From those lucky enough to have seen it from the front, including our own Elphaba, Jemma Rix, WICKED apparently looks ‘more magical and spectacular than ever’ here. We feel right at home away from home.
There was some talk in the beginning about the cultural differences triggering potentially unpredictable audience reactions toward certain plot moments and the like. Most importantly, the biggest change for us came with the implementation of subtitles on large screens in the theatre auditorium (which have been erected seamlessly into our set) for those non-English speakers in attendance.
[pull_left]This incredibly vibrant and joyous city has welcomed our show with enormous open arms, for which we cannot be more thankful[/pull_left]
Bearing this in mind, we were understandably a little wary as the Oz Map ascended signalling the beginning of our first preview, as no one could be certain just how much of the show we all know and love so much would translate with fluid success and how much innuendo and outnuendo might get literally lost in translation. I am humbled and proud to report that any of those fears were quenched dramatically with our first standing ovation. This incredibly vibrant and joyous city has welcomed our show with enormous open arms, for which we cannot be more thankful.
We had a particularly tight schedule this time around in terms of our previews and technical rehearsal period – so while tensions were a little high in the early days (so many lights, so much set, so little time) – the incredible local team, including dressers, wiggies, musicians and all those working on the show deck were so wonderfully efficient in mastering their jobs, that we were well and truly ready to open when we did.
Opening Night itself was an Ozmopolitan blast. All of our Australian creatives and producers were in town, plus much of the extended GFO family. As is typical at these types of events, the who’s who of Seoul elite and entertainment types were also in attendance, including a large number of Korean musical theatre megastars, fresh from or heading on to their own starring roles in other shows around town. While I could pretend that it was mostly all interesting chitchat and lots of camera flashes (the lots of camera flashes part is resoundingly true); I happened to miss a good deal of all that… and there was plenty chitchat…always lots of that. Why? Well, quite simply, I really couldn’t be lured more than a metre away from the food tables at any point during the evening. Take my word for it; there were some chicken skewers that were almost a spiritual experience. Seoul knows many, many things – and how to eat is definitely one of them. Opening Night helped me realise this and for that, I am very thankful. Needless to say, I haven’t’ looked back. I have looked only forward. Mostly in to bakeries.
A week or so on from the happy success of our Opening Night (and also if you’ll continue to indulge this food motif momentarily), our local Korean presenters were then kind enough to throw us another celebration. This time, they bussed our entire local and touring company out after the end of a long show week for an evening of cultural frivolity personified by unlimited Korean BBQ, drinks and (self scoop) ice cream. The night was pure unadulterated joy for those of us who attended – enormously hilarious and hugely filling. Needless to say there were some sore heads in the morning. Soju was introduced to the company. End of paragraph.
Seoul is often referred to as the ‘Broadway of Asia’ (which is ironic considering the city itself reminds me so very much of NYC) and in the short time we have been here, there have been or will be, full scale professional productions of Hairspray, Dr Zhivago (put together and maintained by the Original Australian Creative Team), La Cage Aux Folles, Mozart – The Musical, Jack the Ripper, Chicago, Legally Blonde, Catch Me If You Can and Man of La Mancha.
I had the great pleasure of seeing the Korean Dr Zhivago company perform this beautiful show that I hold so dear to my heart and it was such a bizarre experience. I almost felt as though I was going back in time, or reliving a memory or dream I thought could never be reignited. I mention all these shows (I am sure there are more I have forgotten) for several reasons; first of all to point out the thriving and appreciative culture for musical theatre consumption that exists here and also to highlight that our show is only one of many options for a night out in this big epic maze of a place, and having a line outside our theatre each day remains very special to us.
Seoul is in fact so big that trying to compare it scale wise to anywhere else is almost futile. It is a massive conglomerate of never dwindling streets, mini cities and regions, all teaming with people and places to see. We travel to and from the theatre on a series of enormous, purpose fitted WICKED chariots. Well, they are really actually just buses – but they seem like chariots in an odd way. Suzie Mathers and Jemma Rix adorn each side in all their witch glory and as we cruise the streets, these huge travelling billboards attract an enormous amount of attention from all those we pass. I imagine it is sort of like being a rockstar. In a band. That has like…150 members.
Finally, as with most shows, in between seasons, there is often some change over of company members as time and place draws people in new directions. There have been several cast and crew changes since our closing in Singapore (which in itself was a real highlight worth mentioning. While I don’t have the official show run time, I am pretty sure our closing night show length was substantially longer then usual to account for all the frenzied cheering before, during and after each scene). Most notable in the cast changes include Glen Hogstrom taking over the role of the Wizard, with Bert Newton leaving the company after a joyous journey as the ruler of Oz since 2008.
Also, WICKED Australasia has welcomed the passionate and fiery Jenny DeNoia as our new Elphaba Standby (replacing Zoe Jarrett who has exchanged the Emerald City green for plaid and textbooks in Legally Blonde). Jenny has played Elphaba in the Chicago and Broadway Productions of WICKED – and may be remembered by many of you for her stint in the Australian Sydney Season. She is a hugely welcome asset to the show and there’s to be more on Jenny (and a few other very interesting Oz news bits and gossip!) coming in the unfolding weeks so, quite literally, standby.