Since premiering in July 2008, Wicked has become a musical phenomenon in Australia. And given the length of its run, there is no surprise that its principal cast list is starting to resemble a game of musical chairs…
The buzz surrounding the cast announcement of the musical Wicked back in February 2008 was stronger than probably any other major announcement in Australian theatre history.
The cast was settled just before Christmas 2007, but in an admirable effort given the industry thrives off gossip, it was kept pretty well under wraps until February.
Lucy Durack and Amanda Harrison – who won the prized roles of Glinda and Elphaba – would later tell of how difficult it was to keep the secret from some of their closest friends and family members.
Two years on, and Wicked’s principal cast barely resembles what it originally was.
Only Durack, Rodney Dobson and Maggie Kirkpatrick remain. Still, three out of eight ain’t bad.
The latest original cast member, Rob Mills (Fiyero), leaves this week. He’ll be replaced by Tim Campbell, the one-time soap actor who ironically is in a relationship with Anthony Callea, a former original Wicked cast member.
Callea and Mills’ appointments to the Wicked cast were the most controversial. Whilst producers tried hard to fend off suggestions it was ‘stunt casting’ given the two were hugely popular with the general public thanks to Australian Idol, most didn’t buy it.
Either way, it turned out to be a strong marketing move. The original cast was littered with musical theatre legends, new stars and actors the general public knew well – it was the perfect mix.
That original principal cast was Amanda Harrison, Lucy Durack, Rob Guest, Rob Mills, Penny McNamee, Rodney Dobson, Anthony Callea and Maggie Kirkpatrick.
Whilst McNamee, Mills and Callea all left to chase opportunities, the Wicked cast has not been without tragedy, or drama.
The tragedy came in the shape of the tragic death of music theatre veteran Rob Guest.
Guest, as the Wizard, was one of the highlights of the show. His casting took an extraordinarily long time to confirm, but once signed, producer John Frost knew that he would not let him down.
Guest passed away after suffering a stroke in October 2008. His death devastated the cast, and also united it.
Known as the ‘father’ of the cast, he had not missed a performance of the Wicked, and the story goes that he had told understudy Rodney Dobson just days prior that he would “never get to go on – I’ll never miss a show”.
The biggest departure from Wicked, however, was that of Harrison.
Elphaba is seen as one of the most coveted roles of musical theatre and for a veteran performer who was rarely out of work, the role seemed perfect for Harrison who was raising a young family and, it would seem, looking to settle.
Over time, however, vocal problems ensued. Rumours of her potential departure were starting even prior to the Sydney season. She did, however, open with the show in Sydney – though it was one of only a handful of performances at the Capitol Theatre.
After a strange and uncertain period, Harrison eventually confirmed her departure earlier this year.
The musical chairs of big musicals is somewhat ironic. So many actors speak of limited opportunities within the industry, yet movement in casts is actually considerably high.
That’s the joy of creative people – they’ve never happy to settle.
Wicked continues to play at the Capitol Theatre. Bookings: www.showbiz.com.au.