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Of friendship and diversity
WITH the usual male-female pairing dropped in favour of two women in the lead roles, how has the musical Wicked stayed popular with its audience, even after 10 years of being in production?
Jacqueline Hughes, who plays Elphaba, might have the answer.
She says: "I think having two strong female characters play the lead is empowering. It might not have any romantic overtones, but the friendship shared by these two protagonists is incredibly relatable."
In fact, Hughes and her co-star, Carly Anderson, feel their off-stage friendship "greatly contributes to the chemistry experienced on-stage".
Anderson, who plays Glinda the Good Witch, notes: "The characters themselves are so different but ultimately, bring out the best in each other."
The pair's real-life friendship may only span 10 weeks, but it has a strong foundation. Not only are both Scottish by birth, they also followed similar career paths, starting out with dance classes as young girls and drama school in London in their late teens.
But while Anderson, 26, has played roles in productions like The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Sunset Boulevard, Hughes has spent the last six years with Wicked.
The 30-year-old says: "I had one short break when I toured with Mary Poppins in the UK last year, but after graduating, I went straight into Wicked, where I played various ensemble roles and then understudied for the roles of Madam Morrible and Elphaba. Now I'm playing Elphaba - it's like a dream come true."
With the experience she's amassed with the musical, Hughes might be best-placed to describe why people who've already watched the re-interpretation of The Wizard of Oz would want to watch it again.
She says: "With this production, specifically, we were lucky to get the original US creators to come over and add some touches that you're not going to find in any of the others. We have this one classroom scene in the first act, for example, where Elphaba casts a spell and you get to see some of the students fly."
Along with the special effects, Wicked is known for its musical score. Songs like Defying Gravity, Thank Goodness and The Wizard and I are some of the most popular Broadway tunes. Hughes explains: "When I first heard the album, I was blown away. Not just because the music was so catchy but because it was so different and contemporary."
Though the songs are a "joy to sing", it also means the actors have to take better care of their health than you might expect. Anderson explains: "We really have to drink litres and litres of water, sleep more than eight hours a day, and steam, to make sure our voices are up for the challenge. But like with most things, the more demanding it is, the more rewarding it becomes. By the end of the performance, I feel like I've run a marathon!"
It isn't just the actors who leave the production with a sense of elation, though. Hughes notes: "In my experience, audiences are wowed by the entire spectacle, and they go away with the story of the friendship."
Anderson adds: "It's actually a re-examination of good versus evil, or wicked. The underlying message is that no matter where you come from or how different you are, you still have something to offer. And that is a universally inspiring thought."
- Wicked is on at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands from Sept 29 to Oct 30. Tickets start at S$55 and are available from Sistic or www.marinabaysands.com/wicked