That, roughly, was the reaction of most people when I told them I was going to the Netherlands over the Christmas holidays to see the Dutch production of Wicked. In my defense, the flight from London to Amsterdam only takes an hour so it's not like I travelled a ridiculous distance, right? And, incidentally, I did study Dutch for those two months I spent at university not to mention that I speak Swedish which, as another Germanic language, helps an awful lot. Those who know me will also be aware that I know the musical rather well so at least I will not be lost with the story.
Now, one of the main reasons I wanted to make this trip was that I was inexpressibly keen on seeing Willemijn Verkaik as Elphaba. For those readers who have not hear of her, she is a Dutch singer who has also done musical theatre in the Netherlands. She became known around the world when she originated the role of Elphaba in Germany and then played her for three years in the country before coming to play the part in the Netherlands. In a poll, she was voted the favourite Elphaba currently performing (you can view the results of that here). Personally I love Willemijn's voice; vocally she had been my favourite Elphaba for quite a while so I was naturally interested to see whether her acting would match that and to hear her sing live.
I was very lucky to have help with obtaining tickets from our Dutch family friends (big thank you to them for also letting me stay at their house and for joining me at the theatre). I could not believe they were on the phone for half an hour in order to get us second row centre seats... I know I asked for "seats not too far back" but I never imagined second row. I was thrilled to hear it of course. Sitting at the front gives you the opportunity to absorb the action complete with facial expressions and the smallest gestures. However, it is not ideal when seeing a show for the first time as you are unable to see the whole stage at one glance so you have to keep turning your head.
(A good justification for seeing a show for a second time: "I have not seen it close up yet!")
Wicked at Circustheater, Den Haag, the Netherlands
Performance: 18th December at 19:00
Cast: Willemijn Verkaik (Elphaba), Céline Purcell (Glinda, alt.), Jim Bakkum (Fiyero), Bill van Dijk (De Tovenaar aka the Wizard), Pamela Teves (Madam Akaber aka Madame Morrible), Christanne de Bruijn (Nessarose), Niels Jacobs (Moq aka Boq), Jochem Feste Roozemond (Dr. Dillamond)
Note: The quoted parts in italics are extracts from my travel journal. I wrote the entry right after seeing the show when it was still fresh in my mind.
Observation #1 at the theatre: The unusual seating plan. You can view it here. Look at the seat numbers: seats 1 and 2 of every row are in the middle, the odd numbers ascend to the left and the even ones to the right. It seemed odd to me until I realised that it might be a good system as the people with even-numbered seats can enter the auditorium from one door and those with odd-numbered seats from another door rather than having a guess-game as to which side the seats might be on as you sometimes have to do with the regular arrangement. In addition, when booking, you will roughly know how centrally you are sitting in relation to the stage rather than knowing how close to one end of a row you're sitting. However, the main problem with this arrangement: I don't know whether everyone in the audience will appreciate the ingeniousness of it. Signed: Initially confused theatre-goer.
The Wicked merchandise they sold was exactly the same as in London with the addition of the German soundtrack being available (no Dutch soundtrack has been made). At this point I might mention that the Dutch production is a replica so everything from costumes to scenery is the same as in the original Broadway production. The only difference is that the script has been translated into Dutch.
I will attempt to do a bit of a chronological run-through and go into quite a bit of detail about specific bits in the musical so I apologise to those people who do not know the musical that well and who perhaps feel like they are a little bit lost.
First though, I cannot contain myself any longer: Willemijn was phenomenal! She did not play Elphaba, she was Elphaba. It was almost freaky how natural she looked with a green skin and the detail in her acting was astonishing. She delivered some of the lines in a way I have not heard them done before but somehow it was very obvious why she had chosen that way of expressing it:
"Although I did not like the way in which Willemijn rushed the 'Do I have something in my teeth?...', even that made perfect sense as Elphaba would logically be irritated by having had to explain the same things to everyone she has ever met. It just did not give people any time to laugh which I think is the reason West End Elphabas usually break the rant up."
Already after Wijn samen zijn een (=The Wizard and I) I was convinced that Willemijn's vocals were as good as I had imagined. It was not her best song but it still made an impact.
Madame Morrible, Moq and Nessarose were all very good. Moq was the perfect height. Just slightly shorter than all the females in the cast. Nessarose had very long hair! From the front you could see it being in the way every time she turned her head.
"I find it hard to pin down a reason for this but I thought Dr Dillamond was very good. I also got a confirmation for the fact that Dillamond really puts a piece of Elphaba's sandwich wrapper in his mouth and does not take it out on stage. Either it must be some kind of edible paper or he somehow stores it in his mouth and spits it out later."
"Dillamond pronouncing Galinda's name as 'Glinda' worked really well in Dutch because of the way the letter 'G' is normally pronounced in the language (note: it is sort of like in between a French 'r' and a German 'ch'). Obviously Galinda's name was pronounced in the English way by everyone else so not only did Dillamond leave the 'a' out but he also pronounced the 'g' in the Dutch way which I have heard other Dillamonds do as well but in this instance it made more sense."
No one cheered at Fiyero's entrance as I had been told might happen. Jim Bakkum became famous after winning a Dutch X-factor type of contest so lots of people do not take him as a serious musical theatre actor but he is popular with the teenage girls. He was not bad-looking and although for some reason most of the costumes did not look that flattering on him in my opinion, he still came across a cocky Fiyero type of guy so in that sense he suited the role. "Jim's singing was alright: he had quite a pop style voice but he did Dancing Through Life pretty well in my opinion."
"I really began admiring the training wand that Galinda receives. I have never before noticed the detail on that wand. Rather than simply being a white stick, it also had glitter on it, a round tip and a shaped handle."
"The blue sleeveless dress that Elphaba wore in this scene (that is Ozdust Ballroom) drew my attention to the skintight green, long-sleeved top that she wears underneath so she will not have to paint her arms green. It went around her thumbs in order to keep the sleeves from slipping up the arms and wrinkling. There was also a zip at the back which was surprisingly visible."
"Populair - Céline rushed this a little and she did not do anything extraordinarily funny with her performance. I liked the Dutch translation of 'Oh look, it's tomorrow!': literally 'Look, it's the next day!'. I think this made me understand the meaning of the original line better. I was surprised to find people laughed at Galinda asking Elphaba whether she could call her 'Elphie' rather than Elphaba's 'It's a little perky.' (the word might be difficult to translate). For 'You can call me Galinda', Céline did little circles with her hands in the air which I thought was good. She also added a lost-in-thought moment during the song after 'I know exactly what they need' which I am surprised I have not seen anyone do before because it was very effective. Céline's finish of the song (after Elphaba has run off) was great: she really caught the strong lower notes well. By the way, the correction Galinda did in the song was from 'lar' to 'lair' with the 'r' being very pronounced in the corrected syllable."
"In the train station scene a mention goes to Céline who, after declaring she was going to change her name to Glinda, curtsied, bowed her head and told Elphaba and Fiyero to shush while this went on. 'I've been thinking-' 'Yes, I heard' effectively triggered a laugh from a Dutch audience also."
"One of the absolute highlights of the first act was Elphaba's face when the Wizard's head shuts down after the Wizard has realised it is Elphaba who has come. 'Willemijn, that was absolute classic,' I thought in my head. The Wizard himself was amazing. To begin with, he was about half-a head shorter than Elphaba, he had his top hat slightly sideways on his head which contributed to the crazy-old-inventor-man-in-a-Disney-film' effect."
"Ik lach om zwaartekracht (= Defying Gravity), just one word: EPIC. I do not think I have ever heard the song performed as well as that. Willemijn's voice gave me the shivers already when she got to 'the rules of someone else's game'. She sang with so much ease; at no point did it seem like she had to work for the solid voice (just for the record: neither Elphaba nor Glinda sounded nasal in the least). She did not attempt to go unnecessarily loud either. She relied on the placement of sounds. Everything was beautifully controlled. While Elphaba floated in the air singing, the lights added their own input to the scene: the white lights pointing at Elphaba and streaming across each other with some assistance from the theatre smoke somehow broke up into thinner rays glistening and flickering in various shades of rainbow. My seat offered me a view to one of the most amazing musical theatre experiences ever. My heart was beating double speed. That has never happened to me in a theatre before."
Céline in particular improved as the show went on. I had not been that impressed by her opening number in the first act. Yes, all the notes had been correct by themselves and she had a good voice but somehow I thought it lacked the flow of a song. Willemijn did very well in the second act too. I think the more mature, serious and suspicious Elphaba was a part more suited to her than the school-girl Elphaba of the first act.
"In my mind I congratulated Céline for her performance of Thank Goodness. She impressed me with that number. That song has never been the one I am particularly fond of but Céline actually made me like it. Definitely the song in which she shone. Fiyero was being very cute here with his arm around Glinda whenever possible. Fiyero's uniform, however, was much too loose on Jim and it kept sliding up so he had to keep tugging it down."
"As Long As You're Mine was good. Again, Fiyero's hands were in exploratory action. The kiss at the end was followed by Fiyero kissing Elphaba's neck before moving back to the lips."
"The word 'Wicked' had not been translated but left in English. I was told that the word really came out of the blue; that it did not make sense in the Dutch translation because Elphaba is not called a 'wicked witch' in Dutch. So the word was there because it was the name of the musical and it had to be tied in there somehow." There were also a couple of other expressions that had been left untranslated. For instance, Madam Akaber exclaimed "Mission accomplished" at one point. However, I was informed that in Dutch, it is common to use English expressions such as that so they all made sense aside from that "wicked".
"The catfight scene: Strangely enough, no one laughed at Elphaba's "We can't all come and go by bubble" and there were only very few chuckles at Glinda's "a lot of us are taking things that don't belong to us, aren't we" but Elphaba's subsequent line was received with a roar of laughter. Willemijn did one of the best witch cackles ever."
"For Good was a beautiful track. Céline had gotten better towards the end. Willemijn's warm mezzo at the beginning of her verse was absolute bliss to listen to. However, I did not agree with the way that Elphaba stood there pretty much expressionless while Glinda was singing. The early stage at which Elphaba took Glinda's hand was very sweet though: she already held it at '...and just to clear the air...'."
The audience (because I enjoy observing cultural differences)
"The behaviour of the audience overall was politely restrained compared to an average West End audience. After the opening number they clapped only briefly and there was no cheering despite Glinda's high notes at the end. The applause died very quickly allowing the performance to continue."
I have to say that I had to focus in order to stay with the crowd so I did not keep clapping by accident. However, the audience made up for the quietness at curtain call:
"The entire audience was on its feet before I knew it, as if by command. I was astonished when Madam Akaber got a big cheer, bigger than the one the Wizard got, but it turned out upon retrospective inspection that Pamela Teves has acted in some well-known Dutch TV series. The two girls on my left began screaming when Jim took his bow; my ears died a little. 'So those were the Jim Bakkum fans I was warned about,' I thought to myself."
"Céline and Willemijn naturally got the biggest cheer and applause, Willemijn being the main trigger as because evident when the ladies took their separate bows. Céline laughed at the massive thank you Willemijn received."
Below is a recording of Willemijn singing Ik lach om zwaartekracht at the roof of the Circustheater (11th Oct 2011). Genius idea to promote the show I think!
Bloopers (because I know everyone enjoys reading them)
- In What Is This Feeling?, Elphaba and Galinda got so close to each other at one point that their voices were picked up by each others' microphones as well as their own resulting in a double amplified sound.
- In Dr Dillamond's class scene when he has dismissed the students, Elphaba pushes Nessarose's wheelchair to the side telling her to go ahead. The strap of Elphaba's bag got stuck in the wheelchair and Willemijn had to fiddle around for a little bit to get it off.
- In Dancing Through Life when Fiyero threw Boq's book, it did not fly off-stage. Instead, it hit the wing and landed back onstage.
- After Fiyero and Elphaba had run off and Glinda turned to go complaining about a headache, Glinda's wig was not properly on and some dark brown hair was visible from underneath it.
- The blooper I was happy did not take place: At the very beginning when the monkeys come on stage and one of them swings on a rope. He did not fall off. If he had, he would have fallen on me.
Conclusion: The trip was worth it! I will now continue learning Dutch so I have a good reason to not only go and see Willemijn again but also to see other Broadway/West End musicals in Dutch. I reckon that can only be good for my language skills.
|Click for more 'Wicked' NL wallpapers|