London Theatre Direct's lovely Andrew Tomlins takes another look behind the green curtains at Wicked.
Although the West End production of Wicked opened seven years ago this week, it is still the show that everybody is talking about. Based on Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name, Wicked tells the cleverly put together, untold story of the witches of Oz. I have seen Wicked many times before and it’s wonderful to see that the show is currently better than ever.
While Wicked is set in a different world, it is a show which reaches out and touches many people. At the core of the musical is a story of friendship, something so simple yet something which is rarely seen in the West End. Wicked is the show which has it all, there is not one weak element.
Firstly the story is incredible and is a real eye-opener, regardless of whether or not you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz. The first act is set before the famous story of The Wizard of Oz takes place and follows Glinda and Elphaba’s time at Shiz University. In the first act the story is fairly gentle as it’s mostly about establishing and re-inventing the iconic characters. The second act is all about the story, the references to The Wizard of Oz are truly unbelievable and you will never, ever be able to watch the film in the same way again. The first time I saw Wicked I remember becoming completely swept up in the storyline. Seeing the show again, I love peering over my shoulder and seeing so many shocked, transfixed faces as so many become so engrossed in the story.
The set is spectacular and the costumes are dazzling. The design is incredibly detailed and successfully allows the audience to be transported to the magical land of Oz. Stephen Schwartz’s score is tremendous and full of surprises. The way in which musical numbers, such as ‘The Wizard & I’, ‘Thank Goodness’ and No Good Deed’, are built up and suddenly stripped back is astonishing and gives Wicked the wow-factor. Of course Wicked also features the legendary musical theatre song ‘Defying Gravity’ at the end of Act One. Nothing beats seeing the song performed live and it always leaves me in some sort of magical trance.
Elphaba and Glinda are two of the most demanding roles in musical theatre. They are currently played by Louise Dearman, who recently made theatre history by becoming the first actress to have played both Glinda and Elphaba, and Gina Beck, who has previously starred as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera and Cosette in Les Misérables. However, at the performance I saw Hayley Gallivan, Louise Dearman’s stand-by, play Elphaba opposite Gina Beck as Glinda. Both Gallivan and Beck managed to bring something new to their respective roles. During Act One the pair performed the comedic scenes perfectly before portraying the more serious second act with feeling and sincerity. Unfortunately a slightly weaker performance comes from ex-Emmerdale actor Ben Freeman as Fiyero who seems to struggle with his accent.
Wicked is a musical which will leave you buzzing with excitement; if you haven’t yet seen it, Wicked should be at the top of your list of shows to see. With international Wicked star Willemijn Verkaik soon to join the cast as Elphaba it is currently a very exciting time for the West End production which I’m sure will continue to thrill audiences for many years to come.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins
Reviewed on Wednesday 25th September 2013