Wicked is one of the West End’s most popular shows, still going strong after nine years at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, it’s the untold story of the witches of Oz, before the arrival of Dorothy and Toto by cyclone, and puts a whole new spin on the classic tale we all grew up with. Things, it seems, are not quite as black and white (or should that be green and white?) as they appear…
A lot goes on in this show - magic, history, politics, animal rights - but at its heart, Wicked is a classic romantic comedy. Spoilt rich girl Glinda meets lonely outsider Elphaba, who’s shunned by everyone because of her green skin, when they’re placed together as roommates at Shiz University. Despite initially hating each other, they eventually become friends, until they meet handsome, carefree Fiyero, and things get a bit complicated.
Wicked has been described as ‘one of the greatest musicals of our time’, probably because literally every one of Stephen Schwartz’s songs is a showstopper. From the dramatic opening number, you know you’re in for something special - and it only gets better from there. I’d forgotten how many amazing songs there are: everyone knows 'Defying Gravity', obviously, but there’s also 'The Wizard And I', 'Popular', 'Dancing Through Life', 'I’m Not That Girl', 'As Long As You’re Mine', 'For Good'… the list goes on and on.
But even great songs are no good without a fantastic cast, and fortunately Wicked has one of the best. A recent cast change saw the addition of, among others, Oliver Savile as Fiyero, Sean Kearns as Doctor Dillamond and Broadway star Tom McGowan as the Wizard. All seem perfectly at home alongside established stars Emma Hatton (Elphaba), Savannah Stevenson (Glinda) and Katie Rowley Jones, who’s now played Elphaba’s younger sister Nessarose more times than any other actress. Though the focus of the story is on the funny and moving friendship between the two women, the show is very much an ensemble piece, with each character a vital piece in the familiar story, and this cast look like they’ve been working together for years.
One of the best things about Wicked is its attention to detail. The Wicked experience begins as you step inside the bright green lobby, before you even see Eugene Lee’s spectacular set or Susan Hilferty’s elaborate costumes. But the eye for detail continues in the storytelling, and particularly in the show’s witty references to its famous foundations. (I particularly love the fact that Elphaba’s rage towards Dorothy is mostly to do with shoes.)
Wicked has everything you could want from a musical, really: an entertaining story, well-developed characters, plenty of humour but a few tears too. And somehow, even though it deals with magic and is set in a strange land, it’s very easy to relate to - because whatever else is going on, at the end of the day it’s a show about human relationships, and that’s something we all know a bit about.
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