Like Big Ben, the London Eye, and standing on the wrong side of the escalator, Wicked quickly become part of London tourist life during its first West End performance 7 years ago. Coming into it’s 8th year at the Apollo Victoria the show continues to be a fun and huge musical that pays homage to, and poke fun at, the classic Oz tale.
Wicked is boldly epic in both plot and presentation: beginning at the end with the Wicked Witch of the West’s death, we flashback to her (Elphaba) birth, school days, and first meeting with Glinda as the musical tracks her rise and fall, revealing the ‘truth’ behind her wicked ways (no prizes for guessing all is not as we’ve been lead to believe).
Part of the impressive scale is thanks to Scenic Designer Eugene Lee and Costume Designer Susan Hilferty, whose combined work gives the world of Oz a character as strong as any of the cast. The clockwork cogs that reach out of the stage and the huge clockface that towers over it creates the impression of a fantasy world in flux.
Louise Dearman (Elphaba) and Gina Beck (Glinda) are the musicals true MVPs and they shine brightest whenever together on stage (‘What is this Feeling?’ showing off both their talents). While Dearman’s vocals are powerful and soaring, and her Elphaba passionate and defiant, Beck’s vocals (and portrayal of Glinda) are light and fun. Dearman inhabits Elphaba so thoroughly, while Beck’s Glinda is so charmingly air-headed, that the strength of the characters carries the musical alone.
The songs in the first half are universally excellent, giving insight into characters’ personality and emotions while working to the story’s emotional beats, from fist-pumping solos to fun duets. However the songs in the second half do suffer compared to the first, never finding one as fun as ‘Popular’ or with the playful harmonies of ‘What is this Feeling?’ or as strong as ‘Defying Gravity’ (although ‘No Good Deed’ comes close).
But by this point the characters’ actions have come to a head and the plot itself catches up with the Wizard of Oz; seeing the reinterpretations and ‘behind-the-scenes’ moments is thrilling and the less memorable music doesn’t detract from the anticipation in seeing Elphaba and Glinda will resolve their differences.
Perhaps, most impressively, the musical isn’t afraid to show shades of grey in the characters actions and the world of Oz. Wicked‘s version of the Wizard is a man who has clearly become enamored with the praise he receives (aptly shown in his song ‘Wonderful’) and his motives are far more self-serving than his book and film counterpart.
While a last minute story revelation feels rushed and perfunctory (despite being set-up much earlier in the musical) and the romantic entanglements between Elphaba, Glinda and Fiyero veer close to trite cliche, Wicked’s endearing characters, epic scale and musical performances hit all the right notes.
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