Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Book: Winnie Holzman
Director: Joe Mantello
Reviewer: Nicole Craft
With Wicked having won over 100 major international awards, being in its 12th year in the West End, having a second go at a UK tour and possessing an instantly recognisable protagonist thanks to its Wizard of Oz roots, it would be easy to assume everybody knows the story by now. However, having spent an evening surrounded by excited theatre-goers for whom this was their first Wicked outing (this reviewer included), it seems sensible to start at the beginning, or rather the end, or the middle; whichever way you want to view it.
Wicked doesn’t claim to be a prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, quite the opposite, in fact. It does indeed tell the story of a young Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West as they befriend each other at university and we do follow their journeys to the characters they are set to become; but rather than end their tale at the start of The Wizard of Oz stories, the two run alongside each other for a time with Wicked eventually leaving The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in its shadows to reach its own conclusion, and make us question everything we thought we knew.
Following in Idina Menzel and Kirstin Chenoweth’s footsteps is an unenviable task, however talented you are, and so a glance down at the theatre credits list for both leads surprisingly reveals that neither Helen Woolf (Glinda) nor Amy Ross (Elphaba) have undertaken such huge roles before.
Woolf certainly makes Glinda her own, adopting a cross between cute, stupid and sassy that winds up being a sort of Essex-girl cum Elle Woods. Her vocals seem to take a little time to warm up but once they do, and her character development has charmed the pants off us, it’s hard to imagine Glinda being any other way. Ross, put simply, blows us away. Starting strong as the outcast and reigning strong as the unsung hero, she manages to make everything seem effortless while filling every inch of the auditorium with faultless song. The audience’s collective breath-holding can almost be felt as she hits high note after high note and her subtle changes in her portrayal of Elphaba as the character strengthens just further prove her worth – she even succeeds in making green body paint look natural. As a pair, Woolf and Ross are perfect; convincing us of their loathing of each other, their slow-burning change of heart and, in the end, their unlikely friendship, they both sing and grow together in staggering harmony throughout. Aaron Sidwell, as torn lover, Fiyero, does charm but his talents are simply drowned out by Ross’ and his performance appears weaker than it is as a result; the pair do have good rapport though and, along with Woolf, work well overall as a threesome.
The rest of the cast and ensemble are determined to ensure they don’t slip off into the background and there’s not a step, twizzle or note to be faulted. Backed up by an incredible score, some sparkling costumes, gravity-defying effects and a magnificent set that serves to be both subtle and stunning – the whole production impresses even the most avid of theatre fans.
Expertly woven into the Oz stories we all know and love, but equally standing on its own two ruby slippers, Wicked immerses, enchants and dazzles in a way quite like no other.
Runs until 29 April 2018 and on tour | Image: Matt Crockett