Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Director: Joe Mantello
Based on the novel by: Gregory Maguire
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?
Wicked is a musical phenomenon. Since opening in 2006 the show has garnered over 100 major international awards and already been seen by nine million people in London alone. Seemingly many of this number are in attendance for opening night in Leeds, judging by the number of people mouthing along with Defying Gravity, first made popular by original Elphaba and future Elsa, Idina Menzel.
For the uninitiated, Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, The Wizard of Oz‘s green face Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good Witch, starting with their first meeting at university and working up to Dorothy’s final water-based murder. The plot examines how Elphaba came to be a villain, taking in such influences as prejudice, animal rights and heartbreak – weighty topics for a musical with such flippantly comedic numbers as audience favourites Loathing and Popular.
Understudy Nikki Bentley steps into the green face paint as Elphaba for opening night, and after a slightly tentative start blows the audience away the second she starts to sing. By Defying Gravity, everyone would assume she has been headlining the show all her life. She is especially enthralling during As Long As You’re Mine with the charming Fiyero (Aaron Sidwell, who thankfully doesn’t maintain his grating layabout posh boy accent for the whole show). To say both actors are fully clothed and barely moving during this song, by the end the audience feel as if they have just witnessed a very private and intimate moment indeed. Opposite Bentley is Helen Woolf, whose hauntingly beautiful voice raises arm hairs and sends shivers down spines as she hits those incredibly operatic high notes. Her Glinda grows from ditzy socialite to multifaceted woman so naturally. She is a joy to watch.
In fact, the entire show is a feast for the eyes. Susan Hilferty’s jaw-droppingly beautiful costumes are architectural marvels, and even the chorus characters are given personality and backstory by something as simple as the fit of their dress or shape of their wig. Eugene Lee’s set is dominated by an animatronic dragon, a 13-hour clock and a variety of green LEDs, effortlessly bringing to life the Hogwartsesque Shiz and the cosmopolitan Emerald City alike.
While Wicked can be enjoyed as simply a gorgeous musical, it also undeniably asks hefty moral questions of its audience. Themes of racial tension, political terrorism and the age-old fight of good versus evil versus the grey area in between, are constantly present, and a deeper dive past the frippery reveals some unsettling parallels with today’s climate. If only we too could escape to a world of excess and magic. Well, with Wicked, for three hours at least we can.
Runs until Saturday 7 July 2018 | Image: Matt Crockett