Music and lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Book: Gregory Maguire
Adapted for the stage by Winnie Holzman
Director: Joe Mantello
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Flying monkeys, a huge cast and multi changes of scene – there’s plenty of glitz in Wicked, billed as the prequel to the ever-popular Wizard of Oz and projecting the dark side of the coin. What could be more fitting for the season of Halloween than a story centering around witches?
If you are looking for ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties look no further, for this is not the Oz we know. This is a corrupt society with modern-day witches (university educated!) and the underlying themes those with which most of us can connect to some extent. Having said that, there is still the goody-goody witch and the baddie, with the forces of good and evil represented by Glinda (ostensibly the good witch but watch this space) played with saccharine sweetness and a viper’s tongue by Charli Baptie, and Elphaba, representing the Wicked Witch – born with a green skin and a talent for witchcraft. Amy Ross is a strong Elphaba, coming into her own in the second half as the roles shift towards the denouement.
Wicked, which originally opened on Broadway in 2003 and has since been seen by over 60 million people worldwide, is based on American writer Gregory Maguire’s novel The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s a tale with more twists and turns than you can imagine, all set amidst a plethora of fantasy scenes and rock songs belted out at full throttle. Being honest, not many of the tunes feel that memorable on first listen, the exception being I’m Not that Girl sung strongly by Ross in Act I and reprised in Act II by Baptie with the necessary poignancy in line with plot development. A recurring figure throughout as Madame Morrible, doyenne of the witchcraft academy where both witches are students, Kim Isma, presenting as a matriarch benign at times although not always, has an appreciable stage presence coupled with great comedic timing.
This could also be said of Stephen Pinder, doubling as the goat man/professor Doctor Dillamond and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz himself. Pinder’s Wizard is a nimble-footed delight, while Welsh actor Iddon Jones gives us a bumbling Boq, up against the sophistication of Aaron Sidwell’s Fiyero.
A major part of the ongoing appeal of this show, and the gigantic touring production with a cast of over thirty, is the phenomenal dance and movement routines, with choreography embracing high wire flight and much more, all executed by a great ensemble in costume designer Susan Hilferty’s wonderful and inventive outfits. I particularly liked the Dickensian touch spiced up to fantasy level in the crowd scenes. The whole is set against Eugene Lee’s magical sets, intricate and amazing, with some incredible scene changes and lighting.
The links with the original story and L Frank Baum’s beloved characters – our old friends the Lion, The Tin Man and the Scarecrow – are all there in a parallel universe to Baum’s magical world of make-believe.
Runs until 24th November 2018 | Image: Matt Crockett