REVIEW: ‘Wicked’, UK and Ireland Tour, Birmingham Hippodrome

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Wicked‘, Birmingham Hippodrome

   “Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”.

  ‘Wicked’ tells of the incredible untold story of the witches of Oz. Elphaba and Glinda meet as sorcery students at Shiz University and, despite their initial mutual loathing for one another, the two form a strong friendship, ultimately changing each other for the good. However, their friendship is put to the test after they meet with the Wizard of Oz, and these two characters find themselves at a crossroads, led onto very different paths, that will see them realise their destinies as the characters we know them as – namely, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the Good Witch. 

  Composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz adapts Gregory Maguire‘s novel ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’, the result a thing of true enchantment and, quite simply, magic. Inspired by L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, this musical, an overlapping prequel to the story we think we know, finds its place in this parallel universe, in a vivid and colourful reimagining of the fictitious land of Oz. Very cleverly offering detailed backstories of the characters we believe we are familiar with, the musical contains many references to Baum’s classic, retaining a fierce sense of familiarity. The friendship between Elphaba and Glinda, two hugely loveable and memorable characters, is the focal point of the musical. 

The cast of Wicked. Photo credit: Matt Crockett

  Now the 15th longest running musical in London’s West End, this spectacular show flies into Birmingham during its second UK and Ireland tour. Winner of over 100 major awards, this musical phenomenon continues to cast its wonderfully wicked spell over audiences. One of the greatest and best loved musicals in the world, this magical production is a sensory treat, a true masterpiece. An unforgettable musical theatre experience boasting stunning scenery, exquisite costumes, powerful songs and knockout performances from a consistently wonderful cast, there’s no doubt as to why this show remains as popular as ever. Indeed, there’s no place like Oz!

    Amy Ross and Helen Woolf are the latest in a long line of talented actresses to take on the lead roles of Elphaba and Glinda, and their world-class performances see them flying right up there with the best of them. So suited were they to their roles, so perfectly did they encapsulate the very nature of these larger-than-life characters, one might believe the roles were created especially for them. 

Amy Ross (Elphaba) in Wicked. Photo credit: Matt Crockett

  Born with “unnaturally green” skin, Elphaba is considered by her peers to be “unusually and exceedingly peculiar”. Initially appearing a force for good, Elphaba rejects the chance to achieve social popularity in favour of fighting for justice, always resolved to do what is right. However, a very misunderstood character, she seems to be forever punished for her good deeds, and true wickedness continues to abound, causing her to become disillusioned with the world around her, opposing the corrupt and tyrannical regime of the Wizard. Framed for an act of magic she performed at the bidding of the Wizard, Elphaba becomes a subject of hatred by the people of Oz, and is branded ‘wicked’.  

  Amy Ross is simply majestic as Elphaba, her performance utterly mesmerising. Although established as the obvious antagonist of Baum’s novel, the musical charting her rise to notoriety, Ross’ Elphaba is very likeable, and hugely endearing. Despite her distinctive “verdigris”, Ross depicts a very human, complex character, that cannot simply be labelled as good or bad, and she achieves a wonderful balance of a character who strives to attain goodness, before coming to terms with society’s warped perception of her, fully embracing this reputation. Her show-stopping rendition of ‘Defying Gravity’ a sure highlight, so moving, so powerful, such a show of strength, Ross absolutely did this iconic moment in musical theatre justice.

Amy Ross (Elphaba) in Wicked. Photo credit: Matt Crockett

  Helen Woolf dazzles as Glinda (initially Galinda, “with a Ga”). Blonde and bubbly, her comic performance has the audience in hysterics. Her vocals, often operatic, were exceptional, and she perfectly captures the tone and voice of this character. On the surface, an image of goodness, optimism and positivity, Glinda sometimes lets her guard drop and, like the best of us, displays qualities that are not necessarily ‘good’, and thus Woolf too is able to achieve a wonderful and harmonious balance of human nature. The perfect complement to Ross’ Elphaba. 

  Also worthy of note are Aaron Sidwell‘s Fiyero, a character “dancing through life”, and Emily Shaw‘s Nessarose, their flawless performances particularly evocative. In fact, the production’s entire ensemble are utterly astounding, “one of the “greatest [casts] there’s ever been”. With strong performances across the board, the extensive vocal range and sharp movement of this talented cast overflow with energy, and their animated characterisation adds to the show’s portrayal of the fantastical.

Helen Woolf (Glinda) in Wicked. Photo credit: Matt Crockett

  Colour is a very important aspect of the show, and the breath-taking vibrancy of sets and costumes, particularly those of the Emerald City, create “wonders unlike those [you’ve] ever seen” – “It’s all grand. It’s all green”. “Ev’ry where you look… there is something exquisite”. The dominating and intricate sets are remarkably impressive. No mean feat to replicate the sets of the production’s permanent home at London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre, no stone is left unturned as the scenery is reassembled during the show’s tour, perfectly adapted to fit each new venue. The dynamic lighting and sound serve to enhance the fully-rounded atmosphere the show creates, further reflecting the glory and splendour of this lavish fictional land. A glittering spectacle, a transfixed audience is submerged in this truly Ozmopolitan utopia!

  The epitome of great musical theatre, ‘Wicked’ is bursting at the seams with charm and wit, the end result truly uplifting. However, as with all great pieces of theatre, the production maintains a level of substance and depth, carrying a profound underlying message. The musical tactfully explores the very nature of goodness and badness, and the difficulty faced in merely labelling something as belonging to either category. Things are never simply black and white – there are shades of green, too. The audience are therefore encouraged to consider what constitutes wickedness, leading us to question whether anybody is wholly bad. Despite the title of the musical, irony lies in the fact that no character is truly wicked – instead, they each reflect the basic fundamentals of humanity, embodying both good and bad.

Helen Woolf (Glinda) and Amy Ross (Elphaba) in Wicked. Photo credit: Matt Crockett

   Additionally, this empowering musical reminds today’s audiences that, regardless of background, ability, and most importantly, colour, “EVERYONE deserves the chance to fly”.

  ‘Wicked’ is a musical that quite literally defies gravity and, its success “unlimited”, nothing “is ever gonna bring [it] down”. With the timeless message that good will always conquer evil, encouraging us to be true to who we are (green or not) and fight for what we believe in, this spellbinding production will intoxicate you like a bottle of even the most pungent “green elixir”. So magical and touching, once we leave the auditorium, nothing can “soften the ache we feel when reality sets back in”, and we long to steal once more to Oz, “the most swankified place in town”.  Magic woven throughout, this unforgettable production will stay with you forever, “like a handprint on [your] heart”.

The cast of Wicked “defying gravity!”. Photo credit: Matt Crockett

 

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