Wicked continues at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, London and is booking up to 4 November 2017.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It is probably musical theatre blasphemy to admit it, but on seeing Wicked for the first time I struggled to make an emotional connection with the book or score. While I left the theatre impressed with the quality of the performances and the visual splendour of the West End production, I didn’t rush to make a return visit or listen to the original cast production on repeat.
While dedicated fans of this untold story of the Witches of Oz will think it unusual, the show has been a slow burner for me, although I would now count Elphaba and Glinda’s ‘So Good’ duet as one of my all-time favourite musical theatre tracks.
So it came as something of an epiphany to me during a visit to the London production, just a month or so after the show celebrated its 10th anniversary, to discover that I had become a paid-up member of the Wicked fan club.
Despite other visits since that first experience, it has taken all this time for me to immerse myself in the show’s story, to relish the highs and lows of its emotional rollercoaster, to enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humour of Winnie Holzman’s libretto (based on Gregory Maguire’s novel) and to properly appreciate Stephen Schwartz’s humdinger of a score.
What truly impresses is that there is nothing tired about this production, directed by Joe Mantello, with musical staging by Wayne Cilento. From the originality and colour of the extraordinary sets (Eugene Lee) and costumes (Susan Hilferty) to the depth of feeling the performers bring to their characterisations.
Though Rachel Tucker may have played the ‘wicked’ Elphaba many times in London and on Broadway, she could not have given more to her interpretation of the role on this occasion.
Yes, the vocals on ‘Defying Gravity’ always create a showstopping Act I finale, but Tucker also excels as an actress throughout. It is a spellbinding performance (no pun intended).
Equally impressive is Suzie Mathers as Glinda (who has joined the cast from the Australian production), delighting in her portrayal of the girl who always gets her own way and displaying a light touch with the accompanying comedic moments. But she is equally fine when attempting to hide the heartbreak of losing the two people she loves best in the world.
Cue the arrival of Oliver Savile’s dashingly attractive Fiyero, who struggles to hold on to his shallow reputation when falling in love with Elphaba. It’s a cliché to use the word ‘journey’ nowadays, but the actor does an excellent job in convincing the audience of this quite radical change of heart (‘As Long As You’re Mine’ is intensely moving).
There is also strong support from Martin Ball’s Wizard, Anita Dobson as Madame Morrible, Katie Rowley Jones in the role of Nessarose, rising star Idriss Kargbo as Boq and Scott Monello, stepping into the hooves of Doctor Dillamond.
Last but not least, there are those powerful themes – friendship, love and forgiveness; the need to be true to oneself; to not accept the prejudices and lies of others, to embrace difference. Never more important to take onboard than in the world we live in today.
In the meantime, see these themes being celebrated in this stunning production. It’s something to savour – I see that now.
Readers may also be interested in:
Wicked 10th anniversary – Interview – original London cast member Katie Rowley Jones on playing Nessarose.
Wicked UK and Ireland tour to return in February 2018 – News