Wicked runs at the Liverpool Empire until 11 October before touring until 25 July 2015.
A little over a year ago, Wicked embarked on its first ever UK and Ireland tour and now the musical is playing to capacity crowds at the 2,400 seater Empire Theatre in Liverpool. It’s not hard to see why, the show has won awards wherever it has played, and is now in the top ten of London’s longest-running shows – joining the ranks of Blood Brothers, Les Misérables, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera… But why? What is it about the show that has left audiences spellbound?
Gregory Maguire’s re-imagined vision of the World of Oz has been given a family friendly adaptation thanks to Winnie Holzman’s book which focuses the the story more on the university relationship between Elphaba (Ashleigh Gray) and Glinda (Emily Tierney) – their friendship is tested to the limits as boundaries are pushed, love is explored and betrayal is only a wand flick away.
But it’s not just the universal themes which keep people going back – Stephen Schwartz has created some of the finest and instantly recognisable anthems in musical theatre history. Whether it’s the power-belting ‘Defying Gravity’, the bubblegum pop-flavoured ‘Popular’, the haunting lovelorn duet ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ or the touching ‘For Good’, there really is something for all musical tastes to savour.
As touring musicals go, Wicked pulls out all the stops. The production values put many of the current touring shows to shame. The set by Eugene Lee is as good as its London counterpart – of course some scaling down has had to happen, but most of that is proscenium dressing. Susan Hilferty’s costumes dazzle more than the Emerald City itself with every individual gem and sequin standing strong in her stylised designs.
Kenneth Posner’s lighting design is as epic and as soaring as the narrative. From the constant colour changes on the cyclorama to the more atmospheric scenes, this is a beautifully thought-out design.
Emily Tierney still impresses in the role of Glinda and has really made the part her own, there is no interpretation quite like her comically rich portrayal. Richard Vincent makes for a splendidly cheeky Boq, especially during the introductory scenes. Samuel Edwards cuts a dashing Fiyero, his vocal performance of ‘Dancing Through Life’ one of the smoothest seen.
Having played the part several time in the West End as cover/standby, Ashleigh Gray finally gets the change to shine as the leading role of Elphaba in her own right, and she does so with a tenacity and confidence that befits the character perfectly. Without a doubt, this is the performance of Gray’s career and she clearly relishes every moment.
One could argue quite strongly that this UK and Ireland tour is even stronger than its West End sister, the attention to detail is evident on all fronts and the talented cast members pull together in the true sense of the word ensemble. Wicked keeps going from strength to strength. As long as the producers keep pouring the same love and attention into the show that they have over the last ten years, then it will continue to soar and spellbind generations for years to come.
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Kerry Ellis on her new album, UK tour and return to Wicked – Interview