I have heard so many great things about Wicked. Named by the Independent on Sunday in 2008 as ‘the West End’s most successful new musical’. It seems this production can do no wrong; in fact I still can’t believe it took me this long to see it. I have sung various songs from the show, ‘One Short Day’ in particular brings back wonderful memories of the BACK TO BROADWAY show we did annually at University. And I am still in no doubt that Stephen Schwartz’s music is by far the best thing about this production. With driving melodies, addictive rhythms and hummable harmonies, there is nothing not to like.
From the outside the Apollo Victoria Theatre is hostile and industrial looking, strange compared to Billy Elliot’s lively facade (the other big theatre in this area). The art deco cum gothic interior however quite suits the witchy tale of Wicked. My clever date managed to buy brilliant tickets relatively cheaply: £30 for Stalls is a good deal. Here is a tip – always phone up the theatre to get the best deals... I often ask for front row Stalls, restricted view, as I know these are a fraction of the price but thrillingly close to the action.
Wicked is based on Gregory Maguire’s acclaimed 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, re-imagining the land of Oz, and creating a parallel universe to the familiar story written by L. Frank Baum and first published as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. It is a story of an outsider, and of difference, and most importantly it offers an explanation to some of Baum’s unanswered questions from his fairytale book.
The set glows in green splendour, and the large dragon at the top of the stage certainly sparked excitement among the audience. The chorus and monkeys (!) flood onto the stage and the whole theatre comes alive. We meet Glinda (Louise Dearman) and Elphaba (Rachel Tucker) the two students desperate to study Sorcery; it seems Elphaba has a bit more natural talent. They couldn’t be more different, in looks and personality, and they instantly loathe each other. An unlikely turn of events brings them closer together and eventually to be the best of friends. I have to say I found the character of Glinda a little annoying but that is the part rather than the actress so can’t blame Dearman. Rachel Tucker was fun to watch as the green Elephaba, and I was amused to find out that she has previously played the role of Dorothy in a production of The Wizard of Oz in Belfast. I found her performance got better as the night went on, initially her voice was a little weak.
The current celeb in Wicked is the angelic looking Lee Mead, winner of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph TV programme. He seems to have made his way through most of the leading West End musicals, so it’s no surprise to find him now in Wicked. He is sweet as the fairytale prince, and definitely looks the part with his dark curly locks. I enjoyed the performance too from Clive Carter as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he is a brilliant actor who I have previously seen as Bob in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
I expected more from the performers in Wicked, but I can’t fault the show itself. I love all the clever connections with The Wizard of Oz, the way it explains everything, from the flying houses to the shortcomings of the Scarecrow, Tin man and Lion. This is a unique fairytale with a twist, and while you are sprinkled with bubbles, confetti and lights, the underlying message too is worth hearing.
Book tickets here.