Friday, 13 November 2015

Wicked

Soaring into its 10th year on the London stage, there's still some magic left in this wicked production...

Written by Richard Barber
Richard-Barber-colour-176At the risk of sounding a tad grudging, it’s something of a surprise to discover that the musical, Wicked, will soon celebrate its 10th birthday. Oh, it’s lavish all right with no expense spared on costumes and set, any amount of ingenuity expended on lush orchestration and inventive, state-of-the-art lighting.

But it’s both sophisticated and, ultimately, a bit confusing for its intended audience which I take to be adolescent girls. Certainly, its themes are ones with which they’ll identify: the agonies of friendship, insecurity about appearance, makeovers, mean teachers and pashes on dreamy boys, all accompanied by the sort of tonsil-mangling vocal delivery most usually encountered on The X Factor.

Based on Gregory Maguire’s best-selling novel, this is a sort of prequel to The Wizard Of Oz in which we gradually discover the origins of The Lion, The Scarecrow and The Tin Man. We don’t meet Dorothy but there’s plenty from the stars of the show, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda, the Good Witch.

At least, these are the roles they inhabit at the beginning of the action. Elphaba enters the world as a bad-tempered big green jelly-baby, which gives Glinda plenty of opportunity to tease her when they become reluctant room-mates at the wizardry school where they fetch up.

Emma Hatton brings plenty of spunk to her portrayal of Elphaba and sings with glass-shattering gusto. Savannah Stevenson, meanwhile, gives herself a very good time with the wittier role of blonde, beautiful Glinda, always the most popular girl in the class. ‘It’s good to see me, isn’t it?’ she simpers, as she’s lowered on to the stage on what looks like a giant, falling snowflake.

In time, the baddie and the goodie switch characteristics as both leading ladies fall for vapid, snake-hipped Fiyero (Oliver Savile). ‘I’m genuinely selfabsorbed,’ he protests at one point, ‘and deeply shallow.’ By the end of the evening, though, he shows his true colours and wanders off into the sunset with you’ll-never-guess-who.

There’s a bit of nonsense about unmasking the motives of the dodgy Wizard of Oz (Tom McGowan) and his henchwoman, Madame Morrible (Liza Sadovy). There are some pleasing ballads along the way – my favourite was As Long As You’re Mine, the duet for Elphaba and Fiyero – from Stephen Schwartz who wrote both music and lyrics.

Just one mystery remains: at the end of Act 1, Elphaba lustily emotes Defying Gravity, the audience keenly anticipating her ascent into the stratosphere on her magic broomstick. And yet she remained resolutely earthbound. A gremlin in the works perhaps?

Until 5 November 2016 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, Wilton Road, London SW1: 0844-871 3001, www.WickedTheMusical.co.uk



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