When writing a review of Wicked, where should you start? A novice writer would be tempted to go for the obvious option of opening with some wicked-related pun – but I’m not that green.
Instead, perhaps I should start with the cast. Fans of the musical will undoubtedly be keen to hear about the performances of the newest cast members, who joined the show in the last cast change in December 2011. Before I do , I feel it’s important for you to know that, although I was at the show primarily to review the current cast, it was also the first time I’ve seen Wicked so don’t expect to read any pontifications on its freshness or comparison to previous casts, as there won’t be any – which is perhaps a good thing.
Wicked is the untold story of the witches of Oz, going back to a time before Dorothy from Kansas – and her little dog too – dropped out of the sky. It follows the path of the Wicked Witch of the West (now revealed to be called Elphaba), from befriending Good Witch G(a)linda at university to her ‘death’ at the hands of Dorothy and a bucket of water. The central theme of Wicked is wickedness itself, and the question of whether someone is born wicked or made that way. The musical is hardly subtle in its approach as here, Elphaba is less the cackling ‘wicked’ witch we’ve see in The Wizard of Oz and more of a geeky animal rights activist. Throw in an unloving father and bitter sister, the ridicule and rejection she endures as a result of her green-skinned appearance and not forgetting a love triangle and the shattered illusion of her idol, the Wizard, and Elphaba suddenly becomes a much more sympathetic character. The Oz of Wicked is a place where backstage politics and corruption are rife: the good are wicked and the wicked are good.
Rachel Tucker has been widely praised for her portrayal of the persecuted Elphaba. I’ve heard her sing the show’s most popular song, ‘Defying Gravity’, on other occassions, but this was my first time seeing her perform in the role – she was just phenomenal. She has a complete understanding of who Elphaba is and lends her a depth and emotion which, coupled with her powerful voice, creates one of the most compelling stage performances I’ve ever seen. As good as she is, when Gina Beck is added into the mix, the bar is well and truly raised. I’ve long admired the soprano tones of Gina Beck and here, she displays her wonderful acting abilities as well. As the conceited, image-obsessed G(a)linda, Beck is simply hilarious, but she also manages to make the audience see past the shallowness to the ‘good’ inside of her and, by the show’s end, the audience believe in her new-found strength and determination to make Oz a better place.
Matt Willis is also a sensation as Fiyero, the handsome prince who gains the affections of both girls. Best known as a member of boyband Busted, fans were dubious when his casting was first announced but Willis proves all of his critics wrong with his brilliant performance. He brings a very rock and roll Fiyero to the stage but as the love story with Elphaba progresses, he replaces that arrogance with a desperation and longing that endears the audience to his character. With the vocal abilities of his two female counterparts, it would be difficult for anyone to hold their own alongside them, but Willis does a superb job which, along with his sharp dancing, makes him a wonderful addition to the cast.
The three leads are fantastically backed up by the rest of the principal cast, with Adam Pettigrew’s Boq and Lillie Flynn’s Nessarose giving great performances. The ensemble are also on top form: all in all, there is not one weak link to be found.
Going by the reastion of the audience on the night, Wicked has not lost any of its appeal in the five years it’s been in the West End. Steven Schwartz has composed an excellent and diverse score, with fun songs like ‘Popular’ and ‘What Is This Feeling’ faring just as well against the big songs like ‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘No Good Deed’. Susan Hilferty’s costume designs and Eugene Lee’s set do a great job too in creating the spectacular overall effect of Wicked. There’s a lot of fun to be had to with the connections the show makes with its sister production, The Wizard of Oz. Most of the time it’s very cleverly done, but there are times when those connections are stretched to the limit – when trying to stitch together two stories though, it’s inevitable that there will be the odd loose thread along the seam.
Wicked is a highly entertaining show that possesses quantities of both humour and touching emotion and right now, it can boast to having a top notch cast. It delivers everything a West End show should so if you haven’t already, get down to the Apollo Victoria and see for yourself – you’ll be doing the ‘Galinda hair-toss’ in no time.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Content updated 1st May 2014