“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?”
Due to a number of reasons (mainly bad reviews from friends, vitriolic reviews from critics and the ticket prices) I never quite managed to getting round to seeing Wicked despite really wanting to see Idina Menzel who reprised her Broadway role initially, and it’s always been fairly near the bottom of my list of shows to get round to seeing. But with the Get Into London Theatre offer available on good seats (£60 tickets for £35, offer now expired), I finally bit the bullet and booked at the Apollo Victoria.
Purporting to tell the hidden story behind The Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of two girls, Elphaba and Galinda, who meet at sorcery school and follows their tumultuous relationship as they grow up. For they become respectively, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and their complex friendship is tested with rivalries over love and their opposing personalities and viewpoints. And whereas the story begins well before Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, much of what we see sheds interesting new light on events as we know them.
As the green-skinned Elphaba, Alexia Khadime is truly impressive in this vocally demanding role, displaying some great belting and a nice rebellious streak in her performance as the girl constantly struggling to find her place in the world. I didn’t think I had room in my heart for another actress to truly love, but Dianne Pilkington won me over from the word go (plus she’s from Wigan, way to represent!) with her perky Galinda, maintaining a strong tradition of spoilt rich girls with a heart of gold stretching from Clueless to Legally Blonde and getting the mix of comedy, obnoxiousness, pathos and warmth just right. I love that this is a story about two strong women and the recognition of how difficult friendships can be sometimes, though I have to say I was definitely Team Glinda in this one!
This does come at the expense of strong supporting characters though: Harriet Thorpe (instantly recognisable from Absolutely Fabulous and The Brittas Empire) has too little to do as Madame Morrible which is a shame; Natalie Anderson’s Nessarose is an interesting character whose story is rushed too much and could have been developed more, for my liking, and as a male lead, Fiyero is really quite bland, Oliver Tompsett doing a good job though. And I couldn’t find the credit for him, but the guy playing the main flying monkey put in a fabulous physical performance.
Musically, it’s a little rockier than I was expecting from the guy who also wrote Enchanted, but it’s still a strong, cohesive piece of work. Highlights are clearly the showstoppers ‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘For Good’, but there’s also a subtle beauty in ‘I’m Not That Girl’ that I loved. The set and costumes are insane, it is clear that money has been spent, largely successfully in transforming the large stage into Oz.
Having seen this in the same week as Love Never Dies, one cannot help but make the comparisons between the two. Wicked wins on almost every count for me, but the crucial difference is in the treatment of these familiar characters and in giving them a genuinely dramatic storyline. It’s such an affectionate portrayal and even when we’re taken to unexpected places with them, it works as there’s real dramatic suspense. And it is obviously doing something right, running for four years now and still attracting a massively diverse audience: as one of the biggest shows in the West End, people who only go to the theatre once a year could do little wrong than go to this (not that they need me to tell them!)
Personally, I was blown away by it: I went in fully prepared to be as cynical as you like but was won over by practically every aspect of this show: indeed, the unexpected harmonies at the end of ‘For Good’ on the last “I can say that I’ve been changed for the better” is one of the most beautiful bits of music I think I’ve heard.