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Wicked - Apollo Victoria Theatre (Review)

Wicked

Review by Jack Foley

THE sceptic in me always suspected that Glinda, the good witch in The Wizard Of Oz, was always a little too good… I mean, she did leave Dorothy to navigate the Yellow Brick Road all by herself, after all.

But I never thought I’d end up sympathising with the Wicked Witch Of The West, seeing as she haunted some of my dreams!

Wicked, the new musical based on the best-seller by Gregory Maguire, sets about to reveal “the untold story of the witches of Oz” and does so in spectacularly entertaining fashion.

What if, for instance, green witch Elphaba was merely a misunderstood outsider whose ‘wicked’ acts were misinterpreted by the brain-washed inhabitants of Oz? And what if Glinda only became ‘good’ by default?

How did the lion really become cowardly? And why didn’t the Tinman have a heart?

Wicked answers all these questions while posing a few more besides. What’s more, it functions as both a wonderful piece of popular entertainment and a clever piece of social commentary.

According to its author Maguire: “Wicked revisits the notions of social obligation and personal courage for a new and somewhat flummoxed generation at a time when trust in government leadership is questioned more often than not.”

As such, it takes some sly potshots at the world’s political leaders, while addressing issues that are closer to home, such as identity, self-awareness, beauty and tolerance.

As a dark but feelgood musical, however, it never resorts to heavy-handed preaching, opting to allow its audience to take what they want from it.

And there’s plenty to savour for Wicked is a smart performer in all senses of the word.

Having taken Broadway by storm, it’s now casting its spell over the West End where last night’s audience greeted the finale with rapturous applause and a standing ovation.

It’s easy to see why, as everything about this magical production clicks so well into place. The sets are spectacular, the costumes lavish and the performances, without exception, brilliant.

The frequent nods to The Wizard Of Oz are all cleverly realised and will doubtless leave you considering the exploits of Dorothy in a very different light.

While the songs are lively even if, on the odd occasion, the loud orchestration obscures some of the words.

The pick of the lot, however, is Idina Menzel, who brings tremendous warmth, passion and heartbreak to the central role of Elphaba. Having already won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Actress on Broadway, don’t bet against her repeating the trick with an Olivier here.

Menzel is, quite simply, spectacular. She commands the stage with every move, displays a fine line between comic timing and emotional depth, and boasts an awesome singing voice. She is undoubtedly the show’s biggest asset and time spent in her company is mesmerising.

Helen Dallimore is also good fun as Glinda, who turns from spoilt, shallow do-gooder to unlikely friend, and Adam Garcia is suitably suave as Fiyero, the object of both witches’ affections.

Veteran actress Miriam Margoyles hams it up gleefully as Madame Morrible, a devious teacher, and Nigel Planer enjoys some nice moments as The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, especially during one of the musical highlights Wonderful.

Notable, too, are James Gillan as love-struck Munchkin Boq, Martin Ball as tragic Doctor Dillamond, and Katie Rowley Jones as Elphaba’s disabled sister Nessarose.

Joe Mantello’s direction is suitably slick and maintains a lively pace throughout the two and a half hour running time, capably mixing some grandstanding set pieces and a mechanical dragon with some quieter, more intimate moments.

A silent sequence between Elphaba and Glinda at a ball is utterly enchanting (and you could hear a pin drop) and works in stark contrast to the barnstorming finale that brings the curtain down in suitably satisfying style.

I must confess, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this production as much as I did. But Wicked won me over completely.

It truly offers a wonderful night at the theatre that’s capable of pleasing viewers of every age.

b>Buy tickets now

Wicked by Winnie Holzman (based on the novel by Gregory Maguire).
Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.
Directed by Joe Mantello.
Music arrangements by Alex Lacamoire and Stephen Oremus.
Dance arrangements by James Lynn Abbott.
Orchestrations by William David Brohn.
Lighting by Kenneth Posner.
Costumes by Susan Hilferty.

CAST: Idina Menzel; Helen Dallimore; Adam Garcia; Martin Ball; James Gillan; Katie Rowley Jones; Nogel Planer; Miriam Margoyles; Simon Adkins; Paul Ayres; Annalene Beechey; Elinor Collett; Joseph Connor; Nadine Cox; Sarah Earnshaw.

Booking at The Apollo Victoria Theatre until February 24, 2007.
Apollo Victoria, Wilton Road, SW1V ILG. Box office: 0870 400 0751.