Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Book: Winnie Holzman
Apollo Victoria Theatre
Review by Clive Burton
BEWITCHED BY A FRIEND OF DOROTHY
Whether you view Wicked as a charming fairy story or a parable for our own troubled times depends on your personal 'take' on this prequel to The Wizard of Oz.
Inspired by a book written by Gregory Maguire some 90 years after the original, this brilliantly-cast new Broadway show traces the back story of the protagonists in the original (1939) MGM movie.
In this latest incarnation it is basically a tale of two college girls attending a Hogwarts-style Academy presided over by Miriam Margolyes' bustling, pneumatically-bustled, Madame Morrible (a disarming cross between the steely gentility of Barbara Cartland and the appealing vulgarity of Mrs Slocombe).
The girls, Glinda and Elphaba, start out as rivals and end up bosom buddies, overcoming numerous misunderstandings, romantic entanglements and personal tragedies along the way until their roles as good and bad witches are reversed.
Wicked's monolithic Heath Robinson-style set extends into the auditorium and sandwiches a proscenium dominated by an animated, winged dragon and a map of Oz which is whisked away (to excited anticipatory applause) to reveal the skeletal insides of a giant timepiece.
Yet, despite its many disparate narrative threads (expertly woven together by Winnie Holzman), the key to the show - and its obsession with time - may perhaps be found in a line spoken by Elphaba, the wicked, green witch during her eventual encounter with her nemesis, The Wizard: 'I wanted to put back the clock.'
As Elphaba, Idina Menzel has been imported from Broadway to play the role she originated. Green, geeky and gauche, she is a be-spectacled outcast from the outset, rejected by her father and lacking the social and physical graces needed to succeed in the competitive college environment into which she is thrust with her crippled younger sister, Nessarose (affectingly played by Katie Rowley Jones, a fragrant worm who eventually turns).
Ms Menzel has a gloriously powerful voice which conveys every nuance of the hurt wariness and self-protectiveness the role initially demands, before assuming a manic mantle of absolute power to end the first act with a stunning vocal and visual coup de theatre - one of many in this enchanting show.
Her complex story is told in flashback by Glinda the Good, who arrives on stage on a pendulum surrounded by a cloud of bubbles. Helen Dallimore plays this egocentric airhead with winning charm and, like the rest of the perfect cast, is given every opportunity to shine by Director Joe Mantello (including a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek homage to Evita in the second-act balcony scene).
Glinda quickly finds her Prince Charming in an equally-vacuous and self-absorbed Fiyero, whose philosophy of 'dancing through life, skimming the surface' immediately marks him out as a fellow spirit; the dashing Adam Garcia establishes himself as a major star in this show, grabbing every opportunity in a role he helped develop in the 2002 NY workshop of the show.
Wicked has been tweaked considerably since it garnered mixed Broadway reviews on its opening: Wayne Cilento's sympathetic musical staging helps each actor develop a truly individual character through movement, while the use of standard English - and Scottish - pronunciation (as opposed to faux-American) is universal by everyone except Ms Menzel and Nigel Planer (an excellent Presidential-style Wizard).
As neither Harry Potter nor The Lord of the Rings exerts any personal fascination for me, I feared that Wicked might exhibit a similar tweeness. But, while teenage audiences may latch on to Wicked's obvious tunefulness, the accessibility of its lyrics (both by Stephen Schwartz) and its appealingly-drawn and extravagantly-costumed, characters (scenic design by Eugene Lee and costumes by Susan Hilferty), others will take pleasure in pursuing such deeper elements as the nature of truth and the place of the thinking individual within a thoughtless, hostile environment.
On the night I visited, the audience was roof-raisingly vociferous in its appreciation of this dazzling show and its generous and universally-talented performers. I only wish that, as the next generation of theatregoers, they could have enjoyed the frisson of hearing Schwartz's beautiful and melodic score played by a Broadway-sized pit orchestra with a full string section and a preponderance of non-synthesised instruments.
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes, including a 20 minute interval.
The full new cast from Monday 23 July 2018 is confirmed as: Alice Fearn (Elphaba), Sophie Evans (Glinda), David Witts (Fiyero), Melanie La Barrie (Madame Morrible), Andy Hockley (The Wizard), Chris Jarman (Doctor Dillamond), Rosa O’Reilly (Nessarose), Jack Lansbury (Boq), Laura Pick (Standby for Elphaba), Carina Gillespie & Maria Coyne* (Standby for Glinda), Jennie Abbotts, Meg Astin, Rebecca Botterill, Nicole Carlisle, Conor Crown, Jonathan David Dudley, Lewis Easter, Kerry Enright, Aimée Fisher, André Fabien Francis, Chris George, Tom Andrew Hargreaves, Maggie Lynne, Carl Man, Rhidian Marc, James McHugh, Ellie Mitchell, Sam Robinson, Scott Sutcliffe, Genevieve Taylor, Paulo Teixeira, Samantha Thomas, Libby Watts, Bryony Whitfield, Chiarina Woodall and Tom Woollaston. *Maternity cover.