It’s hard to believe that 13 years ago when Wicked first landed on the West End, it was subject to a number of bad reviews. Now admired by many as a West End classic and a staple of the London theatre scene, Wicked continues to renew its contract in the Apollo Victoria theatre and wow audiences forever more (or at least until May 2020…)
If you happen to be new to musical theatre, or have lived under a rock for the last 13 years, Wicked is a reimagining of the beloved characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and reveals the decisions and events that shape the destinies of two unlikely University friends on their journey to becoming Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West. Think of it as a sort of prequel to the well-known Dorothy story, but less twee.
Having seen Wicked previously when it toured the UK, it’s tough to view this set-in-stone production with fresh – and equally judgemental – eyes. It’s so easy to get sucked into the magic and it also doesn’t help that the entire production screams five stars, from the set design to the costumes right through to the dressing of the theatre itself. I took my boyfriend with me who had never seen the show before (yes, they still exist) to ensure this wonderful show hadn’t lost its magic….
Everyone deserves the chance to fly
I have to say I enjoyed my return trip to Oz, mainly because of the sensational performance of Laura Pick as Elphaba. Laura is the standby for Alice Fearn, who I believe was off getting married when we went to the show. Whilst this night was not Laura’s first performance, this run in Wicked does mark her West End debut, and boy does she know how to make an entrance! There’s no pressure quite like starring as Elphaba in Wicked. The part is not only coveted but brazenly anticipated, judged and worshipped. Idina Menzel, who originated the role on Broadway back in 2003, set the bar incredibly high for how Elphaba could be portrayed and also set her career into defying gravity territory as well (I had to get a pun in there somewhere, sorry). For me, Laura Pick is everything Elphaba should be and coupled with the sickly sweet Glinda played by Sophie Evans, the pair soar through the score effortlessly, with ‘For Good’ naturally making me tear up as usual.
Sophie Evans does deserve a mention of her own here too. I think a lot of emphases is placed on the casting of Elphaba and Glinda is usually a second thought – but the almost operatic high notes that Evans has to hit night after night, show after show really is something. She nailed the perfect princess attitude of Act One Glinda, but with enough emotion and vulnerability that you just had to fall in love with her.
Wicked straddles the threshold of so many genres that it can be hard to describe it to someone who hasn’t seen it or listened to the soundtrack. The score flits between rock, ballad and light opera all laced through with that mystical Schwartz melody to create something truly magical and unlike any other musical I’ve ever seen or heard. You can listen to the soundtrack alone and be transported to the Emerald City almost immediately. However, it’s the live vocals which keep audiences hooked night after night. Harmonies are layered artistically and belted loudly while ribbons twirl, exotic costumes glint and a dragon shakes his head and puffs smoke above your head. When it all comes together, it’s really quite a spectacle.
I don’t really have much to critique about Wicked to be honest, which is why it will always be one of my favourite musicals but one thing I will say is that the female roles are played by only the most elite women UK musical theatre has to offer, and yet their male co-stars are always, well, underwhelming….
It sounds harsh I know, but both on the tour run last year and in this production, I felt the male vocal just didn’t match up to the power of Elphaba and Glinda. Unfortunately for David Witts, who was playing Fiyero, he was simply out-performed by Laura Evans in ‘As Long As You’re Mine’. At times it did sound like perhaps he was really struggling to get the notes out and in that song in particular, it was a shame to hear him struggling.
Overall, I think Wicked will always hold a special place in my heart and this performance did it justice. Despite not being too keen on Fiyero’s character, I loved the current cast and the little quirks and personal touches they all brought to the roles. There’s a reason why Wicked continues to draw in sell-out audiences – it’s pure magic, spectacle and wonder!