It is never with trepidation that someone enters a theatre to see Wicked. We all know what’s coming – a touching musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz. And this touring company did not disappoint, with their rendition of the show last week at the Bristol Hippodrome.
For those who don’t know the uplifting tale – based on the novel by Gregory Maguire – it centres around green-skinned Elphaba, more familiar to some as The Wicked Witch of the West, and the book turns the original story firmly on its head. Named after the initials of the author of The Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum, perceptions of Elphaba are entirely quashed throughout the tale as she is shown to be a fearless character with morality, always willing to help others.
From the outset of the production the audience are made aware of Elphaba’s demise, and over the course of the tale we learn of her time at Shiz University with Glinda, her sister Nessa-Rose, Doctor Dillamond, and the infamous Wonderful Wizard; during which time she encounters friendship, love, betrayal and injustice, all through plentiful musical numbers.
— Wicked UK (@WickedUK) February 24, 2015
In the original Broadway show the role of Elphaba was played by Idina Menzel; singing on the soundtrack she has now become almost synonymous with the character and its main hit ‘Defying Gravity’. But Ashleigh Gray really shone as the green witch, having understudied the role on the West End for many years prior to the tour. As such, Gray is an old hand at playing Elphaba, but she certainly didn’t let it show. Instead, she gave enough energy and gusto to make it seem like her first ever performance.
Emily Tierney had the right amount of charisma, charm and humour to excel as Glinda, the pink and bubbly antithesis to Elphaba. ‘Popular’ is one of Wicked’s most popular songs, and plenty of laughs erupted from the audience at the entire debacle. Her on-screen chemistry with Fiyero (Will Knights) was a joy to watch, particularly her discussions with ‘Elfie’ about him, revealing that she and her new beau are to be married, only he doesn’t actually know it yet.
Knights did a sterling job throughout, particularly during Fiyero’s entering number ‘Dancing Through Life’, keeping up the energy and enthusiasm for the song’s duration. He was incredibly believable as the university student learning to view life from another angle with a little help from Glinda and Elphaba.
Away from the acting on stage, the band were also fantastic, headed up by conductor Amy Shackcloth. At times the overpowering beat of the instruments did diminish some of the singing into high-pitched squeaks though, as the actors strained to be heard over the noise.
By seeing Wicked you can never really go wrong, as the plot makes up for any misdemeanours elsewhere. When first watching the musical you can’t help but think that Maguire must have realised he had missed a trick; for anyone who has read the book and seen the musical you will know how there are vast differences between the two, with the storyline of the musical probably the most favourable.
Without wanting to give away any spoilers to those who have yet to see the stage show, some great references are made to its source material The Wizard of Oz, incorporating how well-loved characters including the cowardly lion, the tin man and the scarecrow came to be, as well as even suggesting the reason for Dorothy’s visit to Oz in the first place.
Wicked is a light-hearted entertainment piece that comes thoroughly recommended and will probably leave you with a tear in your eye come the finale, but aside from its light fluffiness, it does have its own moral to tell: no matter how much goodness is within us there is a touch of wickedness to us all.
Visit www.wickedthemusical.co.uk for tickets and more information about the show.
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