Thursday, 20 November 2014

Bonus Review: Wicked

Image (poorly) reproduced from the souvenir brochure photography by Matt Crockett

Based on the wonderful book by Gregory Maguire, Wicked is a story all about the life and times of the Wicked Witch Of The West, that famous movie villain. The book is full of great ideas, both thought-provoking and quite disturbing. The live musical show, on the other hand, takes the essence of the tale and manages to skip over many of the darker elements. There's a fair bit of comedy here. And, of course, some decent songs.

There's not much else to say about the main storyline. Elphaba (the green one) and Glinda (the good fairy) meet when young, don't get along, and then eventually become friends. The fun comes from seeing the pieces being put in place to turn them into the characters that most people already know. What will turn Elphaba truly wicked? How will Glinda become the Good Fairy if she's not even studying any spellcasting? When will Oz become home to winged monkeys? And will any bad weather bring along a Kansas farmhouse?

It's a fairytale, light-hearted and fun, for the most part, but also not without one or two moments that come very close to providing audience members with the stuff of nightmares (although, personally, I think it's still suitable for most kids - say 8+).

The production values here are all top notch, with the set design and costumes often eye-poppingly gorgeous. Eugene Lee, Susan Hilferty, Kenneth Posner, Elaine J. McCarthy and the rest of the team all collaborate to ensure that the snippets of Oz shown to the audience are unforgettable. Director Joe Mantello must feel privileged indeed, to be at the helm of such a great success (there was never any doubt amongst the audience I was a part of that the production wasn't going to receive a standing ovation at the end of the show). The music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz may not be the most instantly memorable, but they worm their way into your brain thanks to great orchestration and a nice mix of verbal dexterity, at times, and emotional force. "No One Mourns The Wicked" is a solid start, and makes for a nice opener that can also be reprised later, but things really start to pick up when Elphaba belts out "The Wizard And I". The next song, "Dancing Through Life", is also a good one, but "Popular" then comes along, proving to be the most, well, popular of the lot. Other highlights include "I'm Not That Girl", "Defying Gravity", "Wonderful", "No Good Deed" and "For Good". In fact, the only song I didn't really like was "As Long As You're Mine" - just a bit TOO slow and sappy for me, although many others seemed to enjoy the slight romantic interlude.

And here is the bit I always worry about, when reviewing/blogging about live theatre. The cast. It can be difficult to tell who is who, especially in a production like this one (with a fair bit of extra make up on some of the main players), so I'll cross my fingers and hope that I praise the right people here. IF there were any changes to the show then please, please let me know. Ashleigh Gray and Emily Tierney are the ladies playing, respectively, Elphaba and Glinda, and both are fantastic. Powerful, amazing voices are supported by fun, physical performances. Tierney gets most of the best lines, but that's fair enough - her character has to work slightly harder to keep the audience on her side. Samuel Edwards is the main man, Fiyero, who catches the eye of Glinda. And also Elphaba. Edwards may not have a voice quite as powerful as his leading ladies, but he warms up nicely after an unsteady start, and quicky becomes another character you look forward to seeing onstage. Carina Gillespie is Nessarose (Elphaba's wheelchair-bound sister), Marilyn Cutts is Madame Morrible, and Steven Pinder is the (wonderful) Wizard himself. All do fine work, as does Richard Vincent, playing a beleaguered munchkin named Boq.

The music, the colours, the jokes, the themes explored. This is one helluva show. Even the transitions from one scene to the next are incredibly smooth, and I know this may seem like a very dull thing to point out, with different stage elements gliding in and out at different times without interrupting the flow or rhythm of the performances.

Go and see it whenever you get the chance.


Tickets are available here.

CD anyone? Americans only, and UK peeps can look here.

Image (yes, poorly again) reproduced from cover of Wicked souvenir brochure.

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