Wicked has been running in the West End for over 12 years, defying critics as well as gravity, despite some lukewarm reviews when it first opened. You can see why. It’s a big budget extravaganza with fans who keep going back, time and time again.
Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, the show explores the untold story of the Witches of Oz. You find out why one of them became wicked whilst the other is sweet natured. We are dealing with stereotypes here, so good witch Glinda lives for shoes, bubbles and getting wed. By contrast, Elphaba, the witch who becomes bad, lives for books and science.
My take on it is that Glinda is really Barbie who meets a Ken doll (called Fiyero here) and befriends a goth (Elphaba) whom she takes against because she has individuality and a personality.
She tries to make her over in true romcom style. But when this doesn’t really work, her new friend feels that she does not fit in, follows her own path, becomes angry and eventually wicked.
I have reduced it down and there are also some soap opera-style twists long the way which would suit the new reboot of Dynasty on Netflix. And for any friends of Dorothy, the pig-tailed farm girl from Kansas is talked about and has a couple of cameos. But this is all about the witches.
Sometimes it’s great to have an evil character without the need to explain why. Darth Vader became boring when he was portrayed as a moody teen skulking around a CGI-filled world because you enjoy watching him being mean to people.
So for me the Wicked Witch of the West is best when she is on a broomstick surrounded by flying monkeys threatening Dorothy and Toto. Instead, here we have Glinda explaining her loyalty to the ‘moody one’ by saying “We were at uni together!” The show is played with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and it helps to know The Wizard of Oz as there are plenty of jokes aimed at fans of the book and the film.
But why is the show, in the words of one Glinda’s songs, so Pop-u-lar? Well, it’s a great- looking show, with plenty of awe and wonder. The props, set design and costumes are stunning and you can see where the money has gone.
There are a handful of stand out songs. The one everyone clearly waits for is Defying Gravity, which is delivered with genuine power and emotion by the wonderful Amy Ross as Elphaba. She also sings the hell out of the brilliant No Good Deed.
The good versus ‘am I evil or misunderstood’ storyline gives you easy to read characters, very similar to tabloid representations of Meghan and Kate. One is different, so let’s pick on her.
Helen Woolf manages to make Glinda’s truly annoying behaviour funny and engaging because of the sheer force of her personality. Aaron Sidwell is dashing and plays the part of Fiyero knowing that it is all silly good-hearted fun.
Iddon Jones is saddled with the awful part of Boq and the running joke is that Glinda keeps calling him Bic. Again, the gifted actor gives more than he is given to work with in an underwritten part. The Wizard is played with geeky glee by Steven Pinder and Emily Shaw does well with the earnest Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister. Kim Ismay fills her Madame Morrible with panto-esque stares and booms in her voice and engages you throughout.
The ensemble and swings are all fantastic and they fill the stage with colour and athleticism at every turn. The show dazzles and gives you what you came for. But for me, it does not lift you in a way that Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz can. For its fans, however, it’s still wicked.
Wicked is at The Palace Theatre until 5th January 2019.