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Wicked, Palace Theatre, Reviewed

Joan Davies enjoys it at the School of Witches

Published on September 18th 2013.


Wicked, Palace Theatre, Reviewed
 

THE award-winning and highly popular musical Wicked starts its two-year UK tour at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. There’s plenty to enjoy.

‘Wicked’ is writer Gregory Maguire’s different imagining of the story of the witches from L Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz characters, immortalized in the Judy Garland film. Basing a musical on a film we’ve all watched as children, and then watched again and again as adults is a great commercial and story-telling starting point for building an audience.

There are very strong messages about how we treat people who we see as different.  Intriguingly for a musical it also has something to say about how easily distrust and hatred can be spread by a smear campaign

With its focus on the sometimes uncertain line between good and evil and the mismatch of reality and perception Wicked strikes chords with its audience over and over again. Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?

We already know the two witches, Glinda the Good, and Elphaba, ‘the wicked witch of the west’.

Wicked_UK_%26#38%3B_Ireland_Tour_Nikki-Davis_Jones_%28Elphaba%29_Credit_Matthew_Crockett_7241[1]

Nikki-Davis Jones, Elphaba. Picture: Matthew Crockett

Elphaba has the misfortune to be born green, and isn’t really wicked at all. Glinda has the misfortune to be born privileged, beautiful and wealthy, and she isn’t quite so naturally good all the time. Spoilt and shallow would be a better description.

The tale starts at a familiar stage: the wicked witch is dead, and the citizens of Oz are celebrating in dance and song. We then jump back in time to childhood: Elphaba’s upbringing, and the meeting of the two witches at sorcery school, a setting familiar enough from a different film. After an entertaining encounter Elphaba and Glinda replace their mutual loathing with friendship, but the fairytale sours and soon we’re back to ‘wicked-witch’ baiting.

The ensemble work is superb, a great strength of the production, with clear vocals, sharp direction and natural movement and dance moving the story on or passing commentary on the action. Their costumes are stunning, particularly in the Emerald City scene.

The leads are strong. Emily Tierney as Glinda has a captivatingly sweet voice of impressive range and clarity. Glinda often says one thing, but means something else, and Emily Tierney delivers this with great comedic effect. Nikki Davis-Jones as Elphaba has the raw deal on the costume and make-up side but she takes the audience with her as she develops her skills at sorcery school and beyond and uses them for good.

The set does the job, lighting is effective and the special effects worthwhile. Costumes are fabulous, particularly in the Emerald City scene. They’re so good you can say it twice.

Wicked_UK_%26#38%3B_Ireland_Tour_Emily_Tierney_%28Glinda%29_Credit_Matthew_Crockett_MCR_5835[1]

Emily Tierney, Glinda, Picture: Matthew Crockett

It’s certainly a popular show, with a worldwide audience of over 37 million and a UK audience of 5 million. Its UK tour opening in Manchester (where else would suit?) will undoubtedly do well. It deserves to.

It’s a modern musical with timeless themes.  It has a strong fanbase, with thousands attending multiple shows. At Press Night it sounded as if a good few were in the audience, greeting Elphaba’s first appearance with a tremendous cheer of welcome, and knowing where to laugh.

There’s  a strong focus on the trials of teenage years, friendships, romance, rivalry and the pain of feeling different, thereby attracting its large following of teenage girls and young women, a few lads too.

There are very strong messages about how we treat people who we see as different.  Intriguingly for a musical it also has something to say about how easily distrust and hatred can be spread by a smear campaign and the corrupting possibilities of power. It’s the only musical I’ve ever heard refer to regime change. The show premiered in 2003.

The national tour is guaranteed to be a hit and require early booking. It’s a super-strong production with a few weaknesses at the heart. There are plenty of twists and turns in the story, unpredictable and intriguing at times. You do warm to Elphaba, and often to Glinda too, and the comedy never entirely disappears, but I found myself towards the end more interested in how they would interweave the familiar and unfamiliar stories than the fate of the characters.

Stephen Schwartz’s songs are loved by many of the fanbase.  I most enjoyed Wonderful a Broadway-style number delivered with aplomb by Dale Rapley’s ethically-challenged Wizard, and was highly entertained by the ensemble pieces, but most numbers lack a staying power, even after a brief Spotify recap.

If you’ve got teenage daughters or nieces and want an opportunity to discuss role-models, or even regime change, I’d recommend a viewing. Just hope that their role model isn’t the early-model Glinda.  

Wicked is at The Palace Theatre until Saturday 16th November and then touring nationally

 Wicked_UK_%26#38%3B_Ireland_Tour_Liam_Doyle_%28Fiyero%29_Credit_Matthew_Crockett_6787[1]

 

Liam Doyle, Fiyero. Picture: Matthew Crockett

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Cyn TheaSeptember 19th 2013.

Excellent production - loved this

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