After seven years, 5 million visitors, over 90 awards, and breaking Broadway, ‘Wicked’ is still going strong at London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre. It tells the tale of two unlikely friends – Glinda and Elphaba – who meet as sorcery students, but whose paths change after encountering the infamous Wizard of Oz. This is the untold story of how the two witches of Oz became known as good and evil… or as some like to say, ‘wicked’.
One cannot review such an incredible show without giving credit to the outstanding cast, whose voices make the music the success it is today, whilst entertaining audiences of thousands. Gina Beck as Glinda was as bubbly and blonde as needed, but captured the edge within the character well. Similarly, Louise Dearman’s Elphaba was the perfect counterpart, her green hue belying her truly golden voice and presence onstage. And of course, not forgetting Fiyero, the prince of the play, who was made strong and a little less dim by Ben Freeman, and Gemma Atkins produced a Nessarose to be loved and hated all in one breath.
Not only is the acting superb, the set phenomenal, and the costumes (Susan Hilferty) intricately and lovingly detailed, but the quality of the music is a force to be reckoned with. Songs such as ‘Defying Gravity’ (https://soundcloud.com/wickeduk/defying-gravity) have become so well-known that many know and love them without having seen the show in full. Indeed, many will have become familiar with these songs through programmes such as ‘Glee’, who quickly took hold of their growing influence. This ability to produce popular music stemming from the stage is both admirable and powerful, expressing the true skill and talent of Stephen Schwartz who composed the music and lyrics.
As a whole, ‘Wicked’ has been the winner of 6 ‘Best Musical’ awards, as well as The Grammy® Award for Best Musical Show Album, to name just a few of their achievements. As such, they now have a UK and Ireland tour starting in Manchester in September 2013, bringing their vision to even more audiences across the country. What makes the show so successful is it appeals to the whole family; the music is memorable and leaves you humming for days after leaving the theatre. Whilst songs such as ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ (https://soundcloud.com/wickeduk/as-long-as-youre-mine) contain elements that would likely be above the heads of many of the children in the audience, they provide a new layer that adults appreciate and connect with.
It’s not just about good music and catchy tunes however – the key to musical success is creating a spectacle on stage that leaves spectators in awe of the complexity, style, and creativity. Every song and reprise has its own flavour and emotion that oozes over the heads of the orchestra and into the stalls, coming together with brilliant choreography (James Lynn Abbott) and lighting (Kenneth Posner). But it’s important to note that they were not afraid to have just one actor centre stage at times, enhancing their own presence and bringing the focus back to the words and melodies being created by those individuals. This has a remarkable impact on its own, stripped back somewhat to the actor and dry ice. The show wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is today if they were unable to pull this off, as well as the large ensemble numbers.
Whilst London is always awash with glitzy posters, banners, and advertisements for the countless musicals throughout its streets, there is one that people are continually coming back to, that is making its way into popular culture, and influencing children and adults alike. You cannot get away from the standard of this production, nor can you forget the tunes that take hold of your imagination. ‘Wicked’ is undeniably a theatrical and musical triumph, one that is not to be missed or underestimated. Make sure you take time to catch it in London, or keep an eye out for the upcoming tour this Autumn.
This piece was written for the Stag, Issue 60, available from 29th May and viewable here.