Review: ‘Wicked’ @ Apollo Victoria

For a second time, I was spellbound by ‘Wicked’ as it whizzed through the untold story of the witches of Oz.

It all starts with the stunning set and intense performance of the Chorus, ensuring you’re not left out of their celebrations after the defeat of the Wicked Witch of the West. Glinda (Savannah Stevenson) was stellar; her stereotypical pretty girl performance was hilarious and touching as she became less self-involved, complimenting Elphaba’s journey to seeing the prejudices haunting others as well as herself. Jennifer DiNoia was superb as the Wicked Witch, her vocals were spectacular and her acting was even better than that. I have to be honest, my heart still belongs to Rachel Tucker from my first experience of ‘Wicked’, but that’s not to say DiNoia was incomplete or lacking, there was just something utterly magical about Tucker that I think would be hard to replace in anyone’s mind.

Always undermentioned, whether from the original performance or other reviews from later on, is Fiyero. Jeremy Taylor was convincing as the arrogant student, and his transformation was subtle enough to be believable – he never seemed to fully understand why he was acting as he was, but his impulsiveness accounted for that. Likewise, the Wizard (Martyn Ellis) and Madame Morrible (Liza Sadovy) were brilliant in their supporting roles. It hit me as a tragedy last time and this that Nessa Rose is underused, Katie Rowley Jones was tragically beautiful and convincingly tormented, and her voice was amazing, and through the script rather than choice she lacks the chance to really shine, which is a real shame – she’s one to look out for when she moves on to a new role.

So it was one fine day in the emerald theatre as Wicked continued its spellbinding effects – long may it continue to hold court at the Apollo Victoria!

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I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you:

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend:
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you

I have been changed for good.

 

Review: ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Macguire

After seeing the musical ‘Wicked’, I felt I owed it to Gregory Macguire to read his prequel to ‘The Wizard Of Oz’, and asked my friend to lend me his copy. He seemed reluctant to give me it, and now I know why: ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ is one of the hardest things I’ve ever slogged through.

Credit where credit is due, I kept with it in a desperate attempt to see where Macguire’s story would take flight. Unfortunately this was never to be, and his version of Oz’ remained as unsteady as Elphaba’s own escapades on her broom. Gone were the powerful women who showed that good and evil were choices encountered by all. These strong characters were replaced with an absolute characature of good, doing so only for her own public benefits, and an awkward girls whose animal (sorry, Animal) activism led to the apparent demise of an empire. While the musical ties everything up in a neat bow, the randomness of the story is too much to bear when considering it’s origins: where was the threatening wicked witch when Dorothy’s gale blew her into Kansas? And just how did the wizard bring the Grimmerie to Oz’ when he wasn’t magical, but just mortal? The only promising section was Madam Morrible’s declaration that the young Glinda, Nessarose and Elphaba’s could be assigned geographically opposing posts, but even the promising beginnings at Shiz failed to grow into a fully developed storyline. The lack of depth left the tale two dimensional, and thus unable to resonate with readers.

Even a character like Elphaba, who could have been a major connection to readers, fell short of expectations. She never gained any power, she killed a near-dead woman maliciously yet without actually adding to the ‘wicked’ premise or serving the greater cause we’re vaguely aware of, and essentially became a weak woman in the face of male characters. With the haunting presence of a lacklustre Fiyero and essentially driven by a lack of paternal affection, Elphaba failed to be radical enough to capture our hearts as part of her cause, instead thinking but never doing, making the supposed death of her an absolute joke. Similarly, using Dorothy as a pawn instead of a saviour reduced her from an unaware yet dominating individual to an unknown entity incapable of resisting a lovely tea with an apparently murderous witch. None of it adds up, and subsequently our image feels tainted.

The biggest irritant, though, was the absolutely unneccessary and utterly disgusting sexualised imagery used throughout. Associating Dorothy, who is only supposed to be a young teen, with the notion of being kidnapped by the Gale Force for ‘sport’ was revolting, and while I see that this was hoped to provide the darker and more grown up imagery, all it really left was a vile taste in the mouth. It wasn’t needed to enhance the story or move the plot, it was just a shock factor ploy, with no meaning beyond brutality, and while the politics of the novel may demand darker tones, it could have been subtle nuances instead of in-your-face brashness.

You know what? In short, go and see the musical. It provides the undertones of a disparate political climate without compromising Baum’s original and wonderful world of Oz’.

Review: ‘Wicked’ @ the London Apollo Victoria Theatre

Well, who hasn’t got an opinion on ‘Wicked’? And more importantly, who hasn’t raved about it?

So we might have been up high enough to get a nosebleed, but our view was still pretty spectacular, and meant we could see the entire stage without too many head turns whenever the action changed place. The acoustics weren’t fantastic, but the principle actors made up for this in their pure ability (disincluding Fiyero’s slight slip on a high note in ‘Dancing Through Life’). ¬†This was particularly seen in Rachel Tucker’s (Elphaba) spectacular vocals in ‘Defying Gravity’, which essentially had me in tears because it was so brilliantly done. Tucker was definitely the strongest vocal performance in the show in my opinion, but the chemistry between her and Louise Dearman (Glinda) and Lewis Bradley (standing in for Lee Mead as Fiyero) made the show come alive.

The storyline itself, as my friend commented during the interval, would not be as spectacular without the right cast and musical numbers to make it sparkle. Indeed, who would be able to see past Glinda’s initial self-absorbed nature without ‘Popular’ showing her to want to bring out the best in people? And the reprise of ¬†‘No One Mourns the Wicked’ at the end after we’ve seen Elpheba’s tragic story unfold ensures we realise the extent of the misunderstanding Madame Morrible (Julie Legrand) imposes upon the Oz-ians. Likewise, the stagecraft enabled the story to become more spectacular, particularly the beautiful Emerald City and the terrifying outer mask of the Wizard.

The most fascinating part of the story, undoubtedly, was the development of the origins for the characters from ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and I personally thought the Lion’s back-story was by far the cleverest invention, and the only one I didn’t see coming. The only thing that bothered me was that, in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, Elpheba sets the Scarecrow on fire – why on earth would she do that to the man she loved?

By far, the best songs for me were ‘What is this Feeling?’ and the infamous ‘Defying Gravity’, which allowed the female leads to combine their powerful voices to build upon the melody and produce an overwhelming emotional response. Tucker gave a slightly husky quality to the high notes in ‘Defying Gravity’ which contrasted immensely with the gentle tones she used in ‘The Wizard and I’, and later on in ‘As Long As You’re Mine’, showing both her range and vocal abilities at their finest.

The supporting cast, as in any production, were crucial in ensuring the performance was wholly wonderful, and Boq (George Ure) was especially notable in his heartfelt performance, and his anger at his metallic fate was critical in understanding why Elpheba continued to be misunderstood and why the situation was outside Glinda’s control.

Wicked was an entirely fabulous experience, and one I would definitely repeat. The cast were stunning, the sets and costumes were beautifully designed, and the venue meant that even the cheaper seats didn’t miss out on the action. I hope to have a wicked time again in the near future.

http://www.seatplan.co.uk/london/apollo-theatre/