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Review: Wicked the Musical - Apollo Victoria Theatre

By Laura Blake

Posted: 8th May 2014 15:11

Everyone knows the story of Dorothy, the little girl who flew over the rainbow and crash landed in Oz.  Befriending scarecrows and tin men and skipping along a road of yellow brick, she is unwittingly drawn into battle with the Wicked Witch of the West and teaches us all that good always triumphs over evil.

But what if evil wasn’t evil? Wicked, the hit musical that first took Broadway by storm in 2003, imagines what life might have been like in Oz before Dorothy turns up and causes havoc – and, more importantly, tells the story of the unlikely friendship between two sorcery students who meet at university.  The first, Glinda, is popular, sugary sweet and as vain as she is blonde.  The second girl? Elphaba is shy, misunderstood and…green.  How did one end up so good? And why was the other so hated and feared?

In residence at the Apollo Victoria Theatre since 2006, Elphaba, Glinda and crew put on a spell binding performance that will change your perception of L.F Baum’s classic children’s novel forever.  But as an ardent fan of the 1939 filmThe Wizard of Oz, I couldn’t help wondering what Wicked would do to that beloved story.  As we took our seats in the theatre, I was immediately impressed with the set; a mechanical dragon’s head loomed over the stage which cleverly resembled the inner works of a giant clock (later becoming the playground for a group of howling, acrobatic flying monkeys.)  The show began with a high level of energy and a burst of colour which lasted until the curtain fell – numbers such as ‘What is this Feeling?’ and ‘Popular’ had me dancing in my seat, whilst the vocal power of Willemijn Verkaik (Elsa the Snow Queen, Cars) as Elphaba was more impressive than any magic spell could ever hope to be.  She transformed from vulnerable loner into a powerful force to be feared with nothing more than an effortless flick of her cape, providing  the perfect balance to Glinda’s (played by the incredibly talented Savannah Stevenson) saccharine smiles. 

Both Verkaik and Stevenson ( and I was seriously in envy of her wardrobe) managed to effectively portray loathing turned to love as unlikely friends who join forces, whilst a comedic element was brought to the show thanks to the talents of Martyn Ellis and Sam Lupton, playing The Wizard and Munchkin Boq, respectively.  Supported by an excellent ensemble cast, the entire show was a slick, feel good performance that kept everyone in the audience on their toes. 

Underneath a somewhat clichéd story of adversity, friendship and true love is a subtle yet refreshing  undertone of equal rights and what happens when good people are punished for doing the right thing.  Wicked also manages to ingeniously weave Dorothy’s story, a tale we all thought we knew, into the plot – did you ever wonder just why the Wicked Witch wears such a distinctive hat? You’ll need to keep a sharp ear out, because the clues are all there! You’ll never watch The Wizard of Oz the same way again – but after seeing such a stellar performance, I realised that is a definitely good thing. 

For more information about Wicked in London or the current UK tour, visit the website.

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