“I’ll be so happy I could melt”
As with last year, which saw my first ever trip to Wicked, the first thing that I booked from the Get Into London Theatre website when it launched was a return trip to the Apollo Victoria. As Mr Boycotting Trends had never seen it before and was so desirous, I booked and managed to get rather good stalls seats for £35. Ironically, lastminute currently have a similar promotion on which is something of a rarity for this show but it is a great opportunity to get good seats for a not-quite-as-eyewatering price.
So I returned to Oz (although not as in Return To Oz, the film that was responsible for several recurring nightmares I had as a child but seriously, someone should make a show of that) to see the story of Elphaba and Glinda, 2 girls whose destinies to be the witches of Oz are not quite as clear-cut as one might think as an unlikely but deep bond develops between them. Knowing the story this time round meant that the surprise element of the way the show fits into The Wizard of Oz’s mythology was lost but it just meant that I appreciated the main thrust of the story more and admired both the message of tolerance for those who are ‘different’ that it preaches and the frankness with which the messiness and complexity of friendship is portrayed here. And I think this last point is key to its enduring success, there’s something so recognisable in the frustrations both women have with the other that is borne out of true friendship.
I have to admit to being disappointed when we found out that Louise Dearman was off as Glinda and that we were getting the understudy, Lucy Newton, but Newton was extremely good with a very confident performance. Her acting was strong throughout, with the comedy bits not being too over-pronounced (despite a passing resemblance to Amy Poehler) and her singing, which started well, grew in confidence to really deliver the goods in the final scenes. I should also probably admit to having a bit of a dislike for Rachel Tucker, based purely on the way she came across on the BBC’s I’d Do Anything. To me, she is so much of a powerhouse that there’s no room for subtlety in her singing or performance, not that Elphaba is a particularly subtle role, but in a rare quiet song like ‘I’m Not That Girl’, I just didn’t get any real emotion from her, I find her occasionally soulless. But it does have to be said that she has a mighty voice and can belt impressively with the best of them and her chemistry with Lee Mead’s Fiyero was strong with a superb rendition of ‘As Long As You’re Mine’.
Mead was good in what really is quite a small role, but rightly so as the love story is only a sub-plot in the grand narrative. He danced and sang well, his hair is a thing of wonder and the shallow part of me thought he looked really rather good in his riding boots. Clive Carter as The Wizard and Aileen Donohoe, filling in for Julie LeGrand as Madame Morrible were both solid and whilst I really liked Cassandra Compton’s Nessarose, it feels like too small a part for her immense talent which doesn’t really get to shine through sufficiently here. But as with Tucker, I bring my preconceptions here.
So something of a guilty pleasure and I’m not sure that I will revisit the show that often to be honest (in the way Avenue Q and Les Mis have featured and will continue to feature in my life), but Wicked really is a spectacular experience that continues to pack its cast with talent to ensure its never-ending massive crowds and über-fans are not disappointed.