“There’s a kind of a sort of: cost
There’s a couple of things get: lost”
Now entering its eighth year at the Apollo Victoria, Wicked remains one of the major go-to shows in London’s West End, beloved of fans and tourists alike. A major UK tour has just started to great reviews in Manchester, demonstrating the wide appeal of this prequel-of-sorts to the events in The Wizard of Oz but with a major cast-change fast approaching, the London production feels like it is missing a little of that emerald sparkle that has made it such an enduring success.
I’ve seen the show twice before (reviews here and here) and so perhaps there’s an element of familiarity breeding contempt but I do have a fondness for Stephen Schwartz’s score and you gotta love a story that puts female friendship so firmly at the centre (many may mock the musical but how many long-running plays are there that do the same…). It was just hard to shake the feeling that maybe some people were a little demob-happy, or even maybe that the production is resting on its laurels a tad.
It’s not overtly obvious – the first-timers next to me had a whale of a time – and the performance levels were generally strong. Louise Dearman’s Elphaba may strain a little hard at times to put her own quick-spoken stamp on the famous songs, often at the expense of lyrical clarity, but she captures much of the vivacity of a young woman growing into her powers. And if Gina Beck’s relentless perkiness didn’t tick my boxes, her powerful soprano makes Glinda an equally potent force.
Ben Freeman’s Fiyero felt woefully miscast though, his vocal performance just not up to par, his dancing ill at ease amongst the talented company – it’s rare that someone in so major a role feels so out of his depth but that’s really how it came across. Katie Rowley-Jones and Sam Lupton as Nessarose and Boq, both staying with the show, were good though and old friend of the show Harriet Thorpe is good value as Madame Morrible. But that joie de vivre that ought to sing from every corner of the stage rarely manifested itself, those moments of grand emotion that make a truly great musical only giving me the goose-bumps once.
Can a show reinvigorate itself eight years in? Does it actually need to or is it just the view from my jaded eyes? That’s the task that faces the creative team, or otherwise, as Willemijn Verkaik and Savannah Stevenson take on the lead roles in November. One may argue that a fresh and new take isn’t necessary, that that is what the touring production can actually provide right now, but I can’t help but feel that something needs to be done if the show is to last for another eight years.