‘Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them…?’
Fellow Ozians, a couple of weeks ago I was kindly invited along to watch the West End and Broadway hit musical, Wicked.
Home for four weeks at Bristol’s Hippodrome, I made my way to the theatre last Thursday evening with eager anticipation. I’ve wanted to see it for so long so you can imagine my excitement as I made my way up the emerald green carpet. A musical I had heard so many great things about yet hadn’t found the opportunity to see it for myself, my expectations going in were high. In fact, I felt I already knew the show so well just from listening to the soundtrack on repeat!
My friend and I soon found ourselves in the Piano Bar with a cheeky drink, and with half an hour until the show was due to start we had a read through the programme to familiarise ourselves with the actors.
In case you are unfamiliar with this popular musical (firstly, how? Secondly, go watch it now!) it tells the untold story of the Witches of Oz. Based on Gregory Maguire’s novel ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ that is inspired by ‘The Wizard of Oz’, we learn about Glinda The Good’s unlikely friendship she strikes up with Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Two very different characters who meet at a sorcery school, we follow them on their adventure to meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This is only the start of some surprising events, as the story takes place before, alongside and after the famous tale – warning: you may watch the original in a different way after this.
As the lights dimmed and the map of Oz lit up in green, eerie music played as monkeys crept onto the stage which set a dark scene. We were soon introduced to the Citizens of Oz as they awaited Glinda The Good’s arrival, and I awaited their powerful performance of ‘No One Mourns the Wicked’.
A fire breathing dragon, flying monkeys – for one night only, we were in the Land of Oz.
Oh my Gah-linda!
The brilliant cast were led by the beautiful, bubbly blonde Glinda The Good (think a British Elle Woods), who adds glamour and humour to the role. Played by the brilliant Emily Tierney, she really entertains the audience and holds her own on stage, a character famously played by Kristin Chenoweth in its original Broadway production over 10 years ago. I hadn’t seen any clips on YouTube nor had I read up on the background of the musical so I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect her to be so ‘high spirited’ shall I say. As an audience member in her mid twenties, I found her ever so slightly over-bearing at times but the younger generation around me seemed to love her. As they chuckled away at all her jokes (particularly throughout her rendition of ‘Popular’), I sat through it cringing. This is no reflection on Emily as an actress nor as Glinda, but after listening to Chenoweth’s version so many times I’ve got used to the American accent and the exaggerated Britishness just didn’t do it for me. As the show went on however, and her friendship with Elphie grew, I came to love her more (even with the British accent).
For me the real star of the show has to be Ashleigh Gray. Playing the part of Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West, Gray was pitch perfect! Her vocal range could rival Idina Menzel’s (which is no mean feat), especially during ‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘No Good Deed’, and she puts on an incredibly powerful and emotional performance that you find yourself getting lost in. Her character really progresses throughout, more so than the rest of the cast, and the love triangle between herself, Glinda and Fiyero is captivating to watch. She’s a strong leading lady and as the protagonist of this story, she changes our view on one of the most well-known ‘villains’ of all time. She also rocks a black cape, perhaps Madonna should take note…
Samuel Edwards plays a rather dashing Fiyero, a prince who has both Witches falling at his feet. I mean, who can blame them? Have you seen the rest of the men in Oz? And I thought it was slim pickings where I live… It’s a tough job to lead a cast alongside two women like Ashleigh and Emily who take the main focus on stage, but Sam pulls his own weight throughout. Carina Gillespie puts on a stunning performance as Elphaba’s ‘normal’ wheelchair-bound sister Nessarose, as she falls in love with Boq (Richard Vincent) – a Munchkin who is secretly vying for the attention of Glinda.
The two ‘villains’ are played by Marylin Cutts as an excellently evil Madame Morrible, alongside Brookside’s ‘Max Farnham’ aka Steven Pinder – who plays the contrasting roles of Dr Dillamond and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The entire ensemble are commendable for their stage presence, their passion for what they do shines through and it makes the experience so much more enjoyable when you know the talent are having just as much fun doing their job.
I’m unable to compare to the West End performance, but from the standards set so high from this UK tour production I can only imagine the show to be even bigger and better in London! With lower prices and coming closer to smaller towns across the country, why not take a trip to the theatre with your family and/or friends for a fun evening out?
The show is currently in Bristol until Saturday 21st March, so make sure you book to secure your tickets to this spectacular production. Still not convinced? Then take a look at the musical trailer below, don’t miss out on this critically acclaimed show.
All that was missing for me were the munchkins singing ‘Ding dong the Witch is dead…’