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‘Wicked’ review — the West End hit flies high at the Apollo Victoria Theatre

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

As Glinda descends from the rafters in her bubble, the audience cheers immediately. As Elphaba defies gravity as she flies over the stage, the audience gasps with disbelief. It’s impossible not to be swept away in Wicked’s pure theatricality. More than 15 years after Wicked flew into the West End, the Olivier Award-winning musical is still an evening of sheer musical theatre bliss.

Over 11 million people have visited the land of Oz across 6,000 performances and counting. The musical has won 13 awards, including the Olivier Award for Most Popular Show, and Wicked has become one of the most successful musicals of all time. Often when a show has been playing for a long time, it can lose some of the initial magic, but Wicked is still as lively and dynamic as ever.

Based on Gregory Maguire’s prequel novel of the same name, Wicked imagines an Oz before Dorothy followed the yellow brick road, one in which the “Wicked Witch” Elphaba and the “Good Witch” Galinda are roommates at school. Wicked is a story of an unlikely friendship and how the truth isn’t always what meets the eye. Add spine-tingling ballads, a dragon, and stage magic into the mix, and Wicked sets the bar for what musical theatre can be.

Winnie Holzman’s multilayered book peels back L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz to shine more light on what happens along the way. Every time you watch Wicked, you’ll hear a new line, or see a new character approach that uncovers more information; it’s no wonder that Wicked fans — Ozians — visit the land of Oz dozens of times to unpick the hidden truths about the lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man.

Wicked wouldn’t be complete without Stephen Schwartz’s influential score; and songs like “For Good” now transcend popular culture as pop stars, like Leann Rimes and Delta Goodrem, cover the iconic duet. But there’s no place like home, and that’s hearing Schwartz’s anthemic songs live, complete with a 23-piece orchestra. Pair Schwartz’s music with Wayne Cilento’s explosive choreography, especially in the show-stopping “Dancing Through Life” when the students go to their first dance, and Wicked is poetry in motion.

Eugene Lee’s intricate and moody scenic design extends into the auditorium, thanks to a giant smoking dragon and flying monkeys climbing up the walls. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design and Tony Meola’s sound design amplify the tension, especially when the animated wizard mask comes alive and the wizard’s booming voice reverberates around the auditorium. But there’s plenty of brightness too, especially in Susan Hilferty’s viridescent Ozian costumes and Galinda’s kaleidoscopic wardrobe.

Elphaba has become a coveted role for thousands of performers. From Idina Menzel winning the Tony Award for originating the role on Broadway to Kerry Ellis, Rachel Tucker, and Louise Dearman, each performer has put their own spin on the role and the iconic ballads: “The Wizard and I,” I’m Not That Girl,” “Defying Gravity,” and “No Good Deed”. Lucie Jones comes into her own as the green witch, deftly moving from frustration to sweetness to fury, as Elphaba navigates the world around her and quickly learns that not everyone means what they say. Helen Woolf is bubbly perfection as Glinda, with her sweet soprano and dry wit.

There’s something in Wicked for everyone. From the childlike wonder at the magical world of Oz to the political undertones about our leaders’ role in society to the universal message that true beauty lies within, Wicked leaves the audience with food for thought and also, wanting more. It’s no wonder that the musical has captured the hearts of so many over the years and will continue to do so for many years to come. Wicked is certainly here to stay in the West End for good.

Wicked is at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Book Wicked tickets on London Theatre.

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