images: matt crockett
Why WICKED is still the UK's most popular musical
It’s hard to talk about the musical Wicked without first mentioning the cinematic milestone that is The Wizard of Oz (1939). From the moment young Dorothy was blown away from her drab Kansas farmhouse (yawn) and transported to a world of tiny people and fabulous, stolen shoes- audiences of all ages were transfixed. Don’t believe me? Simply imagine pop culture today without ruby slippers, flying monkeys and some of the campest quotes in cinema history and I can guarantee you won’t be able to picture a world without them.
For those not familiar with the story of Wicked, the show takes the characters of Glinda (The Good) and Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) and gives them a back story that predates the one we know and love. We first see them meet at college and they immediately despise each other. Glinda is cocky, self assured and at times arrogant, whilst Elphaba is shy, book-smart and well... green. However, like most odd-couple stories the two eventually become close friends with a shared dream of working with the mythical leader of Oz- The Wizard. Without giving too much away, the pair soon realise that in order to achieve their dreams, they will have to make some huge sacrifices and perhaps relinquish the unlikely friendship they now both cherish.
Executive producer of the tour, Michael McCabe agrees that the Judy Garland film and the 14 original novels by L. Frank Baum (1900-1920) have had a massive impact on how the Wicked Witch of the West is viewed by modern audiences; as nothing more than the archetypal female villain. In his introduction to the launch event for Wicked at Aspire, Leeds he explained that the main intention of the musical was to give Elphaba a real back story by making her journey to notoriety less black and white than we’ve been led to believe. He stated that most of us at some point in our lives have felt like outsiders and summed up the key message of the show in a way that i’m sure will resonate with many people- “it’s so easy to demonise someone when they are different.”
As Wicked celebrates it’s 12th year in the UK with a continuation of it’s popular tour, today’s launch event truly demonstrated what makes this musical so special. First and foremost, it is a production of immense quality. The exquisite costumes designed by Susan Hilferty for the original Broadway run look timeless yet otherworldly; maintaining a beautiful freshness even after being worn by the show’s company for a full season. The costume team are clearly dedicated, giving every detail a level of care that would make your eyes water-the shoes for the whole production take 6 hours a day to cobble! An equally talented group of actors to fill these costumes doesn’t hurt the production too much either.
The two main characters are powerfully portrayed by Amy Ross (Elphaba) and Helen Woolf (Glinda) and even from a short preview of their talents, it is clear that audiences everywhere will not be disappointed. As the famous Wicked Witch, Ross imbues Elphaba with a steely determination that makes her impossible not to root for. Her rendition of ‘The Wizard and I’ is mightily powerful and even away from the usual theatrical setting she belts the crowd pleasing finale of the song, all the whilst letting her vulnerability peak through during the quieter moments. Paired with Woolf later on to sing ‘For Good’, the natural chemistry of the actors really shines- they are a treat to watch even if the use of their natural accents is still a little jarring for me. The cast is rounded off by Eastenders heartthrob Aaron Sidwell as love interest Fiyero and Steven Pinder as the Wizard/ Doctor Dillamond, who has been with the production since 2014.
Ultimately, while the casting and costumes are an integral part of the show, it is the story that keeps drawing fresh audiences year in, year out. It’s themes of intolerance and bigotry set against the backdrop of a cruel regime are becoming depressingly timely, however no need to despair as the production is far from downbeat. Complete with an endless list of hit songs, Wicked carries it’s central message of fighting for your beliefs on it’s sleeve and makes us reconsider if anyone is ever simply good or bad. If you treat yourself to one show this year, make it this one- you won’t regret it.