Thursday, July 25

Wicked – Bradford Alhambra

If you’ve ever wondered how those red shoes came to be sticking out from under Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz this prequel to that classic movie will give you the answer.

It goes back to before Dorothy crash landed in the land of Oz ruled by a mysterious wizard to reveal the backstory of Elphaba – better known to us The Wicked Witch of the West – and her nemesis Glinda the Good. Based on Gregory Maguire’s revisionist novel ‘Wicked – The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of West’ rather than L. Frank Baum’s original text we firstly meet Elphaba and Glinda as they start life at Shiz University as sworn enemies.

The brilliant twist in this version is that Elphaba’s skin is green thanks to an accident of birth so is the outsider and blonde rich brat Glinda is her exact opposite. But as is often the way in musical theatre they find common ground becoming firm friends before setting off on very different redemption arcs, challenging everything we know about a movie that is a part of everyone’s childhood

It’s all wrapped up in triple Oscar winner Stephen Schwartz’s imaginative score and witty lyrics full of nods to musical theatre history, and a book by Winnie Holzman that combines a strong narrative arc for both witches, lots of nods to Dorothy’s odyssey along the yellow brick road and quite a few laughs. This intelligent musical also offers subtle meditations on bullying, tyranny, how the idea of ‘the other’ like targeting Oz’s talking animals leads to oppression and that history is always told from the perspective of the victor. It’s a musical feast full of classic showstoppers, and underneath all the flamboyance there’s a manifesto for celebrating difference rather than fearing it.  

Photo – Matt Crockett

Look, Wicked is still pulling in two million greenbacks a week after twenty years on Broadway so this musical is critically bombproof, and the real question is this a good version or not?

The good news is that this is a West End standard production with a great orchestra in the pit and no expense spared from Eugene Lee’s massive steampunk inspired set to 350 colourful and eye-catching, over the top costumes full of colour and detail created by Susan Hilferty. The real giveaway on shows that come out of London is always the quality of the ensemble, who in this case are all top-class singers and dancers in their own right, which isn’t always the case in touring productions. So, all the Wicked building blocks are in place, but what makes this show are the stars who play the witches.

Sarah O’Connor as Glinda the vacuous witch has a powerful voice with a huge range who starts out as a classic mean girl at Shiz University. What makes Wicked great is what you think you know about the ‘good witch’ is wrong as Glinda’s weakness and constant need for validation makes her much more the villain of the piece.  O’Connor handles the gear changes of her character well, and her perky version of Ozian pop song Popular is beautifully rendered.

The real star of the show is Laura Pick as the feisty Elphaba and her vocal control throughout is simply sensational. Pick from just up the road in Wakefield is full of rage as Elphaba’s experience of prejudice makes her an outsider before deftly showing why that experience makes her a freedom fighter taking on The Wizard of Oz’s dictatorship, rather the epitome of evil we all thought she was.  The always thrilling Defying Gravity is arguably the best ever closing number for a first act, and Pick smashes it vocally and dramatically, much to the delight of the audience who were waiting for this iconic number.

It’s unusual for the final big number in a show like this to be a ballad, but the chemistry between Pick and O’Connor is there for all to see during an emotionally intelligent duet on For Good, full of sadness and pain as the two friends reflect on what they mean to each other.

Carl Man is suitably dashing as love interest Fiyero and Donna Berlin uses all her experience to create a fully rounded Madame Morrible. Simeon Truby as the Wizard is droll on the vaudevillian Wonderful, peeling back the layers of a weak charlatan willing to do anything to stay in power. Sound familiar?

When the West End comes to town it’d be wicked not to get a ticket, so you’d better hope you can cast a spell and magic up a seat for one of the all-time great musicals.

Wicked is at Bradford Alhambra until Sunday 19th May. To book or 01274432000.

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 18th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.