In what is a fantastic feast of a performance for theatre lovers and newbies alike, this latest production of Wicked is spellbinding from the opening number right through to its well deserved standing ovation.
Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, Wicked acts as a prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz we all know and love. In this show, we see Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West meet and form a friendship that is put to the test. Its Frozen-esque focus on friendship and female empowerment creates a feel-good show full of cracking songs such as Popular and For Good.
Nikki Bentley as Elphaba quite rightly steals the show with her quirky humourous streak, staggeringly powerful voice and poignant ability to make us feel it’s okay to be different. She brings warmth and passion to the role and, though Elphaba is meant to be strong and fierce, Bentley brings sensitivity to the part so we really root for our heroine. I am, unsurprisingly, in tears throughout Defying Gravity. Direction from Joe Mantello is mystical and, throughout, I feel this softer treatment really adds to the production.
Helen Woolf as Glinda isn’t a convincing ‘popular’, but she handles the role well, particularly in the second half where her more serious acting prowess comes to the fore. Her connection with love interest Fiyero (played rather too sickly slick by Aaron Sidwell) isn’t nearly as strong as the connection between Fiyero and Elphaba, but that’s as well given the development of the plot (you’ll find no spoilers here).
Kim Ismay as Madame Morrible particularly intrigues me. In a part that immediately jumps out to me as being perfect for the stereotypical Edna Turnblad-style treatment, she blows me away with her drippingly evil charm, sass and comic timing. In a part easily played pantomime-style, she anchors her role down with serious tinges of pure wickedness.
The set design by Eugene Lee is seriously impressive – such elaborate scene changes seamlessly happen before our very eyes without it ever interrupting the flow of the show. The intricacies of the set, such as the glorious Wizard’s robot, almost become taken for granted as the show goes on as there is so much to be amazed by. Same goes for costumes by Susan Hilferty – the explosion of colour and creativity on set is comparable to no other musical out there.
Wicked truly is a spectacle you have to see. The plot’s great, the script’s witty and the songs are now iconic showtunes every theatre-goer should have somewhere on their playlist. But the talent both onstage and off demonstrate why this production truly defies gravity and all possible expectation. A must see.
Catch Wicked at Leeds Grand Theatre until 7th July.
Photograph credited to Matt Crockett