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You are in: London > Entertainment > Theatre > Reviews > First night: Wicked

Wicked production still (photo: Tristram Kenton)

The show is based on The Wizard of Oz

First night: Wicked

By the pricking of my thumbs: our critic Mark Shenton on the biggest new musical London has seen in years. Plus, read YOUR comments below...

Size isn't everything - but it helps. Wicked duly arrives in the West End from Broadway on a wave of audience if not unanimous critical approval, where it is the top-grossing show on the Great White Way.

A musical about the casting of spells seems to have cast its own, hypnotising audiences who have embraced it not so much as a musical as an event.

It could very well be critic-proof here, if the audience reaction at the Apollo Victoria are anything to go by, too.

"This is a show that taps into a genuine public appetite for spectacle, art and heart, and this demanding, commanding musical provides it in spades..."

Mark Shenton

For this is a show that seems to tap into a genuine public appetite for spectacle, art and heart, and this demanding, sometimes commanding musical provides it in spades.

But is there a human scale to such a superhuman-sized show?

Fortunately, that's provided by the vibrant pairing of Idina Menzel, recreating her Tony Award-winning turn as Elphaba, brassily paired with the attractive Australian musical newcomer Helen Dallimore as Glinda, the two leads of this musical deconstruction of the "untold story of the Witches of Oz."

Just as Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods famously offered an unravelling of popular fairytales sent into collision with each other, so Wicked unpacks the Wizard of Oz back-story, long before Dorothy found she wasn't in Kansas anymore.

battle of wills

Based on Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel, the musical offers a ferocious battle of wills (and top notes) between these two sparky young women, Glinda and Elphaba, who meet at a sorcery school (shades of Harry Potter here), presided over by Miriam Margolyes's battle-axe headmistress Madame Morrible.

Idina Menzel (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Idina Menzel reprises her Broadway role

After initial hostilities and rivalries in love, the two form an alliance as they discover that "something odd/ is happening in Oz", and set themselves on a course of collision with the authorities, and into animal liberationists.

Meanwhile the Wizard of Oz, whom they go to for help, turns out to be a weak, ineffectual deity who finds it politically expedient to demonise Elphaba and says, "Where I come from, everyone knows: the best way to bring folks together is to give them a really good enemy."

This gives Wicked a surprisingly topical resonance, with the show seeking to work on several different levels simultaneously.

But if it is also rather strenuously overcrowded in the narrative department, Joe Mantello's meticulous re-creation of his Broadway production is a superbly staged exercise in crowd control and stage-craft.

With its Cirque du Soleil-like production values, it's nothing less than a glittering cartoon bubble of a show.

Wicked is at the Apollo Victoria, Wilton Road SW1. Tickets: £15 - £55. Box office: 0870 400 0751. Booking to 24 February 2007.

last updated: 19/06/2008 at 18:31
created: 28/09/2006

Have Your Say

Samantha Hackney
Kerry ellis voice is amazing. seen it twice now i cried the first time i saw it and got chocked up the second time. Dont remove kerry ellis from that show.

I went to see Wicked last night. I thougt it was absolutely BRILLIANT!! Kerry Ellis was brilliant and I thought that Dianna Pilkington as Glinda was great too!!!!

Kerry Ellis+Wicked=Amazing!Hope she's nt leaving in June though! i dnt want her to go! =( =)

Lemons and melons and pears, oh my! What a great play on Wizard Of Oz. I love this musical, and can't wait to see it in London!!!!Nessa and Boq for EVER!Also, Katie Rowley Jones is amazing!

Jason Green
What can i say other than BRILLIANT. Kerry Ellis stole the show for me. Such a powerful tuneful voice and a great actress too. My first west end show and have been twice now,if i could i'd see it again and again. I have a poster signed by Kerry and tge ensemble cast and i'll treasure it always.

Rebecca Bathe
When I first saw WICKED, I cried my eyes out at the end. When I saw it a second time, I cried, same as the third time! I think it is the BEST MUSICAL EVER! Kerry Ellis is soooooooooo good, I love her! LOVE YOU KERRY! I also have sooo many things autographed!!

Incredible show and fantastic songs. Any child over 8 will love it!!! Any adults with any creativity will think how clever it is. My daughter was Elphaba for Halloween she loved the part so much. Waiting for Wicked II.

Kerry is just too amazing for words, Her voice sends shivers down my spine. She completly blows Idina (and the rest of the cast) out of the water. Dianne Pilkington does a very good job playing opposite her, which must be extremly difficult, so credit where credit's due. Kerry has to be the best actress ever to hit the West end and she's taken theatre land by storm!

One word... amazing

Wicked is the best theatre show I have ever seen! I can't put it into words! Kerry Ellis is an amazing singer! I now know all the words to all the songs and really want to see it again and again!

My first theatrical concert and I loved it so much that I'm going to see it again.

Helen Hardy
I am a musical theatre buff, Wicked is by far the most amazing musical to have come out in the past 10 years. It is imaginative, funny, compelling and all things musical like "The sound of music" with Connie Fisher ARE NOT.

In my opinion Wicked = Best musical ever! I am really sad that Helen Dallimore has left the London cast though.

The songs were touching, the characters were easy to relate to, there were some very funny referances to Wizard of Oz, and Kerry Ellis' voice... just wow.

Julia Dawson
Went to see Wicked this week for my daughter's birthday and we were severely disappointed -thought the music/songs discordant, words difficult to hear, little dancing, very derivative and copying Hogwarts. Also lots of young girls screaming their heads off at all the songs -like a pop concert!! Think it suits children and teenagers. Anyone who wants something more sophisticated -dont go!!

I absolutely loved this musical. I will never forget this experience.Wicked is pure magic!!

Alice Courtauld
I saw the show in London and it was amazing, very magical. I am only 12 years old and even I was in tears. Idina was great and she is a great actress. It is sad at the end and I wish that it ended in a different way. The people who dont enjoy this have got something wrong with their brains & consequently should go to the doctors. lol

Siobhan - Croydon
I've seen the show in both London and America, and I have to say that our London cast is much stronger. I've also seen performances with Idina Menzel, who was great, and Kerry Ellis (2nd June 07). In my opinion, Kerry Ellis blew Idina away. Yes Idina was great, but Kerry's voice was much more powerful, especially in Defying Gravity. By the end of the first act, I was practically in tears. And to those who call the songs 'forgettable'? If that's so, then why have I had the entire soundtrack stuck in my head for the past 2 weeks? Even whilst I've been sitting there trying to do my GCSE's! I also can't believe that people are criticising the way the audience reacts? Why shouldn't we express our emotions? That's what I love about Wicked, it has the ability to grab anyone's interest. It's a fantastic show, with two AMAZING leading ladies. Both Helen Dallimore and Kerry Ellis portray their roles brilliantly. I'm so glad they're bringing out a soundtrack with the London cast. Truly amazing!

Wicked is wicked! The lighting was absolutely incredible. Good work Kenneth Posner! The set was amazing, too. The acting and singing was great as well. This is the best show I've ever seen!

Billy what are you talking about? I heard Idina Menzel live at Wicked on 11/17/06 and she was amazing in all her performances, especially Defying Gravity!

The people who find this song 'forgettable' clearly have very poor memories. This is a musical that has shaken up the West End and raised the bar for other productions. Fantastic story, excellent cast and a show to remember - this will always hold a special place in my heart.

Wow. Truly amazing. Kerry Ellis' voice is so beautiful, I can freely admit I was moved to tears at several times during the show. Defying Gravity, the Act I finale, suited her perfectly - what a powerful song! As a frequent theatre-goer, I can say without a doubt that this is the best West End musical I have seen in years.

I saw Wicked for the first time on 3/31/07. I absolutely loved it. I thoguht I wouldn't because I didn't like the Wizard of Oz all that much, but my friend talked me into liking it. It's the best broadway show in the world!!!

This musical is such a hit in my family that we just had to buy tickets! For months now my sisters and I have been obsessed with its songs and have finally persuaded our parents to get us tickets! the show is very booked up so i'd recommend getting your seats soon! a legendary musical worth every penny!

No offence but Idina Menzel is no good for the role - she struggles with 'Defying Gravity'. Kerry Ellis is so much better. No matter what I'm just glad they are bringin out a London Cast Wicked Soundtrack with Kerry on it!!!! FABBO!!!

I went to see Wicked with my school and I loved it. The singing and scenery was spectacular. The performance was refreshing and funny and i agree with anoyone who enjoyed the singing. I think Idina Menzel was the star of the show. Especially her number just before the intermission. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a good night out with fab singing.

It’s an amazing show; I was clapping like a madman at the end of the first act. It made you feel real, seeing those big effects right in front of you instead of on a screen. In fact, right up to the final five minutes it was incredible, and then it just....slipped away. What should have been one of the most mind blowing finishes in the West End faded into what seemed to be a hurried, carelessly written ending. The magical atmosphere of this otherwise masterpiece of a creation melted in an instant, leaving you feeling a bit let down.

I heard about Wicked nearly 2 years ago, whilst watching a documentary on Broadway musicals. I can honestly say I have been in love with it ever since. My best friend bought me tickets to see it with Idina Menzel in September. At the end of Act One I burst into tears, much to the embarrassment of myself and the amusement of my friend...I'm only 20, and it's going to go down as one of the most memorable times of my life. To have a musical with such great, influential female roles is remarkable. As someone aspiring to break into musical theatre it has provided something to aim towards, and something to define my ambition.

Kerry Ellis is just as good as Idina! I had my doubts when going to watch it because I was so sad Idina left. But Kerry is a-mazing!!!!

Wicked is the most stunning show I have ever seen. The set and costumes are spectacular, the book and the score are amazing and the whole cast is out of this world. As soon as final bows for the show came, the roof could have come off the theatre!

Megan (Miss Galinda) and Missy (Miss Elphaba)
We disagree with those saying the performances were rubbish. I have been to see the show in London, and thought it was spectacular. Missy hasn't even seen it and thinks it's amazing! Helen, for me was great, and although she's not the original one, I personally think she is the best Glinda. So sad Idina left!!!! =[

I love this show & have done for many years - it gives me a strength to stay in this industry - it's Wicked! I first saw it in September and cried the whole time - since then I've seen it twice - once on Idina Menzel's last night; the show is one of the best in Musical Theatre!

Wicked is an awesome show! I think the songs are catchy, the costumes and lighting are superb! I dragged along a very sceptical friend - who has now booked tickets to see it again. I think it has adult themes which relate to the real world, but is a fantastic spectacle which any age can enjoy. I'll be going to see it again, even though Idina Menzel will be sorely missed.

elaine from hull
Wow, I loved it so much it made me cry. I'm going again to see it with my grandaughter - it will be in my heart forever.

Charlotte aged 14
I saw wicked on 13/12/06 after wishing and wishing that I could see it as I had listened to the songs over and over again!! As soon as Idina Menzel first entered the stage I burst into tears, her stage presence is amazing!! I didn't stop crying and cried all the way through!! PS They cannot help technical difficulties and I am so sorry that we show our support by applauding when an amazing Tony award winning actress enters the stage!

Amazing. Best show I've seen in a while. Songs were brilliant, found them incredibly catchy. Dancing through life was performed brilliantly and better than the US original version which I have heard recently. Costumes and sets were brilliant. The lead girls were marvellous. Recommend it to people of any age. Things in it for all the family.

I love Wicked. I haven't been to see it, but I am going soon. I have heard all the songs though and know them off by heart. Pure genius!

Do not listen to the nay-sayers here. I went to the opening night, and loved every second of it. The soundtrack has been on repeat on my CD player ever since, with me belting the songs out everyday. So much for unforgettable.

I'm a huge fan of musicals but I cannot bring myself to recommend Wicked to anyone. There are FAR better shows on in the West End. In fairness the set, costumes and acting were great. It was the storyline that I had the biggest problem with as well as the unmemorable songs. The final scene in which the ‘misunderstood’ Wicked Witch of the West (re)appears made me want to get up and walk out of the theatre.

I love the show, so awsome you have to see it!

I have just been to see wicked and thought is was wicked

I am a huge fan of Wicked and i am finally going to see it on 20th December and i cant wait! Im so happy i get to Idina! She is the best Elphaba ever.

Wicked is absolutely amazing. I love the witch, she's soooo good and has got an amazing voice. I really enjoyed it and hope to go and see it again .

Well, I just want to say that I'm super excited to be hearing a great review of this show that I plan on seeing this winter. I'm coming all the way over from the United States, Paris, Kentucky to be exact, to see my idol Idinal Menzel recreate her role. It's going to be, well, WICKED!

Dalian,Thornton Heath, Croydon
Am representing a group of student from Lambeth college, Brixton. We came to see Wicked on the 20-9-06. Speaking on behalf of all of us,the show was spectacular, fullfilling and humerous. The stage setting, costumes, lighting were unique, absolutely beautiful breath taking music. We enjoyed every minute of the show and I definitely would watch it again, and recommend friends/family to come alone and experience the amazement that awaits them at the Apollo Victora. The staff(ushers) were very friendly and helpful,thanks to them all. Wicked is one play that will be around for a very long time, and most talk about show, well done to the producers and acters.BEST VOTED, WICKED!!!!!!!!

I cannot believe some of the bad comments some people are writing about this show! It must be the best thing to happen to London in a very long time! I've already seen it twice and have tickets to go again. The songs are anything but forgettable, and i'd just like to say, as much as I agree with you all that Idina and Helen are outstanding, the rest of the cast also deserves a huge congratulations on delivering such a great show. Each adn every one of them help make it what it is.

Hayley, Portsmouth
I went to see wicked today and it is one of the best musicals I have ever seen. I already loved the music having bought the soundtrack over a year ago, but it still did not prepare me for how amazing it was, especially Idina Menzel. The setting and special effects were excellent. I just wish I could afford to go see this again soon

Martin, London
A typical modern Broadway musical; an industrial product rather than something that genuinely touches the heart or mind. The staging is excellent and the first half swings merrily along but the second half is overly moralistic. I must also agree with John Clarke's comments about cheering and applauding characters for merely walking on, it is unwarranted destroys the illusion. There are lots of sly references to the invisible Dorothy, cyclones and shoes which only make sense if you have seen the "Wizard of Oz". The transmogrification of the characters into the Tin Man and Scarecrow is nicely done. Helen Dallimore's Glinda is very funny as the peachy blond and Nigel Planer potters around effectively as the not-so-wonderful wizard, albeit with a "George Bush" style American accent. Miriam Margolyes, as a statuesque, magic-dispensing college principal, has a Dickensian exuberance that at times totally outclassed her fellow performers. As Elphaba, Idina Menzel can really belt out the songs, unfortunately her lack of diction while singing totally spoilt the show for me as I was not able to understand half of what she was singing so left me struggling to follow the story.

Michael, Leeds
I have just returned from seeing the show in London and despite technical difficulties (Elphaba couldn't defy gravity) the show was sensational and not in the least 'spoilt' by the applause. As part of a minority group, I really related to the songs and their lyrics - by the time the two witches sang For Good I was practically sobbing! The show moves at a rattling pace and the songs tell much of the story in a way we're not used to seeing, which explains some people's reactions to the lack of 'drama'. There is enough introduction to the characters to mean any prior knowledge of the film or books is unnecessary but they have put enough in-jokes in(what's in the punch? Lemons and Melons and Pears... oh my) to give devotees of the film something to smile about. See the show with an open mind and an open heart, both will be filled to capacity and leave you truly moved. You'll never again view "The Wizard of Oz" without thinking of it as the Wizard's propaganda!

'Wicked'in London is already a phenomenon. Stephen Schwartz's soundtrack is superbly crafted, and if the songs are not all 'instant' classics, perhaps they demand a little more of their audience. I'd advise people to give it more than one listen to really appreciate the music. And I don't understand why some people are apparently embarrassed by the enthusiam of the London audiences for this show. Why shouldn't we applaud in appreciation, or indeed scream if we want to? Is the theatre in London only aimed at snobby elitists? Shouldn't it be aimed at everyone? I've seen the show on Broadway recently and our London cast is definitely superior right now, with the added bonus of the star power of Tony Award winner Idina Menzel. Helen Dallimore may not be Kristin Chenoweth (who I saw on Broadway and is exceptional) but she is now settling into her role nicely as Glinda. Hopefully the technical problems with the show will be straightened out as the run continues. 'Wicked' has the ability to touch people, to make them feel. At the end of the day, it will be judged by its audiences and not the critics and mark my words - it's here in London to stay.

Nick Chaple
What a disappointment. The songs were instantly forgettable, there was little variety in the style of music and there were far too many songs and not enough drama. It was hard to know just what audience this show is aimed at – it is too scary for young children and too juvenile for adults. Technically, there were problems with the production I saw (Tuesday 10 October), and the first act finale failed to take off - literally. The wicked witch looked frankly ridiculous standing centre stage clutching a broomstick and singing “I’m flying high – defying gravity”. On the positive side the costumes were spectacular, the acting generally good (Miriam Margolyes is the real star of the show), and the sets and lighting were quite good – but sadly the positives were not enough to make it a good night out or value for money.

Barry Bernstein
I saw Wicked in Chicago last year and have seen it twice in London. I believe this to be the best musical I have seen. The songs are terrific,from No One mourns the Wicked,which reminds me of the opening of Puccini's Il Tabaro. The sassy "Popular" which my two grand-daughters (4 and 6) know word for word already. "Defying Gravity" which has a certain "I know him so well" feel from Chess. "No good Deed" sung by Idina Menzel is absolutely terrific, and 15 or so other songs are very good.

John Clarke
Stronger than the current cast in America certainly but the whole show has faded beyond recognition from the orginal incredible production, the only colour remaining is a green witch. Also why have the English started doing this applauding thing when characters walk on. Surely the point of theatre is to be swept up in the world that is conjured up before us. Cheering people for walking on is no better that a mobile phone ringing, it drags you back to reality. Do people imagine they are at a concert? The current production in America has lost it's magic at least in part because the audience behave in this knowing and interfering manner.

I came to see the show in the previews on 9th Septemebr sadly Idina didn't fly! but i soon forgot after watching this show its so amazing! the light, the atmosphere! it was fantastic! but still i thought Helen didn't do a fantastic job but probably because i always compare her to Kristin Chenoweth (original Glinda)

I was lucky enough to catch this in the States and am looking forward to seeing the London production next week. If it matches what I saw in the US, then I can safely say that, for once, everyone can believe the hype - it's worth every bit if it!!!

Wicked is stunning!! Went to opening night and a preview and it just blew me away...Helen is soooo hilarious and Idina is amazing. Definetely a stronger cast then in America...

I have seen the show twice in London after becoming a fan whilst living in America. It is an astounding and highly moving show. Ms. Menzel and Ms. Dallimore raise the roof and the audience (to their feet) and the music hits a nerve every time! "Wonderful"!

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