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.
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 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
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Siobhan - Croydon
Megan (Miss Galinda) and Missy (Miss Elphaba)
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