Wednesday, 11 November 2015

REVIEW: Wicked the Musical at the Apollo Victoria Theatre

It is not often you find someone unfamiliar with the story of Wicked, but as I took my seat in the middle of the stalls in Row H, I was greeted by a lovely couple who had travelled down from Durham to see the show. They told me their daughter lived locally to the Apollo Victoria Theatre and had insisted that while they were visiting her, 'Wicked' was the show to see, but they had no idea what they were in for. "Is this a musical or a play?" they asked... I proceeded to tell them this was not my first visit to the musical, and that I had previously seen Emma Hatton (Elphaba) when she was stand-by for the role back in April 2014, and that even when she was so new to the show, she blew me away. I assured them they were in for a real treat, and I was absolutely right. 

Based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire ('Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West'), Wicked the musical explores the untold story of the witches of Oz. It tells the incredible story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two girls who first meet as students at Shiz University: the very blonde but very popular Glinda and a misunderstood, magical green girl named Elphaba. 

Following an encounter with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, their friendship reaches a crossroads and their lives take very different paths. Glinda's unflinching desire for popularity sees her seduced by power while Elphaba's determination to remain true to herself, and to those around her, will have unexpected and shocking consequences for her future. 

Their extraordinary adventures in Oz will ultimately see them fulfil their destinies as Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West, but will make you question "Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?"

The cast is lead by Emma Hatton as green-girl Elphaba, and is a force to be reckoned with. She is petite in stature, but gigantic in presence. Her voice is exceptionally powerful and beautifully clear. All her big solo numbers were sung with total fearlessness, and were filled with some fantastic riffs that her pre-predecessor Willemijn Verkaik would be proud of. 'No Good Deed' really showed off her acting strengths and remarkable vocal range in a spectacular way, but
the crowd favourite was (unsurprisingly) 'Defying Gravity'. During the flying portion, I found myself open-mouthed and utterly transfixed in my seat; stuck somewhere between bursting into tears and breaking out into rapturous applause. Hatton was simply sensational. 

Alongside Hatton is the exquisite Savannah Stevenson as Glinda (or Galinda, with a 'Ga' as she is known for the majority of Act I). She was effortlessly charming and had fabulous comedic timing throughout the show. Despite being utterly shallow and selfish on the surface, Glinda is incredibly likable through Stevenson's enchanting portrayal and with her soaring soprano vocals, she is stunning in every sense of the word. 

Supporting these two phenomenal leading ladies is Oliver Savile as Fiyero. Outrageously pretentious, obnoxious and almost insufferable; on the surface, Fiyero should be one of the most hated characters in the production, but as the cliche dictates, 'first impressions can be deceiving' and as the show goes on, we begin to see deeper complexities of this dashing young man, making him more and more likable as the story unravels. His romantic chemistry with Hatton is
palpable, and despite his overwhelmingly tall stature, seeing the little green witch barely reach his chest, their connection is indisputable. His outstanding vocal performance in 'As Long As You're Mine' showed that Savile's experience understudying some of the biggest roles in West End theatre has helped develop his truly stunning voice. He was a fabulous Fiyero. 

From the supporting cast was Broadway's renowned Tom McGowan as the (not so) Wonderful Wizard of Oz who offered a fantastic performance to the mix and a fabulous stage presence. Liza Sadovy wows as the love-to-hate Madame Morrible. She was truly wicked...

Original West End 'Nessa Rose' Katie Rowley-Jones still plays the role with ease and class. Her voice is pure and note-perfect, however I was most impressed with her acting choices. Playing a character who is wheelchair bound, particularly in a musical theatre setting could lead to a massive case of overacting, but in Rowley-Jones's case, it is understated and effective. 

Daniel Hope offered us a very likable 'Bic', sorry...  'Boq'. Unfortunately, his native North-East accent was slightly distracting as it made him stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the cast, however, he played the role beautifully, and did resist the temptation to over-act the role, unlike many of those who
have played the role before him, so for that, I commend him.

The set, costumes, hair and make-up are all simply incredible. Absolutely no expense spared on the attention to details, even through the ensemble, and in harmony, they create a very authentic world. In particular, the Emerald City is outstanding; filled with the most eclectic selection of ensemble costumes I've seen anywhere, and lighting to take your breath away, you too will feel the wonders of this magical place. 

Wicked's music is as fresh and exciting as it was when it was played for the first time on Broadway 12 years ago. It truly is a modern classic with morals of love, self-belief and friendship that resonate long after the final curtain goes down. 

Wicked is a story with a heart of gold (or should I say green?) and with this current cast, you too will be changed for good. 

Review by Harriet Langdown 


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