I have just come back from London and seen, what I regard, as one of the best shows I have ever seen. This contains spoilers so if you don’t want to know, don’t read any further.
Wicked is the prequel to the Wizard of Oz, and before everyone starts singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, you couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact some of connections to the original play are a little dubious. The first act explains the background to the characters in the Wizard of Oz, whilst the second half takes place alongside the original story – scenes which may have been deleted to give a more one-sided opinion of good vs evil. Now we see the story from another point of view
The musical starts off with the end of the Wizard of Oz when the Wicked Witch of the West has died from a bucket of water. Glinda, (Dianne Pilkington) comes down in her traditional “bubble” (well metal circle with large bubble machines, but wonderfully effective) and tells the crowd that the witch is definitely dead, (No one Mourns the Wicked) . However, one person asks Glinda was it true that they were friends. This takes the story back to the conception of Elphaba, (played by Kerry Ellis) where we learn that her father was not actually her mothers husband but a one night stand when her father was out of town. When Elphaba is born there is a huge shock as, although healthy, she is green. This alienates her father and sets up their relationship for life.
We then skip a number of years to the college of SHIZ. ( Dear Old Shiz) This is attended by GARLINDA (who will be known as GLINDA) who is a very popular bimbo style girl, and ELPHABA who is alienated because of her colour and her sharpness (due to having defend herself all the time) . We are now introduced to her sister NessaRose (to be known as the Wicked Witch of the East) who is wheelchair bound. During the first meeting of the students Elphaba becomes annoyed due to the separation of her and her sister, and shows her great magical powers for the first time. This impresses the Principle Madame Morrible who promises to help her tune her powers and perhaps arrange a meeting with the wizard himself, leading into Kerry’s first proper show-stopping solo (The Wizard and I)
Despite their differences, Garlinda and Elphaba have to share rooms, and they quickly begin to loathe each other, set out in a stunning duet (What Is This Feeling) Garlindas feelings are supported by the other students, and unfortunately Nessa who wants to “fit in”.
Prince Fiyero (Oliver Tompsett) is the handsome new boy and the love tangle begins. Another student, Boq (whom Garlinda repeatedly calls Biq) loves Garlina but she only has eyes for Fiyero. Garlinda suggests that Boq invites Nessa to the ball (pretending to be nice, but really just trying to get rid of him). Boq is so besotted with Garlinda that he will do anything to please her so agrees. Nessa agrees to go to the ball with Boq and is completely convinced that Boq really cares about her. She tells Elphaba how wonderful Garlinda is to have set this all up for her to have one wonderful night . Garlinda’s fake “good” image has begun, but Elphaba is suspicious. During her preparations for the ball, Garlinda finds a hat which she hates, and gives it to Elphaba, claiming that black is the “new pink”, and the iconic costume of the wicked witch starts to form.
Cracks in the relationship between the two witches begin to heal, and after the party Garlinda decides that Elphaba is her new best friend. She tells Elphaba that she intends to marry Fiyero (though he doesn’t know it yet). She decides that Elphaba needs a full make over, in clothes and in manner (Popular) “Celebrated Heads of state or specially great communicators, did they have brains or knowledge? Don’t make me laugh, they were popular”. This scene is particularly funny, with Elphaba learning to be bimbo-like
At their next lesson, their regular tutor has been replaced due to his outspokenness about animals losing their power of speech. Elphaba is upset about a small lion cub who is kept caged up in the classroom, and steals the frightened animal , helped by Fiyero. Unfortunately, Elphaba’s green face only scares the lion cub even more and she eventually sets him free in the forest. As Fiyero leaves, Elphaba relates to the audience that she loves Fiyero but that she knows he has chosen someone else and she hasn’t a chance with him ( I’m Not that Girl) This is a brilliant moment in the musical performed under a lit bridge with Elphaba underneath and Fiyero and Garlinda above, extremely well staged.
Madame Morrible passes a message onto Elphaba and she is excited to learn that she is to meet the Wizard and asks Garlinda to come with her. (One Short Day) They enjoy the magic of the big city, as the whole theatre is changed into a emerald display of lights and effects. As in the original film, the Wizard initially appears as an animated special effect with booming voice, but soon emerges as an ordinary man who has settled in Oz ( A Sentimental Man) . But Elphaba soon learns of the Wizards long term plans and disagrees bitterly with him and decides to take matters into her own hands. Garlinda wants Elphaba to apologise so that she can still be with the wizard. However Elphaba’s beliefs are too strong. The climax of the first half is an amazing solo by Elphaba (Defying Gravity) which ends in her taking on the full persona of the Wicked Witch of the West and increasing in height until she is the full height and width of the stage with some superb lighting and stage effects. An amazing conclusion to the first half.
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The second half opens with Oz believing in the wizards propaganda (Thank Goodness) The whole town is talking about how wicked Elphaba is and is near hysteria about the Wicked Witch. Glinda has become a public figure and is supported by Madame Morrible who is further distorting the facts to Glindas advantage
Elphaba , who really isn’t wicked, returns to see Nessa, her sister who is now the head of Munchkin land, after the death of their father. Elphaba uses her magic to create a pair of legs which will enable her to walk again, but once that has happened, she will no longer need Boq as a servant, and he decides to announce his love to Glinda. Nessa objects to this and uses her powers to take Boqs heart. As Boq starts to die Elphaba casts a spell that transforms him so he does not need a heart ! As he emerges he has been turned into a man of tin.
Elphaba eventually agrees to the wizards plans as long on condition that he releases all the caged monkeys in his possession. She returns to the palace where the wizard explains where he came from and how he became known as Wonderful (Wonderful) . Elphaba doesn’t understand propaganda and accuses the wizard of lying, but he explains that it all the way history is portrayed “ A rich man is a thief or a philanthropist “ Elphaba is angrier still when she sees her old tutor who has also lost the power of speech and decides not to join the wizard who calls in the guards. Fiyero, who has been promoted to Head of the Guards, helps her escape and follows her, much to Glindas disappointment . Glida realises that in order to find Elphaba, something must happen to her sister, and the school principle (who can control the weather) conjures up a cyclone which causes a certain Kansas house to fly to Oz.
Elphaba is enjoying her time with Fiyero but returns just in time to see Dorothy leave with her sisters shoes on. Fiyero is captured and accused of being a traitor where the guards hang him on a wooden post to be eaten by the birds. Elphaba cannot save him but casts a spell which turns him into a scarecrow. She is angry at her limitations and vows that she will never do a good deed again (No Good Deed Goes Unpunished). This anger soon turns to disillusionment and she allows herself to be captured. As the stage clears, a solitary Glina watches a silhoutted Dorothy arriving with her bucket of water. Green smoke billows from the stage as the shadow of the wicked witch shrinks in traditional style.
The whole musical portrays Elphaba as a misunderstood individual who tries to help, but is thwarted by hype and preconceptions. The spells are cast for good reason, but others view them as evil since they do not look beyond the surface. The audience genuinely feel sadness for Elphaba towards the end of the evening, so there’s just enough time for one final twist before the cast reunite of stage for their curtain call, and the inevitable standing ovation. The fastest one I have ever seen.
Basically, would I go and see this again? 100% yes!