High-flying show defies gravity (review)

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WIZARD of Oz purists look away. . .

Wicked is in town ­­- and this prequel to the iconic musical puts a completely new twist on the story of Dorothy’s adventure in Munchkinland.

Long before the Kansas girl’s whirlwind arrival, it seems another story was unravelling – the untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two sorcery students. The very popular and ambitious blue-eyed blonde Glinda and the very. . . green – and smart, but misunderstood, Elphaba who dreams of meeting the Wizard of Oz.

Adversaries soon become best friends but things then turn sour as the pair are torn apart and we’re led on an adventure that shapes their destinies ­– as Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Gregory Maguire’s acclaimed 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, re-imagined the Land of Oz, creating a parallel universe to the familiar story written by L. Frank Baum and first published as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900.

Though Wicked is set as a prequel to the Wizard of Oz, the story takes place before, during and after the well-known plot. Spotting the frequent references to the classic tale, is all part of the fun, from references to the yellow brick road and fleeting appearances by the original characters. For some the plot of the new twisted tale might seem a tad forced in parts, there’s an undeniable genius in its attention to detail and loyalty to its predecessor. It answers a lot of questions we didn’t know we had!

Regardless, this vast production is an absolute triumph – an epic adventure brought to life by superb scenery, simply stunning special effects and top notch acting. It is a powerful, charming and emotive production that should, rightly, also be hailed as one of the most sobering morality tales of our time.

Helen Woolf (Glinda) and Amy Ross (Elphaba) dazzled the audience with their vocal performances but stand-out ‘moment’ (and there were quite a few) belonged to Ross’ rendition of Defying Gravity marking the start of her transition from good to evil. It earned her a standing ovation at the end of the first act.

Every single audience member was straight to their feet too for final bows from our leading ladies, whose on-stage chemistry seals the deal.

Brookside star Steven Pinder brought The Great Wizard to life with convincing duplicity. And former Eastender Aaron Sidwell was convincing as the love interest – for both our girls!
Other highlights included the strong and scheming Madame Morrible played by Helen Walsh, and Iddon Jones as Boq.

One of the most spellbinding musicals in years, so little surprise then it has sold out its four-week run at the Birmingham Hippodrome already. I would urge you to get your name down on the waiting list for returned tickets however. It would be simply wicked to miss it.