Monday, 17 February 2020

13 thoughts on Wicked's thirteenth birthday


Those of you who know your theatre will of course realise that I am so late uploading this post I should probably add a 14th point. In fact, I am now a whole Elphaba out.

If you can forgive my tardiness, and any Wicked wordplay or puns that have snuck their way in, then keep reading to find out my thoughts revisiting Wicked for the first time since my early teens…


1. Surely it can’t have been 13 years already
On receiving an invite to celebrate the West End production of Wicked’s thirteenth birthday, I was very surprised. The musical, which I still somewhat consider a modern show, has been in the West End for exactly half my lifetime. Sweet Oz, indeed.



2. Wicked must be a landmark musical for many of my generation

Since I was 13 when Wicked first flew into the West End, it was a pretty significant player in my theatrical education and discovery. It fell right at the time when my exploration of musicals began to expand outside of the realms of school, singing lessons and Christmas theatre trips. For a thirteen-year-olds whose musical catalogue consisted mostly of a few classics and seasonal family shows, Wicked felt utterly modern and exciting.

For me, at least, it is as much of a musical milestone as singing along to Joseph in the car from a young age, acting out scenes from Grease in the school playground, and discovering Les Misérables for the first time. It was a fascination that my fellow circle of musical friends shared, and it certainly inundated our school concerts for a good few years. For Good became the anthem of all leavers’ events.



3. The Apollo Victoria is huge

A ground-breaking thesis, I know. But in all seriousness, given that Wicked held such a presence in my teenage theatrical experience, it was miraculous that prior to this visit, I had only seen the show once. Returning to the Apollo all these years later, I was struck by its size. It is no mean feat that Wicked has continued to fill one of the largest West End theatres with buzzing audiences for thirteen years.



4. The music is still bewitching

Wicked’s songs remain its strength. From the rousing ensemble numbers, to the show-stopping ballads and cinematic orchestration, the music truly compensates for any untidy script work and hasty plot development.



5. Move over Defying Gravity, the best song is No Good Deed

Yes, Defying Gravity has a killer melody, the Act One finale position, an important mantra for outsiders everywhere and, y’know, flying, but I’d like to make a case for Elphaba’s Act Two counterpart, if you’ll allow me.

Without the constraints of Defying Gravity’s more conventional musical structure, No Good Deed agonisingly conveys Elphaba’s inner turmoil as she battles with the realisation that regardless of her actions, society will never see past her abnormalities. A frantic orchestration rushes forward beneath Elphaba’s soaring cries, driving the song through its fluctuating emotions. If that’s not enough, it is also seemingly the moment Elphaba assumes the very identity the musical sets out to uncloak: The Wicked Witch of the West.



6. The talent in the cast is exceptional

Wicked alumni include the likes of Idina Menzel, Kerry Ellis and Rachel Tucker, so it’s no surprise that even in its thirteenth year, the musical continues to showcase spellbinding talent. Nikki Bentley is an unassuming but enchanting Elphaba with superlative vocals in the big numbers.



7. Has Wicked aged, or have I just grown older?

Clearly thirteen-year-old me was much less cynical and much more naïve, and therefore oblivious to underdeveloped characters, unbelievable plot and undernourished dialogue, which is presumably why the narrative feels a lot less tangible this time around.

Of course, there’s also the fact that culture, society and politics have moved on since 2006, and although Wicked is set in the fictitious land of Oz, many nuances of gender, disability and race feel dated.



8. Less sparkle, and more grit needed

Wicked may be the untold story of The Wizard of Oz’s villain, scoped by what ought to be dark themes of othering, discrimination and corruption, but in reality it’s a sugar-coated retelling, full of the sparkle and pizazz demanded by a family-orientated hit.

And goodness knows, we don’t need another musical based in Oz, but I would sacrifice Popular, seven of Glinda’s squeals and the completely unnecessary love triangle for a grittier exploration of Elphaba and Nessa’s childhood, more on the oppression of animals in Oz, and a less clichéd portrayal of peer pressure and popularity.



9. The costumes and set still do the job

Considering little has changed on the aesthetic front in the past thirteen years, the visual spectacle of the show still flies high. Though Wicked obviously precedes The Hunger Games films, the Ozians’ garish wear isn’t dissimilar from the dystopian feel of the Capitol’s fashion, conjuring traces of danger amongst the vibrant displays.



10. Choreography is a highlight

Choreography builds much of the atmosphere, from the bustling, energetic emerald city, to enraged witch-hunters and literal flying monkeys. In fact, the movement direction frequently compensates in the weaker moments, keeping the largely flimsy script feeling full.



11. There are moments of true magic

Hidden beneath the glitzy facade, there are few moments, when all elements align - a harrowing vocal line levitating over stirring orchestration, stage dappled in atmospheric lighting, a momentary blanket silence across the audience - and the forth wall feels a little more translucent than before, dousing the theatre with a splash of magic.



12. So much character development, so little time

From the inventive spins on the principal characters, to the plethora of new characters, there is no end to the fascinating backstories and characters. It’s just a shame there’s not more space given to delving deeper.



13. There’s nothing like a satisfying circular narrative

It may be one of the oldest tricks in the spell-book, but you can’t deny the power of a classic circular narrative. As Glinda glides back onto stage in her bubble and the musical motifs from the show’s opening strike again with the added discord of retrospection, you can’t help but feel a little satisfied to be leaving the theatre with all loose ends tightly knotted.


*This was a press/review ticket, but all words and opinions are my own.

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