Theatre Review: Wicked @ Apollo Victoria, London
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Everyone knows L. Frank Baum's tale of Oz, with the little girl in the red shoes and her faithful dog Toto. The yellow brick road and her defeat of various wicked witches in the 1939 film classic gave everyone faith that there's simply 'no place like home', and good will always triumph over evil. But there are two sides every story, and Wicked poses the impertinent question: 'Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?' Since it's UK debut in autumn 2006, Wicked remains a captivating performance globally, already seen by 42 million worlwide and named 'Broadway's biggest blockbuster' by the New York Times. Based on Gregory Maguire's novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the award-winning musical has been given a Disney makeover. It certainly doesn't fail to enchant almost a decade on - the Apollo Victoria Theatre enjoyed a packed audience and many delighted laughs at the character quirks and Oz in-jokes. Wicked focuses on the story of two archetypal young woman that meet at 'uni', as Glinda so charmingly calls it. Shiz university, though undoubtedly beautiful and historical, has a certain Hogwarts feel about it. A big magical castle set on a hillside, I'm almost surprised Daniel Radcliffe doesn't burst on stage to join in with the ribbon-twirling. Opening with the somewhat intimidating 'No One Mourns The Wicked', with the chorus and Glinda the Good Witch (Savannah Stevenson) giving you some terrible vibes about the recently deceased Elphaba, so-called Wicked Witch Of The West, the cast immediately make use of the intricate scenery, which includes balconies to stand on and steps to dangle from. Glinda is as picture perfect as the movies, as sugar sweet as you expect her to be. But gasp! Is it true that you knew the Wicked Witch? The two sorcery students, Elphaba (Jennifer DiNoia) and Glinda, end up roomies in an unexpected turn of events, and their loathing relationship blossoms into a deep and meaningful friendship you really didn't see coming. DiNoia brings years of experience to the role having played the 'green girl' (her words, not mine) on Broadway, and in Chicago, Seoul and Sydney. All this experience has made her comfortable in the role, and she oozed confidence on stage. Her American accent may have stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the largely British cast, but her voice was so powerful I was almost brought to tears during the iconic 'Defying Gravity'. Elphaba's dry wit and endearing modesty makes her a loveable character - not something you expect from somebody who ought to be so wicked. GAAAARlinda, who becomes the beloved Glinda the Good Witch, is as sugary sweet as the 1939 original. The story of both her and Elphaba's past and present, and how they came to be on the silver screen, blends seamlessly in this performance, filling in many of the gaps you never realised were there. Clever crossovers, like where did the Wizard come from? How did the Wicked Witches' monkeys grow wings and why was she so creepily attached to them (FLY MY PRETTIES FLY)? Why was that cowardly lion so darn cowardly? The modern-day musical and nearly 80 year-old film work hand-in-hand. The audience are given an insight to Oz that makes you feel like a fly on a very weird wall. The chemistry between Savannah and Jennifer was natural and warm, leading you to believe that not only were they firm friends on stage, united together to change Oz for the better, but I imagine there are a lot of laughs backstage as well. Rather than Prince Fiyero dominating the dynamics of their friendship, Wicked gives these two young female characters a very strong voice of their own.
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