[Be aware that long-running shows will have had cast changes since our review was written.]
From Broadway comes a real, old-fashioned barnstorming Broadway musical, with a real Broadway star performance at its centre. Wicked may not quite be nirvana, but things really don't get too much better than this.
Adapted by Winnie Holzman from Gregory Maguire's novel, this prequel to The Wizard Of Oz tells how two schoolgirls grow from enemies to friends to romantic rivals to allies in the fight against the evil (in this telling) Wizard, in the process becoming Glinda The Good Witch and Elphaba The Wicked Witch Of The West.
The show's sympathies are entirely with Elphaba, saddled with the unexplained birth defect of green skin, whose wickedness (in this telling) consists of rebelling against the fascist and racist Wizard.
Her performance in the role won Idina Menzel every award going on Broadway, and it will take a lot to beat her for every award going in London.
Menzel has real star quality, the kind you thought Broadway wasn't producing any more. It isn't just her greenness ('She's phosphorescent,' grumbles Glinda at an envious moment) that makes her light up the stage She just wipes everybody else off it with the power of her singing, acting and personality - just as you want a star to do.
The show takes a while warming up, in part because Menzel doesn't appear until the second scene, and the songs by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin) are barely serviceable until about halfway through Act One, when Elphaba lets loose with the dramatic and self-pitying I'm Not That Girl.
From then on, it is consistently the dramatic songs, usually Menzel's, that stand out - her enthusiastic Defying Gravity, the love duet As Long As You're Mine, her dark No Good Deed, and the climactic duet between the reconciled Glinda and Elphaba, For Good.
The other songs, including the production numbers, are forgettable. Indeed, for a show built on fantasy and magic, the whole area of spectacle is surprisingly weak. Wayne Cilento's choreography is uninteresting. the Wizard is scarier in the movie than here, and every Peter Pan there ever was has flown more excitingly than Elphaba.
Helen Dallimore as Glinda seemed a little nervous on Press Night. Her voice was shrill in her first songs, and she took a little too long to let us see that there was more to Glinda than the spoiled-rich-girl airhead that she first seems. Dallimore grew more confident as the role became more rounded, and I am sure she will settle in as a strong counterpart to Menzel.
Adam Garcia is attractive as the Prince Charming figure, and Nigel Planer as the Wizard and Miriam Margolyes as his sinister assistant make the most of their cartoonish roles.
I don't know if it's in the novel or adapter Holzman's addition, but the running gag of cutely mangled words (demanderating, scandalicious, thrillifying, etc.) grows very old very quickly. On the other hand, you don't have to be an Oz nut to appreciate the clever ways this story is tied to the original, from strained gags - a party punch made of lemons and melons and pears, oh my - to sometimes quite moving backstories for the Scarecrow, Tin Man and other familiar characters.
So - four or five first-rate songs, a star performance, strong support, a frequently clever book, and the rest no worse than adequate. You can't really ask for much more than that.
But go soon, to see a real live Broadway star at work.
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Review - Wicked - Apollo Victoria 2006