Most theatre critics will have seen the long running shows on a number of occasions. But there’s one that has proved to be a favourite, time after time and with a new cast taking to the stage at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, is the London production of Wicked the best it’s ever been?
It’s definitely a close call and following the 10th anniversary cast can’t have been easy, but what the new recruits have brought to the show is a renewed focus on the depth of the fascinating characters and important themes of acceptance, which run throughout this fairytale musical.
Wicked follows the story of the witches of Oz and is based on the novel by Gregory McGuire, but there is plenty for fans of L Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz mixed in, with lots of fantastical elements and spectacular staging. The story tells a very different side to the beloved MGM film and additionally hints at society’s tolerance of racism and bigotry.
I’ve seen more than 10 different versions of the green witch Elphaba, but Alice Fearn really gets to the root of the complex and much loved character. There’s such a vulnerability to her portrayal, with Fearn visibly absorbing the bullying she faces in act one before showing her mettle and tackling it head-on later in proceedings. The growth of the character over the course of the show has never been more apparent and when coupled with a stunning vocal performance, I think Alice Fearn is the best Elphaba I’ve ever seen. And I thought I knew what I was getting, having seen Fearn as standby before she stepped up to take on the job fulltime, but she has managed to find even more facets to her performance.
Sophie Evans also sets out her stand right from the beginning with a wonderfully intricate performance in which she shows the struggle and torment the good witch Glinda faces and although some of the froth and fun is more underplayed – particularly in the “Popular” scene – it makes the often two dimensional character much more believable.
And Bradley Jaden isn’t left behind either with a wonderfully brooding and muscular portrayal of the Winkie Prince Fiyero, which makes his sentiment, “I happen to be genuinely self-absorbed and deeply shallow” extremely poignant.
There’s a much more fatherly feel to Andy Hockley’s Wizard, while Melanie La Barrie is majestic as Morrible and beautifully understated compared to previous incarnations. Jack Lansbury brings sweetness to Boq – with his incessant mooning over Glinda sorrowful rather than irritating – and Rosa O’Reilly provides a strong foe as Nessarose, which evokes empathy.
The new cast definitely makes Wicked worth a return visit and proves this smash hit show is still one of the best in the West End.
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Reviewed by Nicky Sweetland
Photo: Matt Crockett