REVIEW: WICKED (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★

My return visit to Wicked was made all the more enjoyable by attending with a friend who had never seen the show before. Seeing it through different eyes renewed and refreshed my enjoyment of this show.

Based on the best-selling novel by Gregory Maguire Wicked’s success has a lot to do with originality and playfulness; it’s a prequel to the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and gives more depth to well known characters. From their early days as rival sorcery students to their forming of an unlikely friendship, before ultimately being ascribed the titles of Wicked and Good. The Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, is a misunderstood young girl who was born with bright green skin – she’s also the show’s unexpected heroine. Whereas Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, starts out as a spoilt blonde brat and learns her compassion from Elphaba. Wicked turns everything upside down and makes us question whether any of the characters are truly ‘bad’.

As Glinda, Helen Woolf is saccharine sweet with a strong soprano voice and superb comic timing. Woolf’s performance of comical number ‘Popular’ provides a show highlight but its her rendition of ‘Thank Goodness’ which truly allows her to shine revealing the character’s inner vulnerability.

But it is Amy Ross as Elphaba, who grows up battling bigotry toward her lurid skin tone who steals the show. It is probably easy to learn the script and play the part but Ross has given layers and depth to her interpretation of the part. Her careful pronunciation of her words and outstanding singing voice allow a powerful emotional intensity. And the show stopping ‘Defying Gravity’ was breathtakingly powerful.

Boq, played by Iddon Jones, plays the part very well, despite vocals being a little frayed at times. Aaron Sidwell’s Fiyero and Emily Shaw’s Nessarose both seem a little hesitant in terms of their songs but their characters balance well with two strong female leads. Kim Ismay was gloriously over the top as the marvellously malevolent Madame Morrible. Steven Pinder combined Doctor Dillamond with his role of the Wizard and shined in both. The ensemble are incredibly tight; vocally powerful, perfectly synchronized and sustain a polished performance throughout.

There were some lovely nods to the original Wizard of Oz. Nessarose’s stripy black and white tights, the origins of the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow. And the keeping of the original books idea that the shoes belonging to Nessa were silver until enchanted then they became ruby red.

Although mainly green, the show is colourful and vibrant and tells a story of love, friendship and embracing differences. Turning the stereotypes that many know from The Wizard of Oz on their head, this tale of heartbreak, love and loss laughs at the superficial and probes us to look inside ourselves for true happiness.

Reviewed by Susan Lindsay
Photo: Matt Crockett


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