Wicked, Bristol Hippodrome

ALTHOUGH L Frank Baum wrote 14 stories about the Wonderful World of Oz, the one best remembered is that used for the classic 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland. There is no doubting who are the goodies and who the baddies in this version, with Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West heading the list of baddies and Billie Burke’s Glinda, Good Witch of the North, the goodies.

It was almost 100 years later that American author Gregory Maguire came along and turned these entrenched ideas almost on their heads in his novel, Wicked, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Suddenly, the green-skinned outsider Elphaba is transformed from a detestable unfeeling witch to a caring young woman ostracised by society because, with her green skin, she does not conform to the accepted norm. At the same time the beautiful, loved, and envied-by-all Glinda becomes a selfish wealthy spoilt brat. How these two at-first implacable enemies come to understand and love one another forms the basis of this powerful story to which Stephan Schwartz has added a dramatic score.

That makes two wonderful roles for those selected to play Elphaba and Glinda, and Laura Pick and Sarah O’Connor were in no mood to waste such opportunities. I wish Wayne Cilento, responsible for the musical staging (or do we blame those responsible for the music arrangements and orchestrations), had allowed Laura Pick a wider range in her vocals, instead of making her blast out number after number pop-style. As she showed in her acting, she has many more strings to her emotional range. Not that this bothered the audience, who cheered her the echo after every solo.

They were equally generous towards Sarah O’Connor, who vocally and dramatically subtly turned Glinda from an unlikable selfish being to a caring generous friend.

Backing this duo were a string of well-drawn characters, Simeon Truby a devious, far from the usual loveable Wizard of Oz, Donna Berlin as dishonest a PR lady as you will find in any part of the entertainment business, Megan Gardiner as Elphaba’s wheel-chair bound sister, not quite the sweet innocent she fist appears to be, Jed Berry’s lovely study of the much abused, lovesick Munchkin, Boq, and Carl Mann making far more than a cardboard lover out of the handsome romantic Flyero.

Add to those an ensemble working as hard and with as great a drive as any of the principals and you have a show that visually and vocally grabs the audience by the throat and never, under the strongest of direction from Joe Mantello, relaxes its grip for a moment.

There was an enormous buzz of excitement in the theatre before curtain up, and, greeted by excitingly lit, dazzling sets and costumes, they were not disappointed when the 16-strong orchestra burst the show into life. It must have ben as exciting for those on stage as it was in the theatre to have an audience so determined to enjoy every minute of the production, and prepared to shout and cheer after almost every musical offering.

Now comfortably ensconced this production remains at the Bristol Hippodrome until Sunday February 25th.


Photographs by Matt Crockett

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