Venue: Apollo Victoria Theatre

Production Run: currently booking until 26 May 2018

Performance Reviewed: Wed 28 June (Press Night)

Any show still soaring high after celebrating its 10th anniversary in London’s West End is clearly doing something right.

Any show still soaring high after its 10th anniversary whilst also having become an indelible part of the musical theatre psyche and consciousness is clearly doing something magical.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine the world of musical theatre - and the West End as a whole - without Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s whimsical, affirming subversion on L. Frank Baum’s classic Wizard of Oz

And whilst Wicked’s barnstorming international success means we pretty much all know the wrinkle being told in the tale here - the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ Elphaba is not a cackling Margaret Hamilton monstrosity but rather a crusading, misunderstood anti-hero and one-time school (since updated to ‘uni’) friend of ‘Glinda the Good’ - even with a decade of familiarity with both its book and score, Wicked remains just as fresh, affirming, funny and deceptively witty as when London audiences took their first trip to this canted view of Oz.

Having been there to see Idina Menzel open the show at the Apollo Victoria in late 2006, it is truly ‘wonderful’ to see what the show has become. Whilst always an opulent treat (this has always been West End writ and lit large), Wicked is looking and sounding better than ever. 

Eugene Lee and Susan Hilferty’s stunning set designs creep ever further out from beyond the confines of the Apollo’s stage to almost swallow up the front of the stalls in Oz-ness; their vision of the world an interlocking, ever-changing harmony of colour and bedazzlement met with industry, cogs and wheels as magic meets machination. Similarly, Susan Hilferty’s Tony-winning costumes continue to fuse high-fashion with high-fantasy (the citizens of Emerald City remain a treat to take in) and when it is not bathing us in the green hues of the Ozian capital or the foreboding frustrations of ‘No Good Deed’, Kenneth Posner’s lighting brings us heightened touches such as the likes of delicate rainfall or even a certain tornado or two…

Wicked has always been a joy of a show to just look at, and the gradual tweaks and alterations that have been implemented to the London production over the past decade continue to make it easily one of the most visually arresting and impressive shows you will see on the West End.

In fact, one could argue that the international recognition of the brand, the show’s devoted fan following and continuing popularity and success (just this February it picked up the public-voted WhatsOnStage.com gong for ‘Best West End Show) suggest that it could comfortably rest on its laurels. After all, a show is up in the echelons of Les Mis and co. to enjoy such comfortable longevity and appeal.

However, as with the continuing artistic and technical refinements, Wicked is demonstrably a production that aims to defy gravity with its casting choices, too, not least of all to coincide with such a landmark anniversary.

London has always boasted solid casts, with powerhouse Elphabas including Rachel Tucker, Kerry Ellis, and of course Ms. Menzel, and the first ever UK Tour in 2014 boasted an impressive company too, even after principle Elphaba Nikki Davis-Jones had to drop out early on. The current 10th anniversary cast, however, are by some measure uniformly the best cast yet.

Willemijn Verkaik, returning to the role of Elphaba after having taken her rendition of the character around the world, is something of a superstar within the Wicked fan community, and it isn’t hard to see why. Where former ‘Elphies’ have tiptoed around the general Idina Menzel template, Verkaik’s take on the role is admirably and confidently unique. Far more dry and deadpan, and distinctly less ‘musical theatre’ for want of a subtler label, Verkaik’s Elphaba genuinely registers as a young woman somehow both despondent yet hopeful, and a person who has palpably had to weather the cruelty and hardships of a world unaccepting of her ‘verdigris’. After 10 years (Verkaik first stepped into the role in Stuttgart in 2007) it remains a wonderfully distinctive take on the character that is thankfully met with simply astonishing vocals; her riffs in ‘Defying Gravity’, ‘The Wizard and I’ and ‘No Good Deed’ proving to be the cherry on top of this epitome of what an Elphaba can be.

She is partnered beautifully with Suzie Mathers’ peppy, almost hyperactive take on Galinda/Glinda. London has tended to be a little more hit-and-miss when it comes to its Glindas (particularly when compared to Broadway), but Australian-born Mathers shatters any such concern and confidently raises the bar alongside Verkaik. Her heightened, Chenoweth-esque take on the role is the perfect foil to Verkaik’s more sardonic and subdued Elphaba, and together they boast something of a Wicked on musical steroids. That Mathers more than holds her own with equally impressive vocals (her beautiful higher register in particular floods the auditorium with crystalline clarity) and a hilarious command of character makes the duo one of the most delectable and show-stopping pairings you could wish for in the show.

The supporting cast are no cowardly lions either, though. Oliver Savile is a commanding and suave figure on the stage as the dashing Fiyero, and whilst the character’s arc is always a little more rushed than the two leads’, Savile does great work and his footwork in ‘Dancing Through Life’ proves lithe and intoxicating. Sue Kelvin proves herself to be another definitive - you will be hard pressed to find a better, more bombastic or theatrical Madame Morrible; it’s a performance dialled up to eleven and all the more deliciously evil and fabulous for it. 

Someone please secure her for the upcoming UK and Ireland Tour.

And whilst Mark Curry may not be strongest of vocalists, he has charisma and charm to spare as the Wizard. 

Over 10 years on, Wicked continues to defy both gravity and expectations to stunning effect. There’s little that needs to be said about its now-iconic score - ‘Defying Gravity’ remains one of the all-time great Act 1 closers, particularly in the hands of a powerhouse such as Verkaik, and the sheer charm and character of the likes of ‘Popular’ and ‘One Short Day’ have lost none of their shine. The story takes the essence of Gregory Maguire’s clever but slightly darker books and paints it into something witty, affecting, family-friendly and empowering with a smorgasbord of hidden nudges and winks for fans of the world of Oz. How the show’s second Act operates around the fringes of Dorothy’s story remains particularly genius.

But even pushing these specific merits and achievements aside, Wicked remains as enjoyable and seminal a visit today as it ever has done because above all it is an extremely slick, polished and stunning example of big budget musical theatre pitched perfectly and executed equally well. That a decade later it continues to push the boundaries with a best-yet company line-up just goes to show there is plenty of life in the old witch yet.

RATING - ★★★★★

Tickets: 0844 871 3001​​  / Official Website: click​

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