Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome

Production Run: Wed 4 - Sat 29 Apr 2018

Performance Reviewed: Thu 5 Apr 2018 (Press Night)

Any show still soaring high after almost 12 years on London’s West End and now its second Nationwide tour is clearly doing something right. Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s whimsical, affirming subversion of The Wizard Of Oz is still casting its spell at full potency; Wicked’s current month-long tenure at the Birmingham Hippodrome is already completely sold out, with the theatre recommending those unlucky Ozians without a pass to the Wiz-o-mania to check daily returns in hopes of clutching an elusive emerald ticket.

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

And, much like the similarly stunning outing of its 2014/15 tour, this latest production is as jaw-droppingly ambitious a show as you could hope to see. Wicked has always been an extravagant treat of a show to just look at, truly musical theatre firing on all cylinders, and thankfully there are no sacrifices made here (bar one or two very minor practical set changes and transitions) to the full scale West End experience.

Wicked on tour is spellbindingly good.

Eugene Lee’s charismatic and interlocking set design is an interlocking, ever-changing harmony of colour and bedazzlement met with industry, cogs and wheels as magic meets machination, and the invention and scope with which ir has been taken on the road remains a feat of both engineering and creativity. Susan Hilferty’s opulent and wonderfully extravagant 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 dazzling green of the Ozian capital or the foreboding frustrations of ‘No Good Deed’ and Elphaba’s other magical outbursts, Kenneth Posner’s lighting brings us heightened touches such as delicate rainfall or even a certain tornado or two…

In addition to a razor-sharp, supremely impressive ensemble whom imbue the entire show with a real energy and vim, the leads here are just as magical as their fictional counterparts. Aaron Sidwell cuts a more grounded and believable Fiyero than many of his predecessors - capturing a perfect air of entitled schoolboy where others have leant more towards arrogant jerk-cum-crooning lothario. It’s a lot less ‘stagey’ a performance (perhaps buoyed by Sidwell’s experience in screen drama) and it makes for a far more nuanced and authentic arc, and overall a very refreshing and welcome break from the typical Fiyero mould - even if Sidwell does not seem overly at home with the character’s early choreography.

Kim Ismay is, similarly, a deliciously underplayed Madame Morrible. Having seen the likes of Miriam Margolyes chew up the stage and spit it back out in the same role, Ismay’s more measured take on the show’s morally ambiguous sorceress was another surprise and treat. Steven Pinder is charismatic and charming in dual roles as both kindly Doctor Dillamond and the perhaps not-so-wonderful Wizard of Oz, whilst Iddon Jones plucks at the heartstrings as well-meaning munchkin Boq.

But it is the touching, hilarious, brilliantly observed two-hander of Glinda and Elphaba around which the show truly pivots, and it’s here where the tour really plays its aces. Helen Woolf is a hyper-animated dream of a Glinda the Good - dialling the character up to eleven and keeping her there. That’s not to say it is an unruly or distracting performance - in fact some of the best scenes with this particular Glinda are when Woolf really mines into her anguish and frustration. You’ll likely not have seen a start to ‘Defying Gravity’ as venomous and brittle as here. 

Thankfully, she’s met by just as proficient and affecting an actress in Amy Ross, whose Elphaba is one of the most sincere and likeable the show has yet produced. There’s an earnest intensity to Ross’ work, particularly in Act 2 where some actresses lose some of the emotive beats amidst the bigger set pieces and numbers. 

That Ross and Woolf demonstrate both the vocals and acting chops to call this one of the best Wicked casts yet should go some way in saying how wonderful they are in their iconic roles.

There’s little that needs to be said about the show's now-iconic score - ‘Defying Gravity’ remains one of the all-time great Act 1 closers, and Ross truly goes to town with it here, whilst 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 the cast and creatives involved have once again been able to scoop up all that Ozmopolitan goodness and take it on the road without compromising any of its splendiferousness or wonderment proves just one thing:

Wicked doesn’t just defy gravity, it defies expectations right along with it.

So if you care to find me, look to the Western Box Office. I’m off to hunt down those daily returns…

RATING - ★★★★★

Tickets: 0844 338 5000 / Official Website: click

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Readers who submit articles must agree to our terms of use. The content is the sole responsibility of the contributor and is unmoderated. But we will react if anything that breaks the rules comes to our attention. If you wish to complain about this article, contact us here