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Publishing Newspaper: Daily Mail
Date: 28th September 2006
Author: Patrick Marmion
Photo Credit: N/A

First Night Review - Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre, London

Here it is: full and final proof that box office busting musicals can be critic proof.

This is the show that got a critical mauling when it opened three years ago on Broadway, but such is the show's popularity it went on to be a massive hit anyway, extending its franchise worldwide.

Now it's opened in London, and history looks set to repeat itself. The critics will largely deplore it. But it won't matter.

Critics of course are hardly the target audience of a show clearly aimed at teenage girls hitting the age when they start refusing to budge from or tidy their bedrooms.

It is the tale of how Elphaba, a girl who after being born green, grows up to be maligned as the wicked witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. But it's also the tale of her friendship with bimbo Glinda, the most popular girl in school.

The show's message is that the forces of superficiality led by Nigel Planer as the seemingly harmless Wizard of Oz in league with the matronly Miriam Margolyes, are in fact bent on world domination and animal exploitation.

Only Elphaba is smart enough and individual enough to want to stop him. But trouble really flares when Fiyero the school himbo, with a Kevin Keegan perm, falls in love with Elphaba leaving Glinda bitterly jealous. Stephen Schwartz's music, like the story in Gregory Maguire's novel adapted by Winnie Holzman, is spectacularly over-blown. Full of rambling keyboards, blasting brass and cascading drums, there are times when the score even rivals Carmina Burana for supersized crescendos.

Schwartz's lyrics meanwhile take banality to galactic proportions. Indeed it's one of the show's most excruciating ironies that while asserting the importance of being earnest it is wilfully moronic.

Nor does it help that Idina Menzel who won a Tony Award on Broadway for playing Elphaba howls like Dolly Parton in between telling everyone off for being shallow. At least Helen Dallimore as Glinda is a convincing bimbo with a shrill and warbly voice.

In its favour, Joe Mantello's production is never less than stagey although there are times when the amount of dry ice and gothic stage effects put you in mind of heavy metal bands satirised by Spinal Tap.

Not, you'd have thought, up the street of adolescent girlies, but their hysterical squeals of delight said otherwise from start to finish last night. What ever the critics say, this is going to be a palpable hit. You can Elpha bet on it.

Article © The Daily Mail/Patrick Marmion, 2006


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