Publishing Newspaper: The Daily Telegraph
Date: 28th September 2006
Author: Charles Spencer
Photo Credit: Alistair Muir
Flawed, but witches' spell still
Despite all my best endeavours, I
have never found myself capable of becoming a friend
The much loved 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz gives
me the creeps and as Dorothy and her cute male friends
wend their way along the yellow brick road, I feel
more like throwing up than applauding.
Those ghastly Munchkins, the tooth-rotting sweetness
of the Good Witch, the ghastly cracker-barrel wisdom
- all of it torture, like slowly drowning in a sea
of Technicolor kitsch. This surely is a film for girls
So it was with no great hopes that I made my way
to this stage prequel, which tells the back-story
of the good witch Glinda, and of the malevolent green-faced
rival, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.
Despite receiving indifferent reviews, Wicked, based
on a novel by Gregory Maguire and with songs by Stephen
Schwartz of Godspell fame, has become an enduringly
lucrative hit in New York. It is apparently especially
favoured by adolescent girls and watching this unexpectedly
witty, enjoyable though far from flawless show it's
easy to see why.
Essentially Wicked tells the story of two archetypal
young women who meet at Shiz university (which bears
a strong similarity to Harry Potter's Hogwarts) and
graduate to the wider world of Oz where life is turning
Glinda is a beautiful, spoilt blonde airhead, popular
with everyone, almost always getting her own way,
and inclined to stamp her feet when she doesn't. Elphaba
in contrast, is an outcast, because she was born with
green skin, distrusted and mocked by everyone except
her crippled sister. Needless to say the pair become
deadly rivals before they discover that they are actually
bosom buddies, and the account of fickle girly relationships
is told with wit and panache.
But the piece is also a faintly paranoid allegory
of present-day America. The folksy Wizard of Oz bears
a more than passing resemblance to George W Bush in
Nigel Planer's performance, and in his persecution
of oz's talking animals we re surely meant to discern
parallels with America's current bellicosity and its
feat of alien cultures as it wages it was against
The popular Glinda tries to stay out of trouble and
find romance with Adam Garcia's prince. The "wicked"
Elphaba, in contract, becomes a broom-flying freedom
fighter on behalf of Oz's dispossessed. Gradually
however the roles are reversed.
At times the show undoubtedly slips into the preachy,
but mercifully Winnie Holzman's script keeps the gags
coming as it cleverly subverts the film that spawned
it. And Joe Mantello's production, on a Heath Robinsonish
design by Eugene Lee, is packed with spectacular coups
de theatre and some magical lighting effects by Kenneth
Stephen Schwartz's lyrics are occasionally touched
with wit, but what he really specialises in are the
big gloopy ballads that allow the two female leads
to stand centre stage and soar into the stratospheric.
This they do with some style.
Idina Menzel, visiting from Broadway where she won
a Tony for her performance, offers a winning powerhouse
performance as Elphaba, a green, female Harry Potter
who suffers dreadfully as she tries to do magical
good, and sings of her trials and tribulations with
astonishing displays of vocal power.
Helen Dallimore is at times laugh-out-loud funny
as the pert, preening Glinda, who loves no one quite
as much as herself, and these two performers create
a genuinely warm and sparky on-stage relationship.
No one could accuse Wicked of being a great musical
- indeed at times it's a bit of a mess - but it proves
far more enjoyable that I had dared hope, and deserves
a wider audience than adolescent schoolgirls.
Article © The Daily Telegraph/
Charles Spencer, 2006
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