First Night: Wicked, Apollo Victoria,
London. Overblown and over here: Broadway hit fails
to cast spell
The broom is such a convenient method of transport
these days, given the rigours of airport security.
And now flying across the Atlantic astride one such
vehicle comes Wicked, a musical prequel and sequel
to The Wizard of Oz. Adapted by Winnie Holzman from
the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, the show - which
has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz - delves
into the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West.
In New York, it quickly recouped its $14m (£7.4m)
capitalisation costs. There are further productions
springing up in major cities and a touring version.
On the other side of the pond, there is no rest
It was hard to tell from last night's first night
how well it would go down here. The audience was
so papered with connected people that everything
was greeted with uniform ecstasy. Green-faced and
in hideously clashing student clothes, Idina Menzel
had merely to walk on stage, as Elphaba, the future
Wicked Witch, and the roof came off. A friend who'd
seen the show in New York told me that this girl
can out-sing Streisand. I beg strongly to differ.
Her voice is certainly power-packed and tuneful
but it is also featureless, lacking Streisand's
range of emotional colours.
The first half of Wicked is, however, a bit like
the real-life Streisand story translated to Oz and
with added chlorophyll. Girl has distinctive feature
that makes her an outsider and the butt of taunts.
Then she finds that she has wondrous powers (here
discovered with the help of a book of spells at
magic school) and soon leaves everyone literally
standing as she sings of singular flight. Here it's
on a broom rather than on a ship. I confess that
my tummy lurched pleasurably during the evening's
big uplifting number, "I think I'll try/Defying
The Wonderful Wizard (a very poor Nigel Planer)
is exposed early on as fraudulent coward, who because
he can't read his own spell-literature, has to unite
the country by demonising sections of the community
- animals, Munchkins etc. The attempt at topical
political allegory is well-meaning but also melodramatic,
incoherent and dreadfully superficial. Entangled
with this is the story of Elphaba's troubled with
her Legally Blonde-style friend and future Good
Fairy from the South, Glinda (Helen Dallimore) and
their rivalry over the apparently airhead dish,
Fyero (Adam Garcia).
I enjoyed very little apart from the delicious
Miriam Margolyes, all embonpoint and Barbara Cartland
face as Madame Morrible, mistress of the magic academy.
The songs sound like dozens you've heard before.
The acting is, by and large, appalling. The book
is aimed uncertainly at several constituencies.
The production manages to feel at once overblown
and empty. As the crowds heaved up for air during
the interval, a lady next to me asked: "Are you
liking it." "I'm afraid I'm not," I replied. There
was a ghastly pause. "Well everyone else is!" she
barked. I fear the show's message about the need
to assert the right to be different may not be getting
Article © Independent Online/Paul