Sunday, 5 May 2013

Wicked (Stage Musical)

Wicked is a musical that I have a huge amount of love for because it's the musical that made me a fan of musicals. Wicked is also the first musical I ever saw live. I first saw the musical live in London back in January 2010 and I saw it again last month. I'm also hoping to see it again when it comes to my hometown on tour next year. As you can probably imagine Wicked holds a special place in my heart even though I wouldn't call it my favourite musical anymore. My favourite musical ever is Les Miserables with my second favourite being Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. Wicked is still absolutely in my top five though.

The musical of Wicked is very loosely based on the book of the same name by Gregory Maguire and is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. It tells the story of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and how she became close friends with Glinda (the Good Witch of the North) when they met at University - despite them being very different people and sharing the same love-interest, Fiyero. The two witches then discover that The Wizard, the ruler of Oz, is deeply corrupt and is persecuting Talking Animals. Elphaba then rebels against the Wizard and in return he uses propaganda to convince almost everyone in Oz that she's wicked. We also find out how Elphaba's younger sister Nessarose became the Wicked Witch of the East and the origins of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Wicked came out in New York in 2003. Its critical reviews were mixed but the public loved it and it was an instant smash-hit (not unlike Les Mis). It was also a smash-hit when it came to London in 2006. The musical is still running in both cities and ticket sales are still extremely strong, with no sign of its run ending any time soon. Wicked has also been performed in other countries including Germany and Australia.

Wicked is a fantastic musical and I love it for lots of different reasons. As a show it's visually stunning. It has amazing sets, costumes, lighting and special effects that really add to the magic of the show. In terms of spectacle Wicked is right up there with Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King.

Wicked has a great story too and you really don't need to be a Wizard of Oz fan in order to enjoy it. To be honest I've never really been a huge fan of the classic film and when I was a child I actually preferred the sequel Return to Oz - despite the Wheelers giving me nightmares! You really don't need to be fan of Maguire's novel to enjoy the musical either. The musical has almost nothing in common with that book - apart from sharing the names of the characters, the same settings, and a couple of plot points. I read the book after I first saw the musical and I hated it. The idea behind it is fantastic of course and I'm grateful that Maguire wrote it because we would never have had the musical otherwise - but the book itself is really boring and frustrating! It's poorly-paced and the story really drags at times. The characters are all really unlikeable and underdeveloped with even Elphaba leaving me cold. The book is far too preoccupied with sex as well. I don't necessarily have a problem with sex scenes being in books if they're not too explicit and there's an actual point to them, like them being used to drive the plot forward or to show the relationship between the characters. But with Wicked it felt like they were there just for the sake of it. The book is packed with sexual innuendo and sexual references and I REALLY hated the Philosophy Club scene! How many people would enjoy reading about a man and a Tiger engaged in some weird sex act?! (If you would then you need psychiatric help. Seriously) OK it was implied that a character picked up an STD at this sex club but it was a very minor character and it didn't have a significant impact on the story. I would not recommend the book AT ALL but I would recommend the musical to just about anyone.

The musical is a MASSIVE improvement upon the book. It has a much tighter and more focused plot. The characters are much improved and are far more likeable and engaging. Musical Elphaba is clearly a misunderstood person with a good cause. She's a lot more relatable and she's a character that you can really root for and get behind. I also loved Elphaba's friendship with Glinda. In the book Glinda is a fairly minor character and she and Elphaba aren't close. But in the musical Glinda is a great character and has a far more prominent role. She's funny and quirky and I loved her character development. Glinda is very shallow and vain when Elphaba first meets her but over time she develops and becomes a better person. I much prefer Elphaba's romance with Fiyero in the musical as well. Fiyero is actually married to another woman in the book and has an affair with Elphaba - which makes it rather more difficult to root for them as a couple. There's no sex in the musical either and it's far more family-friendly. As far as I'm concerned the musical is everything the book should have been. And I haven't even got to the music itself yet! The score and lyrics for Wicked were written by Stephen Schwartz who wrote the musical Godspell back in the 1970s. He also wrote the music and lyrics for the Dreamworks film The Prince of Egypt and provided the lyrics for the Disney films PocahontasThe Hunchback of Notre Dame and Enchanted. The songs in Wicked are brilliant and are often quite emotional: Defying GravityNo Good DeedFor GoodNo One Mourns the WickedThank GoodnessPopular, One Short Day, What is This Feeling?, Wonderful... the show is packed with great, memorable tunes.

Of course Wicked isn't without its faults. What exactly does Elphaba do in the one year gap in-between Acts One and Two? How is she defying the Wizard? What good is she doing? It's never explained and I find that very odd. The Something Bad and A Sentimental Man songs are also quite boring and Fiyero could have really done with getting his own solo song to sing. Wicked can't compete with Les Mis or Phantom when it comes to emotional depth either. However Wicked is still a brilliant musical. Its songs are great. It has a very interesting storyline. Its characters might not be as well-developed as the characters in Les Mis but they're still likeable. There's a lot of humour in the show but it's also quite touching in places. I'd definitely recommend seeing this show live or at the very least listening to the original Broadway cast album. There's even talk about Wicked getting adapted into a film as well and I'm sure that will happen at some point. In fact Wicked was originally planned as a movie musical by Universal Studios but they decided to make it into a stage musical first. Despite my love of the musical I'm much less excited about a Wicked film than I was about a Les Mis film thoughI think I'd rather they simply filmed the stage version of Wicked in front of a live audience. They could simultaneously screen it live into cinemas and then release it on DVD a few months later, similar to what they did with the 25th anniversary concerts of Les Mis and Phantom or Love Never Dies (despite my dislike of that musical). There are a few reasons why I'm apprehensive about a film adaptation but I've decided to cover that more in a separate post. To end my review of the musical I thought I'd comment on some of the performers that I've seen in the show.

I didn't buy a programme when I first saw the show back in 2010 - but I do know that Alexia Khadime played Elphaba, Dianne Pilkington played Glinda, and Oliver Tompsett played Fiyero. Khadime and Pilkington were both really good but my favourite performer was Oliver Tompsett. He had a great voice, he acted the role really well, and he was even quite attractive : )

More recently I saw the musical on the 15th of March. This will be in a lot more depth because it's more recent and I remember it better. My favourite performer this time was Gina Beck who played Glinda. I was really looking forward to seeing her and she didn't disappoint! Beck is one of my favourite Christines from Phantom of the Opera and now she's one of my favourite Glindas. Beck was funny but she didn't go completely over-the-top like some stage Glindas do. She's very pretty and she looked lovely with blonde hair. She has a fantastic voice too and she sang everything really well.

I was supposed to see Louise Dearman play Elphaba. Dearman recently made history as the first stage actress to play both Glinda and Elphaba. I didn't see Dearman perform though, instead I got her understudy Hayley Gallivan. She was sensational and is easily the best understudy I've ever heard! Unlike Beck, Gallivan did seem to be struggling at times though. Gallivan sounded quite strained during the choruses of Defying Gravity where she has to sing in head voice. Her voice cracked once or twice. But Gallivan has an amazingly powerful belt and her versions of The Wizard and I, No Good Deed and the belting sections of Defying Gravity were stunning. She should definitely take over the role full-time. Another performer that I really liked was Katie Rowley Jones as Nessarose. According to the programme she previously played Nessarose two years before and she seemed very comfortable with the character. The  ensemble was brilliant too and I was only really disappointed with Ben Freeman as Fiyero. I didn't really like his portrayal of the character. I didn't find his Fiyero particularly likeable, he didn't have any chemistry with Gallivan or Beck, and I didn't really like the tone of his voice. Oliver Tompsett was so much better.

So that's my review of the West End's Wicked! Hopefully I'll be seeing the show on tour next year as well and if it's noticeably different to the West End version - different sets, etc - I might do a separate review for it. 

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