Less than a week after going to see War Horse I was back in Bristol on Thursday 19th February to watch a matinee performance of the Touring production of the musical Wicked. I was in the front row of the stalls. The. Front. Row! It was amazing! I must admit that I’m no stranger to the show – I’ve seen it twice before in London – but being so close to the stage was the most fantastic experience and really added to my overall enjoyment of the performance, which was incredible.
Musicals do, as the name would suggest, rely quite heavily on sound. The vocals of the entire cast were impressive and consistently strong throughout the show, especially those of Ashleigh Gray as Elphaba who had to belt out some powerful notes in ‘No Good Deed’ and ‘Defying Gravity’, which she did with real gusto. At the end of the first act I had goosebumps running down my arms! Emily Tierney also did a sterling job as Glinda. Although the role doesn’t require her to deal with quite as many powerhouse ballads, the part is still demanding with its (numerous) incredibly high notes. The bubbly and excitable nature of the song ‘Popular’ in particular was well received in Act One and was an audience favourite.
The ensemble is a credit to the production too. Their dance routines were flawless and the collective voices of the group brought real flare and vigour to the main musical numbers of the show. Their enjoyment was infectious, so that before long even the quietest of spectators was applauding wildly with the best of us. The music itself builds and softens in all the right places and, as one would hope, there is a great mix of loud, powerful numbers and gentler, sweeter songs that capture the mood of each scene perfectly.
One of the most spectacular things about the aesthetic of this show is all of the wonderful costumes! The black and white outfits in ‘Dancing Through Life’ were particularly bold and striking, and each one had something unique and eye-catching about it that meant you simply couldn’t look away. And don’t even get me started on the costumes for the denizens of the Emerald City. Hats off to the incredibly talented and creative team who designed those outfits – every frill and sequin drew my eye. So brilliant.
While the Touring production was slightly more limited in terms of the scenery it had at its disposal, most of the core components were there in all their glory. The smoke-breathing, red eyed dragon was still active at the top of the stage and the electrifying moment in ‘Defying Gravity’ when Elphaba is suspended centre stage was purely breathtaking to behold. I did miss seeing the safety curtain decorated like a map of Oz and illuminated with bright green LED lights as it was in London, but I suppose you can’t have everything. Oh, and if any of you go to see the show don’t forget to look out for all of those throwbacks to the original Wizard of Oz novel!
The production was only in its second day at the Hippodrome when I went to see it, but there was no hint that the cast was still finding their feet. Being at the front was advantageous for getting an up-close look at the characters’ facial expressions and all of the little details I might’ve otherwise missed had I been sitting further back. Tierney ‘s portrayal of Glinda in the opening number was handled very well, as her facial expressions subtly hinted at her character’s true feelings and foreshadowed what was to come.
Speaking of, the portrayal of the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda is undoubtedly the best and most important relationship in the show and I love it so much! Yes, there’s romance, (which is totally adorable and, again, believable because it evolves over time and isn’t your typical insta-love) but it takes a back seat to the development of a strong friendship between the two female leads. I really enjoyed the duets between the two of them because of the way they highlight just how far they’ve come. Listening to the lyrics of ‘What is this Feeling?’ in comparison to ‘For Good’ makes me so happy. Excuse me while I cry…
I do feel like some performances maybe hit a little closer to the mark than others, but all in all we got solid and believable acting. The overarching message of not judging someone by how they appear on the surface is a really positive one and is definitely something I think people need to remember and live by.
Based upon Gregory Maguire’s novel, Wicked provides a completely different take on the Wizard of Oz. The show more than deserves 4.5/5 stars and I would 100% recommend it! What I love most about it is that behind the extravagant chorus numbers, superb music and multi-faceted characters, the underlying themes of love, courage, friendship and self-acceptance in this show are ones that everyone can relate to. Plus it’s such a fantastic twist on a well-loved classic. With any luck, this is a production that will remain popular (pun intended) for years to come!