Though Wicked is currently celebrating 15 years since it first hit the stage, it's one of the few musicals that I had yet to tick off my list. So, going into the Palace Theatre in Manchester last night (December 5), my excitement was at an all-time high.
I've got a lot of friends who have seen the magic of the show on numerous occasions, and had never heard a bad word said against it. I started to worry that Wicked was being so hyped, that it could never live up to its stellar reputation. I'm happy to report that those worries were unfounded. Wicked is the best musical I have ever seen.
Returning to the place it all began for the touring production, which debuted in Manchester in September 2013, Wicked is enjoying an exclusive and final Christmas string of shows until January 5, 2019. I was one of very few people in the audience who hadn't seen the musical in the past; the majority were chatting about how it was their eighth or ninth time to enjoy the performance.
Based on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by acclaimed American author Gregory Maguire, the stage show takes audiences on a trip into the past, to the time before the events of L. Frank Baum's 1900 publication The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Amy Ross and Helen Woolf lead proceedings as Elphaba and Glinda respectively; the two women who would go on to be known under the mantles of 'The Wicked Witch of the West', and 'Glinda the Good Witch'. Whilst we think we know exactly what sort of people they are, we couldn't be more wrong.
The two first meet at university, where Elphaba's green skin sees her cast out, and Glinda's stereotypical 'beauty' allows her to lead the establishment's most popular social circles. The cruelty shown to Elphaba by her fellow students really hits home; you're willing her to succeed and can immediately empathise with the destiny she has laid out.
Though their differences and behaviour keeps them apart at first however, a friendship is eventually formed between Elphaba and Glinda that at one point seems unbreakable. The attraction and lure of an easy and 'perfect' life proves to be too much, whilst Elphaba's unwillingness to ignore the injustices around her sees her cast out once more.
Ross and Woolf put on a class of excelling on stage throughout their entire performances. They are truly wonderful actors, with infectious personalities and some of the best voices I've ever witnessed. Every song they belted out became the recipient of whoops and cheers, as well as some incredibly loud rounds of applause.
Defying Gravity is of course a showstopping number, given just before the interval, rousing the audience to their feet and ensuring the hairs on arms are standing to attention. The power that Ross in particular has in her vocal is something that commands and stands above anything I've ever heard in theatre.
We must of course also give major props to the other fantastic members of the cast who make this a true ensemble performance. Former EastEnders actor Aaron Sidwell steps into the role of Fiyero; a love interest for both Glinda and Elphaba, and proves that he has a home up on stage if that's the direction he wants to take his career in for the foreseeable future. He’s not just a familiar face to bring in the crowds (like Wicked would ever have to do that). He’s got some real talent.
Emily Shaw's character Nessarose may not be an instantly recognisable one, but when you realise her fate, you come to the understanding that she's actually the catalyst for a lot of what has happened in the Oz lore. Shaw plays her with excellence, ensuring you never feel sorry for her because of her disability, but want to help empower her.
Iddon Jones meanwhile plays Boq; a man from Munchkinland who's utterly besotted with Glinda ever since the two first met. Unfortunately, those feelings aren't mutual, and he lets his emotions get the better of him, leading to some devastating consequences.
Kim Ismay and Steven Pinder round off the leading cast, as Madame Morrible and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz/Doctor Dillamond respectively. Ismay delivers her lines with elegance; you hang off of her every word and daren't lose attention when she's speaking. Pinder plays the Wizard desperate for power perfectly; at times when you want to hate him, you end up pitying him more than anything else.
With gorgeous set pieces, fantastic staging and a cast anybody would be lucky to watch live, the touring production of Wicked is without a doubt one of the best shows you could ever see. Make sure to check it out before it's gone forever.
Wicked runs at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until January 5, 2019.