Brace yourselves, my fellow musical-going buddies. London’s most hilarious and didactic musical has been identified and it is bursting with life on stage. Hurry now to the Apollo Victoria Theatre, from Mondays to Saturdays, and experience a chaotic story of political turmoil, staggering friendships and clichéd love triangles, all unearthed within the green glory of Wicked. Just when you’re about to swear that the Grinch would be the first and last green being you felt sympathy for, Elphaba appears and sweeps you off your seat.
To me, Wicked is dimly reminiscent of a clichéd high school story, with its sassy banter and cheeky humor completely intact. The show starts in chronological order, but soon enough it becomes apparent that the whole plot will unfold in a flashback. The citizens of Oz gather around Glinda, who informs them of the ‘Wicked’ Witch’s long-awaited death. The use of flashback here bridges time, place and action to reveal information about how Glinda came to know Elphaba in the first place, helping the story to move forward. Throughout the flashback, we are introduced to the characters’ true nature, feelings and thoughts in the face of unfolding events.
Wicked has an excellent cast, but stand-out performances were from Jeremy Taylor (Fiyero), Savannah Stevenson (Glinda) and Kerry Ellis (Elphaba). Glinda is your typical golden girl: blonde, beautiful and very popular. Savannah Stevenson’s ringing voice and amazing charm brings a wealth of comic detail to Glinda. Communication via costume is definitely at play here and the choice of colour is riddled with symbolism. Glinda’s dresses range from white to baby pink and these colours evoke sweetness and innocence, seeming superficial and childish. Elphaba, on the other hand, is a low profile, strong-willed and witty witch, who is scorned and laughed at for having green skin. Glinda’s polar opposite, she is constantly dressed in black, signifying darkness and mystery.
You’re probably thinking: who would ever have paired these polar opposites? Wicked is so wicked that not only it unfolds an improbable and unforeseen friendship, with a side serving of sharp humor, but also breaks down all stereotypes tied to colour and looks. The physical, as well as intellectual disparities between the two witches are so pronounced that they evoke an almost perverse pleasure, creating an impeccable rib-tickling element and eventually, a heartwarming friendship.
Amongst several other fully developed themes, the whole musical plays on the idea of appearance and reality: actors are not what they appear to be and stereotypes are tossed out the window. A dropout from numerous other schools, Fiyero is a young man initially brimming with superficiality and entitlement. He believes that life is ‘more painless for the brainless’ and his philosophy of ‘dancing through life’ prompts us to think he is a bit of a loser. Very soon however, the mistreatment of talking animals provides a storytelling vehicle, not only for the political element entrenched throughout the musical, but also to reveal Fiyero’s genuine insightfulness. Jeremy Taylor’s astonishing voice and immaculate acting bring the character of Fiyero to life (and he never ceases to impress the audience with his facial expressions).
Michael McCabe’s immensely inventive production is almost awe-inspiring in its sheer scale and intricacy, but remarkable nonetheless. The music, the singing, the set and the overall performance is nothing short of incredible. It is definitely a must-see show. Of course, by the end, as expected from a true didactic musical, everyone learns a few valuable lessons while we dash to an unconventional ending, leaving us with a long-lasting urge to sing along to ‘The Wizard and I’.
Photo credits to Andy Roberts.