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Review: Wicked (UK Tour / Birmingham Hippodrome)

Review by Raphael Kohn

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

What can be said about West End mega-hit Wicked that hasn’t been said already? Sometimes, there’s a reason why shows in the West End run for over two decades. And if you see this UK tour of Wicked, currently stopping in Birmingham for a five-week run, chances are that, like me, you’ll understand that reason for yourself.

 

Unchanged from the original production that premiered so many years ago, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, it’s the same story we know and love. A quasi-prequel to The Wizard of Oz (though it’s so much more than that), Wicked explores Elphaba (the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’) and Glinda ‘the good’ as they study and graduate from university, following a charming enemies-to-friends arc. As they grow and mature, they realise something very bad is happening in Oz…and so they go to investigate and try to help.



It's classic Broadway Megamusical stuff. It ticks every box for a sensational night out. We have Stephen Schwartz’s memorable, bombastic score powering our way through the evening, justifying its place in the musical theatre canon to perfection. Every number hits brilliantly. We have Eugene Lee’s frankly jaw-dropping sets, with animatronic heads and more casting lights all around and providing some of the most incredible effects you’ll ever see in a theatre. It may be a show that’s been around for a while, but these sets feel modern, exhilarating and inspiring as if they were made yesterday.

 

But luckily, it’s not just a theatrically thrilling evening; it’s also packed with heart. As we get deeper into the second act we start to really uncover beauty and love in the show, particularly in the gorgeous ‘For Good’ duet towards the end of the show. A mix of moral exploration and heartful exploration, it’s quite simply a joy. Partially, of course, this would not be possible without the simply divine chemistry between the two leads, Laura Pick and Sarah O’Connor, who are a match made in heaven. Their first duet, ‘What Is This Feeling’, is simply a delight, well-deserving of the huge round of applause it received.



O’Connor’s Glinda is perfection from her first notes in ‘No One Mourns The Wicked’, gliding down from the fly tower in a metal bubble with some of the most delectable soprano notes ever heard in a theatre. Also nailing the comedy of Glinda’s arrogant, self-absorbed personality, as well as a powerful belt and darker side that allows us to truly get to know Glinda, especially in her performance of ‘Thank Goodness’, the act two opener.

 

Her counterpart, Laura Pick as Elphaba, arguably has much better songs to get stuck into. Her ‘The Wizard And I’ is quite simply a visceral experience, motored forward by her incredible voice, while her stratosphericDefying Gravity deserves to take its place in the hall of fame of Elphabas. Defying Gravity is one of the greatest songs ever written for the theatre, and Pick justifies that, which I can describe with no other word but perfect.



It's not a two person show, of course. Surrounding the two leads are not only a fine supporting cast but also a tremendous ensemble. Carl Man’s Fiyero is sultry and suave, while also being genuinely engaging as his character progresses in his arc. Meanwhile, Jed Berry’s Boq, perhaps sidelined as a character but never as a performer, makes the most of every second he has on that stage. Doubling roles, Simon Truby brings out a brilliant contrast between his sympathetic Doctor Dillamond and his rather more complex Wizard of Oz.

 

Yet perhaps deserving the most flowers is the terrific ensemble that pulls off some absolutely incredible group work, with some beautifully synchronised dance and pitch-perfect singing. Frankly, if I could name them all in this review, I would – but there’s almost 20 of them.



Eugene Lee’s sets are simply mind-boggling, with a steampunky aesthetic permeating through the design and seemingly millions of setpieces descending from the fly tower at any given moment to bring us to new settings. They’ve endured the test of time, and yet they feel fresh and exciting. Similarly, Kenneth Posner’s lighting is sublime, with gorgeous effects throughout. Look out for the shimmering network of ivy-like crawling lights around the proscenium arches, and of course, the tremendous blazing of lights as Elphaba ascends towards the sky in Defying Gravity. All of this is perfected by Susan Hilferty’s sublime costumes, colourful and stylish to the maximum.

 

It would be a huge mistake to miss this Wicked-ly brilliant show. Seriously. This enduring classic feels fresh, exciting and tantalising. The only thing we need now is a longer residency in Birmingham – five weeks feels far too short for us here. At least many cities across the country are in line to be treated to this fabulous production.

 

Wicked plays at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 7 April 2024, then touring. Tickets from https://www.wickedthemusical.co.uk/tour/

 

Photos by Matt Crockett

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