Book: Winnie Holzman
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz
Director: Joe Mantello
Reviewer: Jo Payne
The Mayflower Theatre has always been an elaborate green and gold on the inside but for the next month it is also glowing positively emerald on its exterior as the 10th longest running West End show, Wicked the Musical, flies in for this part of its UK tour. With a very warm welcome in the new, modern foyer entrance and as one of the only theatres on the south coast big enough, the Mayflower is an ideal venue to host such a mainstream musical close to home.
Set in the familiar backdrop of the Land of Oz, Wicked goes behind-the-scenes of the well-loved story and tells the tale of how the Witch of the West comes to be referred to as “Wicked”. She is given a family, a childhood and a tale of her own which sees her discover friendship, love and her identity. Scattered among the new characters of Elphaba’s back story are some recognisable faces and creatures, respecting the events of The Wizard of Oz while providing another vantage point to the action.
From the opening chord, it is evident that the music which accompanies the storyline is the outstanding quality which is expected of a Stephen Schwartz score. Like his other works, including Godspell and the Prince of Egypt, Wicked is full to the brim with musical numbers, many of which contain a nod to a variety of genres. ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ could easily be found among the current popular music charts while ‘Wonderful’ reflects the musical numbers of early productions. Recently remixed by Mika, ‘Popular’ allows a comedic break before the action builds and climaxes at the most well-known number from the show, ‘Defying Gravity’.
Leading this extraordinary cast, with her hugely rich talent for both singing and acting, is Ashleigh Gray. After years of playing to rave reviews as the Elphaba stand-by in London, Gray is soaring in her new, well-deserved, principal position. She brings a vulnerability, as well as killer vocals, to one of the greatest leading female rôles in musical theatre. Alongside her, Emily Tierney is reprising her rôle as Glinda, which she previously played in The Wizard of Oz. Tierney effortlessly portrays the charm, ignorance and desperation of Glinda while balancing this with hilarious, light-hearted lines and actions. Samuel Edwards (Fiyero) provides a handsome and believable love interest with Stephen Pinder, Marilyn Cutts and Carina Gillespie completing this dazzling principal cast.
With stunning costumes, set and lighting design, Wicked turns the Land of Oz inside out. Cogs and wires on and around the stage reflect the inner mechanics of the political themes while the lack of symmetry, particularly in the Ozians’ clothing, enhances the fantasy elements of the story. As a whole, the show is a feast for the senses and a true spectacular from start to end. However it is the delicate intricacies through which the overarching character of the show exudes. In the girls’ bedroom, for example, there are hints to their hidden personalities and details in the principal and supporting casts’ outfits help reflect the Oz which L.Frank Baum created.
After such a successful eight years in London, it is unsurprising that Wicked is also now bringing in large audiences around the country on tour. With the show soaring into the south coast for the next month, including over Halloween, it’s the perfect opportunity to experience this wonderful production for the first, 15th or thirty-first time.
Runs until 15th November and continues to tour | PhotoMatt Crockett