Dear fellow Ozians… As Wicked celebrates its ninth year in London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre, becoming the 10th longest running show currently playing in the West End, I went along to find out more about this green phenomenon that has already played over 3,500 performances in London alone!
Based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 global best-seller ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’, this musical shows you a different side to the story in the legendary classic, The Wizard of Oz, and tries to make the audience understand why things may have turned out the way they did. When we think of Oz, the trio of witches or the wonderful Wizard, we instantly picture the 1939 film starring the fabulous Judy Garland as none other than Dorothy, who makes some unlikely friends as she tries to make her way back home to Kansas from this magically unusual land. Unbeknownst to many, this film is actually an adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel published over a century ago, called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – so this 156 page story has inspired many other books, musicals and films since its release in 1900! Which leads me to the thrillifying wonder that is Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz! From Chistery’s first excited screech signalling the opening number, right through to the last note sung in the finale, I was transported to a crazy land where anything is possible and, quite frankly, anything goes! We go back to a time before the Wicked Witch of the West, otherwise known as Elphaba, was born and even then, it was far from plain sailing for the Thropp household. Now with her sister, Nessa-Rose (later known as the Wicked Witch of the East) wheelchair bound and without a mother to care for them, their father sends them off to boarding school. This is where the story really gets started!
I’m not going to give you a run through of the entire show as I don’t want to spoil anything, but what I will say is that the soundtrack for this musical is absolutely flawless! Every single song is on point and the lyrics really are an extension of the story. Plus, I feel like many of the songs are incredibly relatable to so many individuals at so many moments in their lives (but I guess this could be put down purely to interpretation). But, for example, the lyrics in probably what is the most widely known Wicked score, Defying Gravity, are the empowering words “Something has changed within me, something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules, of someone else’s game… It’s time to trust my instincts, close me eyes and leap”. This can be applied to so many realisations that inspire people to create a new start for themselves… it’s so Ozmopolitan! I also loved all of the clever little references made towards one of the most famous adaptations, The Wizard of Oz – the flying monkeys; lion, tin man and scarecrow; a nod to the saying “lions and tigers and bears… oh my!”; Glinda’s transportation bubble; the poppy field; the Wicked Witch of the East’s stripy socks and jewelled slippers; Dorothy and her famous dog; as well as the most iconic Dorothy saying of all time “there’s no place like home”.
Another thing I’d like to quickly touch on is the theatre itself. Built in 1929 as a cinema, this grand stage has been the platform for many hit musicals including The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof and of course Starlight Express. But you can really tell that Wicked has taken over this venue and it’s not just clear in the first shop in the main entrance either. The entire foyer is lit with a green tint, the theatre’s largest shop (and the majority of the other merchandise booths found throughout) are called the ‘OzDust Boutique’ and the most divine little bar found upstairs, is called ‘The Elixir Bar’. I mean there isn’t a thing these guys haven’t thought of!
Now just wait a clock tick… it is evidently clear as to why Wicked has been seen by over 47 million people across 13 different countries, and has won over 100 awards internationally. This year, Wicked won the coveted This Morning Audience Award presented by the Olivier Awards, which is the only award that is decided by us, the viewing public. Wicked went up against Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical, Billy Elliot The Musical and Jersey Boys, and a few weeks before the winner was announced, costumes from each show-stopper were on display in a small shop just off Covent Garden. I can’t believe how tiny some of the waists are on the dresses – how do they take a deep enough breathe for some of the notes they belt out?! I really did enjoy my one short day in the Emerald City and left the theatre feeling very empowered, as if I could conquer the world! Also, to have two women as the lead characters (and with such powerfully fine-tuned voices, capable of giving so much light and shade, and conveying emotion perfectly) was refreshing, too. I want to send the hugest congratulotions to the cast and crew for putting on astounding performances eight times a week! Now, if you haven’t seen it… what are you waiting for?! Go and get your tickets and rejoicify in the magic that is truly WICKED!
This post was written as a result of being invited by Wicked to visit as press whilst I was working at NG Kids Magazine. Permissions given for all images used.