Review: Wicked @ Palace Theatre Manchester

PUBLISHED: 16:01 06 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:01 06 December 2018

The Emerald City, Wicked UK & Ireland Tour 2018
Credit: Matt Crockett

The Emerald City, Wicked UK & Ireland Tour 2018 Credit: Matt Crockett

Archant

Outstanding; Wicked at the Palace Theatre Manchester is a must-see this festive season, says Kate Houghton

Wicked, in short, is the prequel(ish) to the much-loved Wizard of Oz. In this story we see how the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, came to be, the creation of her flying monkeys and the back story to the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. However, all is not as it seems, it’s not as black and white as Dorothy and her companions believe – as Glinda, the Good Witch says in her opening scene – “Was she born wicked, or did she have it thrust upon her?”

As with every great musical, the answer becomes clear as we flashback to Elphaba’s conception (oh, naughty Elphaba’s mummy!) and birth, where her green skin results in an immediate rejection by her ‘father’, a rejection that lasts all her life. We next meet Elphaba, with her wheelchair-bound sister, Nessarose, as they start their first day at Shiz University – and meet Glinda (or Galinda, as she was first called) there.

Elphaba, played by Amy Ross, lets it all out in Wicked
Credit: Matt CrockettElphaba, played by Amy Ross, lets it all out in Wicked Credit: Matt Crockett

As the story progresses, it starts to cross over the timeline of the original tale written by L. Frank Baum – Dorothy lands in Oz, taking out the Wicked Witch of the East (yes, we see her back story too, and it’s not pretty) and sets out along the yellow brick road, where…well, you know the rest.

Glinda is played with absolute brilliance by Helen Woolf, who I have to say must be one of the best comic actresses in musical theatre. Her timing, her physicality, her delivery…and oh my, her voice! She’s absolutely stand out in a cast where there’s not a single weak link.

Glinda (Helen Woolf) and Elphaba (Amy Ross) say their goodbyes, in Wicked UK Tour
Credit: Matt CrockettGlinda (Helen Woolf) and Elphaba (Amy Ross) say their goodbyes, in Wicked UK Tour Credit: Matt Crockett

When talking talent, it would be more than remiss of me to ignore the rather wonderful Amy Ross, as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. She provides the perfect balance to Glinda; where Glinda sparkles and shines, filled with the neediness and self-absorption of the pretty rich girl, Elphaba is muted, self-reliant and determined. From the way they speak and move to the way they sing, it’s ying and yang in perfect balance. Ross’s Elphaba is vulnerable, despite the hard carapace she has given herself. She’s brave and she’s clever and she’s kind and she’s funny – so she shouldn’t be surprised when she finds love. But the world of Oz mirrors our own in this respect, where appearances count first.

The set is clever; it’s used to support rather than contribute to the occasion, while the costumes – well, they’re quite extraordinary. Developed by Susan Hilferty, they serve to remind us that Oz is a parallel universe where things are almost like home, but twisted just a little to put us off balance. The bright and sparkly Glinda (why does she remind me so of Elle, in Legally Blonde?) wears a progression of pretty dresses until she finally settles on her glorious bleached sky blue fairy dress, with its cascade of petals and crystals everywhere. Elphaba starts off dull, has a brief moment in the light and eventually settles into her role as fully grown wicked witch in shades of black and violet, though with sparkles of her own. It’s all just glorious.

Helen Woolf as Glinda in Wicked
Credit: Matt CrocketHelen Woolf as Glinda in Wicked Credit: Matt Crocket

If you want to see it, get sorted now. So far over 73,000 tickets have already been sold and I predict a sell-out.

Running till 5 January 2019: www.agttickets.com/manchester | 0844 871 3019

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