Review: Wicked @ Alhambra Theatre, Bradford – ‘a magical journey’
Wicked is based on the best-selling novel ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ by Gregory Maguire inspired by the characters and stories created by L. Frank Baum in ‘The Wonderful World of Oz.
The show begins with a celebration of the apparent death of the Wicked Witch of the West under the auspices of Glinda the Good in ‘No One Mourns the Wicked’. This develops into a flashback to Elphaba’s birth, an oddity with green skin.
Then it turns out that Glinda knew Elphaba at school and begins to tell the story of their relationship, often as adversaries. It is revealed that Morrible (a tutor in the black arts) made Elphaba a favourite student due to her latent magical gifts and promises an audience with the Wizard. Elphaba herself is amazed with her achievements and she fantasises about her time with the Wizard she so hopes will be her saving grace.
Glinda has to shack up at school with Elphaba and in ‘What is This Feeling?’ she describes her loathing of Elphaba’s apparel and habits, envy mixed with more complex emotions. In class Dr Dillamond tells Elphaba of the wretched state of Oz where animals are being forbidden to teach or even talk in the touching song ‘Something Bad’.
Fiyero makes a welcome entrance with his masculine charms and rebellious ideas expressed in ‘Dancing Through Life’ and he soon sweeps Glinda off her feet. Glinda ruins the ball for Elphaba by giving her a witch’s hat to wear and the white witch is enraptured by Fiyero over her other suitors (Boq is fobbed off with Nessaeose, Elphaba’s crippled sister).
Glinda then gives Elphaba some fashion tips and life management advice but her student realises ‘I’m Not That Girl’. Next the adventure goes to the Emerald City with some fantastically startling special effects and amazing backing from the Denizens of the Emerald City.
The Wizard gets a melancholy moment in ‘A Sentimental Man’ which is followed by some impressive aerial feats by Elphaba in ‘Defying Gravity’. But back at school the citizens of Oz with Glina and Morrible celebrate Elphaba’s disappearance. Glinda and Elphaba are reunited in ‘For Good’ followed by a resounding Finale that is met by the Alhambra audience’s standing ovation.
Carly Anderson as Glinda is really spectacular in her depiction of vanity, beauty and eventual remorse and redemption. Jacqueline Hughes’ Elphaba has exactly the right amount of playful wickedness and a hurt that goes back to her childhood. The supporting actors are very strong, and Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics carry the narrative perfectly.
Joe Mantello’s direction takes the the show from the West End to Bradford’s Alhambra with an omniscient knowledge of what makes Wicked such a great celebratory piece. Eugene Lee’s scenery is simply stunning, Susan Hilferty’s costumes are to die for and Kenneth Posner’s lighting really sets the scenes off perfectly.
This is the only performance outside London this year and really packs a punch, both for die-hard fans and newcomers, a magical journey in our most precious dreamworld of Oz that has great depth and well as surface beauty. The Alhambra Theatre has a real theatrical scoop that presents a modern musical par excellence.