Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wicked: Apollo Victoria, 25 July

You can't get much further away from the quiet magic of Elling than going to see Wicked the very next day. In the Trafalgar Studios you can catch John Simm's eye during the bow (or convince yourself you did, at least) - at the Apollo Victoria you have to fight just to squeeze through the doors. I haven't been to a massive West End musical in a long time, and the whole experience came as a bit of a shock. This isn't just theatre, it's also a slick marketing machine. In the foyer alone there were four merchandise and concessions stands selling everything from popcorn to jewellery to snowstorms, and then there were another couple of stands at the back of the auditorium. At first, this all depressed me slightly (I'm becoming a snob, clearly) but then I saw hundreds of kids excited about the fact that they were going to the theatre, and I realised that it was very possibly a good thing. There was certainly a buzz in that big old barn, and it's hard to not get involved when a cheer erupts simply because the lights are going down.

And it has to be said, every pound that is made out of the merchandise certainly shows on stage. This production oozes class and attention to detail; the costumes are as exquisite and interesting for the chorus as for the main characters, and the set and lighting are spectacular - more impressive than anything I've seen, certainly. But what is even more impressive is that the production values are easily matched by the quality of the cast. The two lead roles of Elphaba (who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (the Good Witch) are taken by Kerry Ellis and Dianne Pilkington respectively, both of whom have superb voices, though both completely different, as they need to be. Ellis's voice especially has real depth, and her solo songs, I'm Not That Girl and Defying Gravity in particular, deservedly received the biggest cheers.

But while it is almost impossible to find fault with the production, I had issues with the musical itself. The plot follows Gregory Maguire's novel 'Wicked: The Life And Times of the Wicked Witch Of The West', and so tells of how Elphaba becomes the most hated figure in Oz, and Glinda the most beloved. It starts off pretty much like a combination of every high-school romantic comedy you've ever seen - just take the weird-but-pretty-on-the-inside girl and paint her green. This works well; Glinda is the bitchy and sickeningly pretty prom queen who eventually takes a shine to Elphaba and makes her her new 'project' (leading to one of the show's best songs 'Popular'), and they both learn things from each other. So far, so Clueless, but as I say, it works. Then, when the plot starts to interact more directly with the story we know, there are some fine cross-over moments: we find out how the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow end up as they are, and why Elphaba turns from sweet-natured outcast to public enemy number one. It's when the story starts to run alongside the film that I had issues - it's a personal thing really, but liberties are taken with that most magical of movies that, to me, border on sacrilege. [Highlight for spoiler: The Wicked Witch of the West doesn't die - she's set up by the Scarecrow to throw water over her where there's a trapdoor. And she ends up with the Scarecrow. I mean really.] Wicked starts off being a fun and inventive backstory for the witches, but ends up clashing awkwardly with the movie.

But that's probably just me thinking about things too deeply, and I really did enjoy this as a spectacle. It took me a good ten years to get from Starlight Express (in this very theatre) to Elling - I just hope that some of the kids who enjoyed this so much can make the same journey, while still finding time to savour the sheer magnitude of a production like this.


Paul Fuzz said...

Sounds like I'd have a similar amount to like / dislike about 'Wicked'. I like the idea of an 'Oz' back-story, but I guess you're only gonna enjoy that for as long as you think they're handling the text with the respect & care you believe it deserves, and few pop culture texts are as sacred as 'Oz'.

And you're right to say shows like these are hugely important for introducing kids to a wider world of theatre, as they were for you. Only a pretentious fool would say "I got into films 'cos I saw Citizen Kane when I was 8" or "I got into theatre becuse I saw A Doll's House when I was in nappies."

Statler said...

First time visitor by way of the Whingers site, and this post caught my eye. The Elling/Wicked combination must be a popular one as we've just booked tickets a couple of days ago to see them on a Friday/Saturday in September. Wicked had been on our wish list for some time but it was Elling finally gave us the reason to make the trip from Glasgow. Although I'm suddenly realising how lucky we are up here to avoid London prices...

Looking forward to reading more of your blog.

View From The Stalls

AnnaWaits said...

Thanks Statler. I'm pretty confident you won't be disappointed with either - they're both at the top of their respective fields. I'll go have a look over at your place :)

Marie said...

Read the spoiler and am shocked - that *totally* doesn't happen in the novel, which would seem to be a far darker affair.