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Wicked the Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, Palace Theatre, Manchester

Review by Ian Hills Wythenshawe FM 97.2

A Witch’s broom has been seen parked up by the Stage Door of the Palace Theatre, which can only mean one thing, Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West, is in the building.

When Dorothy famously triumphed over the Wicked Witch, we only ever heard one side of the story. Gregory Maguire’s acclaimed 1995 novel, ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’, re-imagines the Land of Oz, creating a parallel universe to the familiar story, written by L. Frank Baum, and first published as ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ in 1900.

’Wicked’ tells the incredible untold story of an unlikely but profound friendship between two young women who first meet as sorcery students at Shiz University: the blonde and very popular Glinda and a misunderstood green girl named Elphaba.

Following an encounter with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, their friendship reaches a crossroads and their lives take very different paths. Glinda’s unflinching desire for popularity sees her seduced by power while Elphaba’s determination to remain true to herself, and to those around her, will have unexpected and shocking consequences for her future. Their extraordinary adventures in Oz will ultimately see them fulfil their destinies as Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Having seen Amy Ross in her role as Elphaba from ‘Wicked’ singing at the Manchester Christmas lights switch on, I was very impressed with her powerful and beautiful voice which had me looking forward to seeing the production at the Palace Theatre.

Having worked on a production of the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and having seen the classic film which made a star of Judy Garland in 1939, I am very familiar with the storyline so I was very interested in this prequel which tells us the story of Glinda and Elphaba, before the moment at which ‘The Wizard of Oz’ starts, but also runs in a parallel timeline, overlapping the events of its forerunner.

The curtain rises on a on huge clockwork dragon roaring and piercing us with its bright red eyes. As monkeys bounced onto the stage, the performance was off to a fiery start, all housed inside a massive fantastic constellation clock setting.

Glinda’s arrival on the clock’s pendulum from above, as the princess, could outshine the arrival of the singer Cher who comes to Manchester next October. Not Disney, nor Barbie, is this Princess; she is smart, sassy and with a ‘wicked’ sense of humour.

At Shiz University of Sorcery we meet the students Glinda (Helen Woolf), Elphaba, (Amy Ross), Madame Morrible (beautifully played by Kim Ismay), and the love interest of both girls, Fiyero (Aaron Sidwell).

In other notable scenes, we meet the Wizard of Oz/Doctor Dillamond (Steven Pinder) and the classic scene from the film where the tornado blows Dorothy’s house away and the denizens of the Emerald City, dazzling in every shade of green. We also get to see how the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and Toto the Dog come together.

With a 15-piece orchestra and 20 wonderful songs, both the solos and duos by Helen Woolf and Amy Ross were beautifully sung. The big number of the show, ‘Defying Gravity’, with the full cast was truly spectacular and a huge hit with the audience.

The combination of great cast of over 30, the incredible sets, wonderful lighting, visual and sound effects, brilliant costumes, wigs and makeup, made it a truly outstanding production from London’s West End.

If you want to see something totally different this Christmas this is the show to see.

‘Wicked’ is on until 5th January 2019.

For tickets contact the Palace Theatre box office on 0844 871 3019.

Book online at atgtickets.com/Manchester

 

 

 

 

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