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REVIEW: Wicked/Liverpool Empire

Mike Chapple is spellbound by a witchy wench who restores his faith in musicals

Written by . Published on September 20th 2014.

REVIEW: Wicked/Liverpool Empire

I'd always hoped the twister had sucked away Judy Garland's Dorothy and rat pooch Toto to oblivion, rather than the fabled land of Oz. 

It was much the same as hoping Julie Andrews had fallen over a precipice of death right after bursting into the Hills Are Alive in the opening sequence to The Sound of Music.

Great, came the thought between gritted teeth, here comes two hours-plus of overloud background babble and other assorted twattery. But no!

Such is the permanent prejudicial damage that can be caused by a reluctant child by being dragged off to musicals by your nan.

So the premise of Wicked, to the cynical, is immediately appealing: the inside, real story of what happened in Oz in which the goody two (red) shoes and the baddy broomsticks are not exactly what they seem.

The six million people who have seen it, since its opening in the West End nine years ago, would appear to feel the same - not forgetting the 50,000-plus who have already snapped up the not-inexpensive Empire tickets for the near month-long regional run.

Based on Gregory Maguire's novel - itself a twist on Frank L Baum's more straightforward Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Wicked, the musical, touches on other issues such as prejudice, political duplicity and manipulation.


It also, very cleverly, initially sets the plot in post Ding Dong Dead Oz, where the surviving “Good” witch Glinda (Emily Tierney) resolves to tell the true story of her deceased old friend/adversary, the green-skinned misfit Wicked Witch of the West Elphaba (Ashleigh Gray) whom she first meets at a Hogwarts-style school for aspiring girl magicians.

Given this setting, it's perhaps understandable that the audience, on the gala night that Confidential attended, was predominantly female from teenage to matron (Yours Truly and star ligger Les Dennis apart). 

And before curtain up what an excited, yappy lot they were. 

Plus, uh-oh,  along with that, out came the bane of all gig/theatrical performances these days, the mobiles.

Nothing is guaranteed to raise the hackles more than being behind a gaggle of Twiterrati alternately texting and watching a whole gig through the lens of their favourite companion.

Great, came the thought between gritted teeth, here comes two hours-plus of overloud background babble and other assorted twattery.

But no!

As soon as the PA announcement came that mobile phone use was strictly prohibited, everyone duly put them away and remained in pin-drop silence for the whole performance - except when bursting into rapturous applause for the songs of Academy Award winner Stephen Schwarz.

Wicked-UK-Tour_Emily-Tierney-And-Aashleigh-Gray_Photo-Matt-Crockett_0766_RTEmily Tierney and Ashleigh Gray

Very narrative-friendly to the script, compositions such as Defying Gravity and For Good could also stand alone outside the musical itself due to their euphoric or poignant nature.

Most were principally, and peerlessly,  delivered by the leading ladies with Tierney, as the ditzy, bimbo enchantress, getting the laughs and Gray, Miss Misunderstood, gleaning the sympathy.

The supporting cast (among which Brookie fans will spot former Max Farnham - Steven Pinder - as the Wizard), the sometimes spectacular stage set and effects and, ladies and gentleman, a note-perfect orchestra are also, well, Wonderful.

But its the emerald Gray who shines the most, with a clean, powerful, melodic voice which can carry the big songs without a waver or warble, especially at the climax of the first act, booming out notes high above the stage in black-cloaked, pointy-hat omnipotence.

Which leads us on, however, to a couple of drawbacks..

Due to impressive build-up of the first half, the shorter Act Two is more than a bit of an anti-climax in both songs and plot, 

The latter slots more than a few square pegs into round holes to tie things up conveniently and, without giving too much away, the ending, though welcome in its circumstances, is somewhat baffling.

Never mind.

But do try getting to the hottest show in town - if only to delight in the Wicked Witch - the most spell-binding green wench since Vina, the Orion slave girl, belly-danced for Star Trek's Captain Kirk.

8/10: Wizard wheeze 

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