WICKED at Bristol Hippodrome

Wicked describes itself as ‘one of the most celebrated and successful musicals of all time’. Apparently, since its debut on Broadway nearly 15 years ago, it’s been seen by over 53 million people and has won dozens of awards. So maybe you won’t need me to tell you what happens, but let’s recap anyway… The plot is a spin off from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Inspired by the characters, action and events from Oz it uses them to create a backstory: the tale of the Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) her life and her improbable friendship with Glinda the Good. Originally a book by Gregory Maguire, it was adapted for stage by Winnie Holzman (My So-called Life) with music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspel).

Elphaba and Galinda (She bizarrely changes her name later) meet at university. Elphaba, played by Amy Ross, is green and keen, while Galinda (Helen Woolf) is pretty and perky in pink. Forced to share a room they eventually get to know and respect each other. Or so we are told, because the most frustrating thing about this show is that we never get any real sense of the characters, their personalities and their relationships. The plot (if you can find it) moves along smartly as the other main players appear, each one with a part to play in the unfathomable story. Doctor Dillamond, the talking goat teacher, gets our compassion; Nessarose, the disabled sister, gets our pity and Boq, the munchkin, is the endearing love-struck loser.

Maybe we shouldn’t be obsessing about plot too much, after all it is a musical. Even so, the songs vary in quality. Defying Gravity is the obvious showstopper theme tune. Sung beautifully by Amy Ross; it makes the best of her powerful voice and is at the end of the first act during the amazing flying witch scene. At the other extreme is the teeth-clenchingly awful Wonderful sung by the Wizard. Steven Pinder gets the short straw here. It’s accompanied by a feeble dance routine that looks like it was an out-take from Yankee Doodle Dandy. All the while the hard-working and charming chorus fill in the gaps, accompanied by a proficient and energetic live orchestra. Kim Ismay is admirable as Madame Morrible, the only character with any real depth, and Aaron Sidwell does his best to inject some energy into the completely flat Fiyero. The sets and staging are remarkable: layers of visual extravagance complemented by ingenious lighting. The costumes are spectacular and worth the ticket money alone. I suppose when you have visuals like that you don’t need a plot but it would have been nice to see a few more of the darker moments, the only time we discern any gravity in the story. I can’t say it’s not entertaining and there are some interesting themes in this show, but they barely get a chance to surface amongst the sea of schmaltz.   ★★★☆☆   Adrian Mantle   2nd February 2018