Today we will depart somewhat from the issue of encouraging children to read to touch on another, slightly related subject. If there is one thing I would like children to be engaged with almost as much as I would like them to be engaged with books, it is the theatre. All kinds of theatre can bring joy and magic to our lives, and musical theatre, when a good cast is presented, is an experience that cannot be compared with any other. On 7th November a good friend and I headed into the Apollo Victoria Theatre to see Wicked, a show which has been acclaimed as “the musical of the decade”. Here is a summary of our experience.
On arriving at the theatre the first impression is that you are about to witness something very special. The towering light display outside is spectacular and, thankfully for those of us who don’t have the greatest sense of direction, clearly visible from some distance away. Already the anticipation builds. the beautiful art deco theatre and wonderfully helpful theatre staff only add to this. Even sitting up in the upper circle in the cheapest seats the view of the stage was wonderful, and even before the show began the affects and scenery were obviously well thought out and had the audience on the edge of their seats. The cast certainly had a lot of work to do to live up to the hype of the reviews and the venue itself.
This will be the last picture of the stage as photos and videos are prohibited during the performance. This is what the audience walk in to – and it only gets better from here. As the curtain went up it became almost immediately clear that said cast were not going to have a problem living up to said hype. Disappointment was not on the cards for anyone that night. The ensemble in the opening number had a wonderful energy and superb harmonies. If the rest of the show was of a similar standard we were in for a very special night indeed.
When playing possibly the most well-known and loved lead roles of modern musical theatre, and your predecessors include some of the most critically acclaimed faces of the West End you have a big task to prove yourself worthy of the role. Playing a role made famous by the likes of Idina Menzel and Kerry Ellis, and established by incredible talents such as Rachel Tucker is an enormous ask for any actress. Thankfully Jennifer DiNoia, currently in the role of Elphaba, is more than up to the task. In fact she blew several of her predecessors, all of whom were spectacular, clean out of the water. Her voice is flawless and beautiful, superbly powerful for the big choruses but just as lovely to listen to in the softer moments, and she has acting skills to match. Her take on Elphaba is unique, sensitive and intuitive. It doesn’t hurt that Jennifer is a seasoned Elphaba and this is in fact her 6th stint in green, although her first in the UK. Practice after all, makes perfect.
Glinda is a character that is difficult to get right, at the outset the audience is presented with an annoying, self-absorbed, shallow, princess who is hard to like. Despite this the actress must also enable the audience to empathise with the character and grow fonder of her as the show progresses and the superficial layers are stripped away. It is a unique skill to take a character who is, at times, morally ambiguous and manipulative and make the audience love her. This is a skill Savannah Stevenson, currently in the role of Glinda, possesses in spades. Her voice is pure and clear, and she has a genuine talent for the comedy moments of the show.
The characters in Wicked are fabulously imperfect and their portrayal sympathetic but unpatronising. Katie Rowley Jones depicts the anger and frustration of Nessarose with beautiful realism, neither vilifying her nor standing her on a pedestal. This is a truly honest and empathetic representation of a disabled character which is highly refreshing. Martyn Ellis is perfect in the role of the wizard for whom the road to hell is paved with good intentions and Jeremy Taylor was as wonderful as the deeply unhappy Fiyero, who covers his loneliness with shallow and selfish behaviour, as he was when I was privileged to see him in his understudy role as Rolf in the Sound of Music. Experienced hands Lisa Sadovy (Madame Morrible) and Philip Childs (Doctor Dillamond) delivered the polished and captivating performances only true professionals can muster.
A real stand-out surprise came in the form of Sam Lupton playing Boq. His remarkable voice set hairs standing up on the backs of neck and his portrayal of the unfortunate Boq was both funny and touching. Sam delivered a performance that stands with the best actors in musical theatre today and my only criticism is that we did not get to hear more from him.
I was the first on my feet for the standing ovation at the end and would go back tomorrow and every day after that if I could. Wicked is, quite simply, magical. Not suitable for very young or very sensitive children it is nonetheless a brilliant show for youngsters ready to move on from the more simplistic Wizard of Oz and explore further that there are two sides to every story and a thousand shades of colour in a world that is far from black and white. Indeed it seems green is the colour of the day.
I cannot in good conscience complete a review of the show without commenting on our experience at the end of the show. As we left the theatre we happened upon the stage door where the actors were exiting, (okay so we didn’t so much happen upon it as seek it out and stand waiting) and were lucky enough to catch both Savannah and Jennifer on their way out of the theatre. Both ladies were gracious, made time for the assembled fans, and were good enough to sign autographs and pose for photos after what must have been a very tiring performance. It was a lovely end to a fantastic night, and very much appreciated, after all they are under no obligation to do anything but smile politely and keep walking.
We met Savannah Stevenson first, who was incredibly sweet. (In case it is not immediately obvious to anyone she is the exquisitely beautiful one in the, very appropriate, green coat)
With all that green make up to take off it is no wonder that the gorgeous Jennifer Dinoia was last out of the theatre – but she still found time for a quick photo with some very star struck new fans!
All photos are courtesy of Sara Lucas at www.hellothemushroom.com