Theatre review: The witches of Wicked cast their spell on Leeds

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The hype surrounding the musical Wicked has been unprecedented. Classed as a global musical phenomenon,it’s been seen by upwards of 36 million people all over the world and its popularity shows no signs of waning.

This, the UK’s first-ever touring production is playing for four weeks in Leeds, the only Yorkshire city on the tour- a fact that the Grand Theatre are understandably thrilled about.

Before it even opened at the Grand Theatre on June 10, 40,000 tickets were sold with fans queuing up before dawn 14 months ago to snap up the best seats when the tickets first went on sale.

Until then I was blissfully unaware of its existence and had to ask colleagues just what it was that was so special about the show.

I found out last week. Much as I don’t like to run with the crowd I found the whole experience as good as I’d been told it was going to be and quite simply the best musical I’ve ever seen. There, I’ve said it.

Examining the back story of a popular story is a very clever idea, though not a unique one. Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman took Frank Baum’s story of the Wizard of Oz and imagined the past lives of two of the peripheral characters.

At the centre is Elphaba, the strange green child who is unloved and abandoned by her parents and shunned by her classmates at sorcery school because of her colour.

She forms an unlikely alliance with the bubble-headed beauty Glinda when the two are forced together by circumstances.

Over time, the constant persecution of Elphaba by all those around her shapes her character and turns her from a confused little girl into the future Wicked Witch of the West, bent on revenge against those who have railed against her.

Glinda, an attention-seeking, selfish young socialite abandons her former friend and pursues her own agenda, using her wiles to proclaim herself the Good Witch and the saviour of the Munchkins.

This story of how the two witches came to adopt their different personas is an interesting one and not just a loosely woven tale to hang a few songs on. It has romance, unrequited love, jealousy, treachery and intrigue - the staple fare of musicals but it’s also witty, has a well-written plot and some intelligent lines.

The outcome was by no means a dead cert and kept audiences guessing until the end.

It’s a story for our time and addresses some uncomfortable truths with clever insight.

Not least how society treats those around them who are different due to their colour and status in life and also how the masses latch onto a figurehead in order for them to make sense of the world around them.

The two leads, Nikki Davis-Jones as Elphaba and Emily Tierney as Glinda are terrific in every way.

Dale Rapley plays the Wizard and reveals a side to his character that is never even hinted at in the original tale.

Dorothy, her shoes and her three companions; Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion are all referenced and their back-stories hinted at which makes for a nice touch and brings the whole story into some sort of perspective.

The rest of the cast, many of whom play a number of roles in the ensemble, dance and sing their hearts out.

No particular musical numbers stand out although Defying Gravity is one of my favourites and one that tended to stick in my mind longer than the rest.

Dale Rapley’s rendition of Wonderful is also worth a mention.

Memorable songs and costumes and sets which are every bit as good as the shows I’ve seen in the west end combine to ensure this whole show is an absolute triumph and should not be missed.

Get a ticket if you can before the final show on July 5.

There are still a few tickets available, priced from £20 to £75.

Book online at www.leedsgrandtheatre.com or by calling the box office 08448482700.

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