Chronic illness friendly: 4/5
Let me begin this review by admitting a huge bias: you’d be hard pushed to find me saying a bad word about Wicked. It was younger Pippa’s obsession, resulting in it being the first West End show I ever saw, and the one that’s consistently stayed my favourite all these years later. There’s something utterly magical about Wicked, and this production at Leeds Grand Theatre certainly didn’t disappoint.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s novel following the untold story of the witches of Oz, the production sees two unlikely roommates at college learn to love the other, and how their subsequent paths result in one being known as good, and the other as wicked. Humorous, thought-provoking and above all completely moving, the story had the audience hooked from the moment that all-so-powerful overture began.
Firstly, we have to talk about standby Elphaba Nikki Bentley. Although this is my first time reviewing Wicked, it’s actually the fourth time I’ve seen the show, and I have to say: Bentley has been my favourite Elphaba to date. It was her performance of The Wizard and I that was most notable, simply for the fact that she really put her own stamp on it. Her portrayal of Elphaba was just the right amount of nuanced, and gave the character a more animated, almost playful side, whilst still not being out of place with the more sombre, serious elements of the character. Of course, all of those renowned moments of Wicked, including Defying Gravity and For Good, were also outstanding, but it was this one performance early in Act One that made me sit up and take notice.
Helen Woolf made for an incredible Glinda too, really nailing the comedic aspects of the character and immediately winning the hearts of the audience, yet also delivering in some of the most heart-wrenching moments of the show. Kim Ismay made an enchantingly evil Madame Morrible, and Emily Shaw’s emotive performance of The Wicked Witch Of The East as Nessarose was another standout moment for me too.
In a production like Wicked, the ensemble portray such a diverse range of characters: from mutant monkeys one moment to flamboyant citizens of the Emerald City the next, and this ensemble certainly delivered. These diverse parts meant diverse choreography, and the dance and staging elements of James Lynn Abbott and Wayne Cliento were nailed during the performance. As a dancer, I always look forward to the ballroom choreography and altercation between Fiyero, Glinda and Boq during Dancing Through Life, and I wasn’t disappointed. I also had a particular appreciation for the cleverly thought-out staging and choreography during (spoiler) Fiyero’s eventual capture, too.
Basically, it was an extremely talented cast. They would have shone even without the technical elements of the show, but it just so happens that thanks to scenic designer Eugene Lee and lighting designer Kenneth Posner, these components were so impressive too. In particular, that moment when the Emerald City quite literally lights up in front of the audience’s very eyes really is visually stunning. Complemented also by the vividly extravagant costuming of Susan Hilferty and hair and wigs of Tom Watson, the overall aesthetic of One Short Day is all grand, all green, and nothing short of magical.
And finally, I think it goes without saying that if you’ve heard Stephen Schwartz’ musical score of Wicked once, you need to hear it again. Iconic and emotional, yet humorous and witty, it shines a light on the underlying themes of Wicked: how our paths can influence how we’re perceived by others, and questioning the subtle crossovers between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
I just love this musical so much. I was doing such a good job of holding it together and after we’d made it to the end of For Good and I hadn’t cried, I really thought this would be the first time I made it through without going to pieces. However, I was mistaken. It was actually the gasps of the audience around me when those final plot twists of the show became apparent that tugged a heartstring this time, and I’m not ashamed to say I had a little weep right up until the curtain fell after the standing ovation. I’m not even sorry.
Chronic Illness Friendly Review
I’m pleased to report that I found the production to be pretty safe and comfortable for me, with only infrequent moments that may be of concern. There’s a potentially jumpy moment where confetti barrels are fired into the audience in celebration very near the beginning of act one, and another particular moment I’d be aware of is an early moment during One Short Day. There’s a quick transition where the stage very suddenly becomes alight with bright green bulbs and, although visually stunning, I can imagine this moment to be difficult on those with light or cognitive sensitivities.
Now, a thought on the content. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how disabled characters are portrayed in the theatre industry and I’m going to save these thoughts for another time. But for now, do be aware that wheelchair-user Nessarose is referred to as ‘tragically beautiful’, uses ableist language about being confined to ‘this hideous chair with wheels’, and the lyrics of The Wicked Witch Of The East make reference to being dependent on others and needing to be rescued. As much as it pains me to say anything negative about a show that I love so dearly, I recognise how these remarks might be inflammatory or upsetting to others. But let’s have a proper talk about this another time.
I’ve been a frequent visitor at Leeds Grand ever since I was tiny (and dancing on that stage myself!) and have always found it to be an accessible and accommodating venue. The facilities are great, the staff are super friendly and go out of their way to ensure your comfort, and listen up guys: in our seats, row O in the stalls, the leg-room was AMAZING. The seats were so roomy and comfortable, so if you struggle with cramped spaces or claustrophobia due to a medical condition, I couldn’t recommend them enough. Cracking view of the stage too.
Thank you SO much To Leeds Grand Theatre for inviting me to such a special press event, and to Wicked UK for just being the wonderful thing that it is. Tickets are limited, but you can get your hands on some on the Leeds Grand Theatre website, and find out if the Wicked UK and Ireland Tour is coming to a venue near you. After all, we can’t all come and go by bubble…
Have you seen Wicked before? How did YOU find it?
Production Images by Matt Crockett