Wicked UK celebrates 12th anniversary
Twelve years after its London premiere, Wicked is in safe hands with its dazzling lead, Alice Fearn (Elphaba).
Last night I witnessed perhaps the most honest portrayal of the role I have ever seen. I genuinely think it was the first time I have truly believed the character. Alice possesses a voice of steel, of course, but it was her characterisation that set her apart from the other 11 actors I have seen play the part. Not to do any of them down, I have enjoyed each of them for different reasons (including the high belting, naturally), but in Fearn’s Elphaba I saw the more visibly than with others the softly spoken teenager with low-self esteem and watched her change into such a strong woman, standing against the Wizard (Andy Hockley) and Morrible (Melanie La Barrie), but still so vulnerable when it comes to her relationship with Fiyero and Glinda.
Smaller roles can be forgettable in many shows but Wicked uses its characters so cleverly as the tools to put its story together. When they're played well, their impact is amplified. I couldn’t take my eyes off Melanie La Barrie whenever she was on stage. She made so many truthful choices in her portrayal that really were so simple but that I hadn’t seen before. It’s an easy role to ham up and overdo, but most effective when stripped back and played naturally. It's worth mentioning too how enjoyable Andy Hockley was as the Wizard.
After more than 5,000 performances Wicked’s popularity continues to grow; its fans were certainly out in force to celebrate the production’s anniversary. They are as devoted to standby Glinda Maria Coyne, who stepped in to cover Sophie Evans who was prevented from performing last night due to illness, as they are to leading lady Fearn.
Coyne showed palpable sadness in the opening number (before her friendship with Elphaba is revealed), something I always look out for but don’t always see. Her scenes as younger Glinda were her strongest, despite a few gags that failed to land with the audience (I do think the ballgown moment has become massively overdone and would benefit from being reined in a tad).
Despite not playing opposite each other eight times a week, Fearn and Coyne had concrete chemistry. Their jibes at each other during What is this Feeling? were among the most enjoyable moments in the show.
What slightly jarred with me however was how some of the diaglogue, in what are perhaps the most delicate moments in the show, was rushed. There was no pause, not even a breath, from Glinda in the most tense moment in the build up to Elphaba's flight, after she's attempted the levitation spell on the broom. Similarly in Wicked Witch of the East I would've welcomed just a moment's pause between some of the dialogue when Nessarose (Rosa O'Reilly) is telling Elphaba of their father's death.
Now the fifth longest-running show in the West End Wicked is in good shape. It has aged well, especially compared to some of London’s other long-runners, and holds its own against shows that have opened in more recent years and it will, I’m sure, against those due to arrive in the next few years. It’s clear how well the whole operation is looked after and loved by the team, both behind the scenes and on stage. So long as that continues there is no reason Wicked won't remain a perenial fan favourite for years to come.
Wicked is booking until Saturday 25 May 2019 at the Apollo Victoria theatre in London. It stars Alice Fearn as Elphaba, Maria Coyne as Glinda, David Witts as Fiyero, Melanie La Barrie as Madame Morrible, Andy Hockley as The Wizard, Chris Jarman as Doctor Dillamond, Rosa O’Reilly as Nessarose and Jack Lansbury as Boq.
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