The Playhouse, Edinburgh
It may be coincidence that the not so wonderful Wizard of Oz is the only character who speaks with an American accent in the latest touring revival of composer Stephen Schwartz and writer Winnie Holzman’s prequel to L Frank Baum’s fictional fantasia by way of the Hollywood classic. It is telling too, perhaps, that the mechanical façade that gives this bumbling little guy power over an entire nation appears to also have terrible hair.
There are knowing nods like this aplenty in Schwartz and Holzman’s creation, brought to life with steampunk stylings by director Joe Mantello in epic fashion. It starts out with the death of the Wicked Witch of the West at the hands of an unseen kid with fancy shoes called Dorothy. Things then rewind to reveal how a green-skinned geek with attitude called Elphaba and her blonde ambition-laden nemesis turned bestie Galinda became the binary epitome of good and evil.
In what is essentially a high school drama about teenage popularity with broomsticks, wands and a heap of song and dance routines, there are familiar tropes about diversity, difference and fear of otherness. There is stuff in there too about privilege, identity, mob rule and individual activism in what is essentially a world-beating musical for a post-Occupy, Trumpian dystopia. Blessed with wit, romance and a whole lot of in-jokes, Wicked is also something that Glee creator Ryan Murphy probably wishes he’d thought of first.
Mantello’s production also happens to be blessed with a set of stirling performances led by Helen Woolf as Glinda and Amy Ross as Elphaba. Both are in exceptional voice, particularly on a show-stopping Defying Gravity. Next time you watch The Wizard of Oz at Christmas, if you’ve seen Wicked it will make for an even more magical experience.
The Herald, May 11th 2018