Dec 2 2014 | By More

★★★★★   Spellbinding

Playhouse, Wed 19 Nov 2014 – Sat 10 Jan 2015

Satisfaction is pretty much guaranteed at the Playhouse this Christmas, where the magnificent touring production of Wicked is defying gravity until well into the New Year.

This is the full-blown, multi-award-winning production of Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s musical, according to those who have seen it before, on Broadway, Melbourne or the London West End.

Emily Tierney and Ashleigh Gray. Photo: Matt Crockett

Emily Tierney and Ashleigh Gray. Photo: Matt Crockett

And it has lost none of its magic in its journey around the globe since it opened on Broadway in 2003. Indeed, it has some extra sparkle added in the form of Ashleigh Gray, who is in superb voice as Elpheba, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Wicked doesn’t so much give the back-story to the Wizard of Oz, as take Frank Baum’s own advice about getting to the truth. It digs right down inside his original story, pokes around behind the scenes and reveals what Oz really is.

Which, as the “untold story of the witches of Oz”, is clever enough. Here are two young witches who have their destinies thrust upon them according to their looks, not their characters, and grow up to become known as Glinda the Good and Elpheba, The Wicked Witch of the West.

On their journey to adulthood – and that whole thing with a small human and her dog who arrive on a twister of magically-induced bad weather – there is a real satisfaction in watching the creation of all the iconic elements of the much-loved movie.

But it is in the details of the story, with its revelations about the dark and pernicious side to Oz, that the musical gathers its solid centre.

While it is in the telling of the story that the production rises on its own wings.

something is up

The songs, the soaring Defying Gravity apart, are not hugely memorable, to be honest. That is of little consequence, though, when they rise so smoothly out of the narrative and are so interwoven with its continuation.

The same goes for the dancing. Well-drilled is not the word for it as the 24-strong company rise above the standard hoofing of such affairs. Elements of ballet and other genres of dance are blended smoothly into the choreographic mix.

Emily Tierney as Glinda. Photo: Matt Crockett

Emily Tierney as Glinda. Photo: Matt Crockett

From the moment Emily Tierney descends as Glinda the Good with a slight Estuary twang and look of guilt across her face as she tells the adoring Munchkins that the Wicked Witch of the West truly is dead, you can tell that something is up.

That something is told in flashback through the birth of Elpheba as a girl with emerald green skin – and the product of her mother’s liaison with a mysterious stranger. Detested by her father she is sent to witching college to look after her wheelchair-bound younger sister, Nessarose.

Despised because of the colour of her skin, Elpheba immediately comes into conflict with the blonde, bubbly, immensely popular Gelinda. And it is this conflict and eventual growth into friendship which provides the show’s backbone.

That, and the pairing of Tierney and Gray. Both have superb voices, with Tierney catching the high notes and Gray bringing real substance to her lower register. And both put in acting performances of great stature. Little needs to be told, it is all shown in the characters they create

The supporting cast are equally strong in creation of character. Carina Gillespie is a bitter Nessarose, who will become the Wicked Witch of the East. Richard Vincent has that hangdog attitude about him as Boq, the Munchkin in love with Gelinda but forced to care for Nessarose.

asks big questions

The strutting Samuel Edwards puts on the arrogance as the self-obsessed Fiyero – although there is somehow little surprise when he turns out to be rather less shallow than he makes out. While the powerfully-voiced Marilyna Cutts goes the other way as headmistress Madame Morrible whose goodness is all facade.

The ensemble in the Emerald City. Photo: Matt Crockett

The ensemble in the Emerald City. Photo: Matt Crockett

Meanwhile the plot grows larger than the standard college dorm, coming-of-age affair it might at first appear to be. Their professor, the goat Dr Dillamond, reveals that the animals of Oz are losing their power of speech before he is arrested and taken away in a cage. Steven Pinder – who some will remember as Max from Brookside – creates a nicely complex character as Dillamond.

So it is that the nature of good and evil are teased out into the open, in a plot which dares to look at the complexities of the matter. When Pinder returns as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, to reveal that he is using the animals as scape-goats to unite Oz against a percieved enemy, the show begins to ask big questions about our fear of alien cultures.

There is the one small glitch in there, if you want to be picky. Pinder over-signposts that the Wizard is about to burst into song with A Sentimental Man. But that is only noticeable because it is out of keeping with the smooth progression between music and dialogue of all around. And really, like the deliberate flaw in a Persian carpet, it just shows up the excellence of the rest.

This is a production which has huge production values, near-perfect performances and delivers, packaged up in its escapist pleasures, a strong and resonant message that we would all well-heed.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (including interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Wednesday 19 November 2014 – Saturday 10 January 2015.
Mon-Sat: 7.30pm; Weds, Sat: 2.30pm. Extra matinees over Christmas/New Year.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/wicked/edinburgh-playhouse/
Tour website: http://www.wickedtour.co.uk/

Wicked on tour:
Wed 19 Nov 2014 – Sat 10 Jan 2015 Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
Tue 20 Jan – Sat 14 Feb Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online
Wed 18 Feb – Sat 21 Mar Bristol
0844 871 3012 Book online
Tue 31 Mar – Sat 25 Apr Sunderland
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online
Tue 5 May – Sat 30 May Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
Wed 3 June – Sat 25 July Salford
Lowry Theatre
08432 086000 Book online


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