This Christmas a glimmering invitation to the world of Oz is transporting audiences to the Emerald City. The juggernaut of musicals is back for its second Christmas in Manchester’s Palace theatre, absorbing audiences into its high-end production set somewhere over the rainbow. These witches need no introduction thanks to their 1939 Academy award-winning film, The Wizard of Oz. Despite appearing as a spellcasting prequel to the film, Wicked the musical has only enjoyed 15 years on stage after its original 2003 opening in San Francisco.
The enchanting production and the women who carry the story feel far more familiar as the show reimagines the accounts staged around L. Frank Baum’s original, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We follow the boundary-pushing witch, Elphaba as she begins her journey of self-discovery at Shiz University. While juggling to support her disabled sister, her leading peers and her strange new powers, Elphaba is paired with the popular Glinda as her in-house roommate.
Before we are blindsided by the enigma of Oz, the show sets the scenes for the not yet named, Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West in a down-to-earth plot surrounding the girl’s friendship. With themes relating to boy troubles, acceptance and animal rights the show is deceptively sweetened, bringing in a sizeable and diverse crowd to the theatre. All probably have high expectations for the fanciful thinking of Oz, and undoubtedly, they will not be disappointed by the sideroads it takes to get there.
With songs written by Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz, the beautiful music merges with the slick direction of Jo Martello to offer a big budget production that can be appreciated on every level of the theatre. A giant robotic dragon hovers above the stage for only its higher-tiered viewers to enjoy while its deep-set makes use of its large cast of backing dancers where stall seats can admire them in full swing.
The show gloriously balances the sickly sweet and wickedly smart women to tell the backstories of the witches in an energetic production with an act break that cannot be beaten. There’s a patchwork of popular elements including the magic, music and talented cast that will keep the familiar fanbase dedicated to Oz for years to come. The inexhaustible artists, Amy Ross (Elphaba) and Hellen Woolf (Glinda) bring powerful performances to the songs What is this Feeling?, Popular and I’m Not That Girl. But Defying Gravity is given extra gravitas by the talented Londoner who sees out act one with the unforgettable track.
In a story dedicated to all those who challenge authority and dare to be different, Wicked is a bonafide hit that has created its own space alongside the film. So, let’s all thank Oz for this musical and hope that something wicked will come back next year.