REVIEW: Wicked, Sunderland Empire, until April 25

Emily Tierney and Ashleigh Gray

Emily Tierney and Ashleigh Gray

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THIS show first cast a spell on me seven years in London’s West End. I was hooked by this quirky tale of the misunderstood green girl whose hocus pocus and potions can’t conjure up the one thing she desires: acceptance.

Now, this most magical of musicals, a prequel to the Wizard of Oz, has landed on Wearside and it’s lost none of its West End sparkle.

Ashleigh Elphaba

Ashleigh Elphaba

The sets shimmer, the cast soar - quite literally - and the score is peppered with infectious toe-tappers.

Ashleigh Gray shines (even through the layers of body paint) as Elphaba, the evergreen heroine pining for approval amongst her fair-skinned peers.

Yes, the show draws upon people’s nostalgia for the Wizard of Oz, but it’s less saccharine and more gutsy and gritty than the well-known tale. We’re certainly not in Kansas anymore.

Wicked’s magic appeal, which has seen it strike gold at the box office, is that you feel like you’re being let in on a secret, the untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West, a character everyone has written off as evil.

Emily Tierney as Glinda

Emily Tierney as Glinda

Tasked with one of the greatest female lead roles in modern-day theatre, Ashleigh strikes the right balance between vulnerability and feistiness as the freedom fighter who battles for the rights of the underdog.

On the other end of the sorcery spectrum is perky and pink Glinda the Good, who’s like the Barbie of witches. Women want to be her and men want to be with her, but Emily Tierney does a great job of adding substance to this sugary character. And the famous bubble dress scene, which sees her float above the stage in a shimmering dress of 100,000 sequins, is as spectacular as I remembered.

The witches’ journey as both friends and foes is at the core of this musical and, as such, their songs together are a real highlight, and feat of vocal Olympics.

Popular is delightfully ‘poppy’ and funny to boot, while Defying Gravity, in which it’s Elphaba’s turn to fly, is a real show-stopper and powerful epiphany moment. When she hits that impossibly high top note it sends shivers down your spine.

Wicked

Wicked

Though this female friendship is the heart of the show, the ensemble and their elaborately detailed costumes also capture your imagination.

Every shade of green imaginable features in the lavish exuberance of the Emerald City scene, which is a twirling and twinkling feast for the eyes that manages to dwarf my affection for the original Wizard of Oz. Dorothy who?

I defy anyone not to be won over by Wicked.