I could quibble.
I could carp that the first act climax arrives fractionally delayed, front-loading the production with the strongest songs.
I could cavil that the revisionist elements of The Wizard Of Oz are somewhat over-played, to the detriment of the more successful subversions.
But the only truly apt response would be to accede to Elpheba’s sky-written demand to Dorothy in that earlier work and surrender to an outstanding piece of art, deftly staged and gloriously performed.
Wicked is a remarkable achievement, at once both a post-Situationist critique of late capitalism and a high school musical with melodies that could crack open a heart of glass. Importantly, in the best Wildean tradition, it wears its earnestness with a green carnation, ensuring that it charms, rather than brow-beats.
Especially admirable – given its enormous acclaim, having been garlanded with Tonys and Oliviers along its yellow brick road – is that it has become popular, not through the pandering advocated by Glinda in the song of the same name, but on its own terms; favouring moral nuance over fairy tale certainties. This is an Emerald City far closer to Salem than Neverland.
The touring production, coming full circle to Manchester and winding to its end, has been tuned to near-perfection, its mechanism running with an obtrusive deftness. A uniformly fantastic chorus, mercifully free from jazz hands, ensures that the choreography itself is narrative, so that the story never stalls at the expense of the production numbers. Nor, for that matter, is the spectacular ever mere spectacle; rather the flying monkeys and the gravity defying Elpheba emphasise the drama.
As the twin leads, Amy Ross as Elpheba and Helen Woolf as Glinda, are called upon to develop characters entangled in one another with increasing depth of feeling, from Loathing to a kind of loving, but do so movingly and magnificently, snaring every note of each of Stephen Schwartz’s romantic, ironic, beautiful songs in the heartstrings. That they are able to shine so brightly owes much to a cast that set them off exquisitely, most notably Aaron Sidwell, channeling the puckishness of the younger David Tennant as Flyero, Kim Ismay embodying a deceit-spinning Madame Morrible and Stephen Pinder (Max from Brookside!) reflecting a misleading leader from this side of the rainbow in his depiction of The Wizard.
I defy you to defy Defying Gravity and leave with soul untouched or tears unspilled.
Photos by Matt Crockett
Wicked is at the Palace Theatre until January 5, 2019. For more information, click here.