Wicked – Live Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
Wicked – Review
Leeds Grand Theatre, June 2018
by Steve Crabtree – @stevecrab
I went to see Wicked in 2013 in Manchester. Then, I left the Palace Theatre truly disappointed. This was a show that came with a lot of hype, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I couldn’t put my finger on why, except it was simply dull. Was it the company I was with? Easily could have been. The view I had? Yeah, could have been that too. The story? I’ve always put it down to that. Perhaps I went in with my Wizard Of Oz hat on (I don’t own one, don’t worry) and was expecting a more obvious sideways step from that? Not a leap to the extreme that Wicked actually brings.
But in the last five years, I’ve yet to meet anyone else who’s seen the musical and not enjoyed it. And by that, I mean anyone. Everyone seems to be shocked that I didn’t like it, and when they ask why, I can’t tell them.
So, this week Wicked is at The Grand Theatre, Leeds. And it’s time for me to see if I’d just got it all wrong in Manchester.
As we enter the theatre, we’re welcomed by the posters, the green carpet, and the darker side of Oz. The stage is draped with a map of the Emerald City, and a dragon hovers over our head, watching us. I guess we’re not in Leeds anymore…
“A cauldron of twists”
The theatre is packed, and as the curtain rises the stage is swarmed with dancing monkeys and Citizens of Oz. Glinda, the Good Witch of the North descends from her bubble to confirm to one and all that the Wicked Witch of the West is dead. Something we all knew from the Judy Garland film from 1939.
But it’s from here that Wicked takes the story, and opens it up. It takes you back and draws you in to a cauldron of twists and emotion.
In a change to the lead role, Nikki Bentley plays Elpheba this evening. Alongside her is Helen Woolf, playing the beautiful Glinda. Together, they work splendidly in tandem as two different people, thrown together as room-mates in University. With Elpheba’s spiky personality, and Glinda’s more ditzy approach to life, they’re enemies who become the most unlikely of friends. As the two of them performed ‘For Good’ and the tingles go down the spine, they show off this chemistry they have between them.
And Woolf is near-perfect in her rendition of ‘Popular’, and her comedy timing throughout is spot on.
But Nikki Bentley… wow. An understudy? Seriously? She did every song with pitch and power, and didn’t drop a note. She adapts to every side of Elpheba with aplomb, and she is far and away the star of the stage.
The heartthrob factor is nicely taken care of by Aaron Sidwell. His portrayal of Fiyero, the Lothario who falls for Glinda, then Elpheba is done with some style. His rendition of ‘As Long as You’re Mine‘ showcases an impressive vocal range.
“A powerful musical”
One thing that catches the eye are the costumes. Wicked is a show renowned for a wardrobe that’s pretty special, but each and every item of clothing is a different class. The humour element isn’t going a miss either. The cheeky references to the film that are fondly slipped in to dialogue delight tonight’s sell out crowd.
Wicked is a powerful musical, emphasised by tonight’s emphatic end to act one. I thought that Bentley’s sensational version of ‘Defying Gravity’ was the highlight of the evening. I simply can’t find the adequate superlative to describe her voice.
With outstanding effects and scenery, I’m impressed with the production in its entirety.
As the story climaxes, we see a familiar ending. But when the final twist is unveiled, the audience are left with a sense of satisfaction. We’ve all been drawn in to the performance, and sucked in to it’s emotion too. Our imaginations have been ignited, and we’ve been in awe of something special.
A standing ovation was always on the cards tonight. And that little gasp that says “that was amazing” immediately filled the room when the lights went up.
So, I’m left questioning myself why I didn’t take to the show all those years ago. I simply can’t understand it. I’ve been shown tonight why it’s a musical up there with the best of them. Am I glad I’ve come to see Wicked again? That’s a question I hope I’ve answered.
The whole production has truly blown me away. My second visit to see Wicked surely won’t be my last.
Images: Matt Crockett