Wednesday, November 29, 2017

'Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz' by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman

29 November 2017

Some time in 2001 I heard someone on the radio talking about a novel that was going to tell the story of the childhood of the Wicked Witch of the West from L Frank Baum’s ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’. Even though the book had not yet been published in the UK, I was hooked by the concept. During a trip to Seattle in 2002 I bought a copy of 'Wicked' by Gregory Maguire at the wonderful Elliot Bay Book Company store and I loved it. It has since become a bestseller and spawned a Broadway musical, which has now been running at the Apollo Victoria in London for 11 years. Last Saturday I finally got around to going to see it. I think I had been put off by the initial critical reviews and worried that the show wouldn’t live up to Gregory Maguire’s novel – an incredibly complex tale which is both an exercise in magical realism and (strangely) believably realistic. (As is his other novel 'Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister', reviewed here in March 2008.) ‘Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz’, directed by Joe Mantello, is great fun: an impressive spectacle with an amazing set (by Eugene Lee), stunning lighting (by Kenneth Posner) and a huge cast. It’s a rock musical with solid music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. But it’s really worth seeing for three reasons: 1. it is rare to see a mainstream musical with two strong female leads (it would definitely pass the Bechdel test) – Alice Fearn as Elphaba and Sophie Evans as Glinda are the stars of the show; 2. the book by Winnie Holzman is brilliant – incredibly witty, quickly pricking any emerging pomposity, with some beautifully hidden references to lines from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and many laugh-out-loud quips; and 3. anyone who grew up watching the 1939 MGM film will love this reverential ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ alternative viewpoint on some of the key events in the original story.

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