REVIEW: Wicked, Sunderland Empire, until April 25

DEFYING GRAVITY ... Wicked is at the Sunderland Empire.
DEFYING GRAVITY ... Wicked is at the Sunderland Empire.

There’s a change in the weather, a storm is brewing down at one of the North East’s premier theatre venues.

A spell-binding and spectacular musical has caused quite a stir as it flies into the region.

Last night, I had the privilege of reviewing the amazing Wicked at the Sunderland Empire.

Now, I will be completely honest – I have seen the show on the West End, actually I’ve seen it three times, so I went with the expectation that the tour would not size up to the ‘Wicked Witch of the South’ but I was completely blown away.

The production almost mirrored the London counter-part but, for me, it was so much better because of some of the alternations made to bring it on tour.

It was fast-paced, witty, hilarious and a spectacular treat for the eyes.

The down-sized orchestra de-clutters over-complicated parts of the show and, in sections, the musical arrangements have been changed (from the last time I’d seen it on the West End) to bring new meaning to some of the beautifully-written songs.

If you don’t know the story, Wicked is essentially a prelude to The Wizard of Oz. But I must warn you, the show will completely change your childhood view of the film!

It centres on Glinda (The Good Witch of the North), played by Emily Tierney, and Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West), Ashleigh Gray, and their time spent together at university.

Elphaba was born green, much to her father’s horror, and is made to look after her sister Nessarose (The Wicked Witch of the East), who is confined to a wheelchair.

Ashleigh Gray as Elphaba

Ashleigh Gray as Elphaba

On the first day of university, Garlinda, as she is known at the start of the show, and Elphaba are thrown together as room-mates with ‘utter loathing’.

During their classes, they discover that something ‘wicked’ is happening in Oz as animals are being forced into captivity and are not permitted to ‘speak’.

Elphaba’s hidden powers are unearthed during her time and gain her an audience with the magical Wizard of Oz himself.

When they discover that the Wizard is behind the strange goings on, Elphaba’s powers become stronger and she flies off into the night singing one of the show’s most vocally-stunning songs, Defying Gravity.

Ashleigh Elphaba

Ashleigh Elphaba

It is so hard to put into words how brilliant the show was. You are left speechless at the end as the story goes full-circle.

The set was stunning, the lighting mystical and the music very quirkily arranged by Amy Shackcloth.

Ashleigh Gray shone throughout with a stand-out performance, which will particularly appeal to musical-theatre geeks. Her expansive range was beautifully pitted against the more rock-classical voice of Emily Tierney.

The pair worked so well together and you really believed the performances of both talented actresses.

Marilyn Cutts, the antagonist of the show, was wonderfully wicked as Madame Morrible and gave a truly-terrifying portrayal of evil, which earned her a chorus of boos at the end of the show. I always believe that if the baddie gets a jeer then they’ve done their job well! That was definitely the case here.

Finally, a massive shout-out to the cast of monkeys, students, palace guards, denizens of the Emerald City or, in other words, the ensemble.

Emily Tierney as Glinda

Emily Tierney as Glinda

This musical relies on a full chorus-line of animated and flexible characters. Oz is out of this world, but the performances of the cast are certainly in a league of their own.

Now go to this amazing show, which runs until April 25 at the Sunderland Empire. You can buy your tickets through the Sunderland Empire’s website..