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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Apollo Victoria, London

By Matt Wolf

  Idina Menzel (left) and Helen Dallimore

A veteran British character actress who doesn't sing a single note turns out to be the revelation of the London premiere of "Wicked," the musical prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" that is worth seeing all over again to watch Miriam Margolyes' cunning Mme. Morrible all but co-opt the show. How can that be, you might ask, especially if you are among the hordes whipped into a frenzy over the UK stage debut of Idina Menzel in her Tony-winning role as Elphaba, the perpetual outsider who turns out to be a force for change and for good? Yes, Menzel is indeed back, firmer-voiced (and greener of hue) than ever: remarking quite casually, "I don't cause commotions; I am one," she merely heightens one's appreciation of a kind of musical power that you don't often find on the West End, her belty voice capable of softening where necessary and tethered to real acting power. And then along rolls out Margolyes's robustly upholstered, amply funny Morrible, and a big Broadway extravaganza suddenly seems singularly, deliciously British.

What of the show itself? I'm not sure "Wicked" naysayers will be especially converted in London, and it doesn't help that Menzel's co-star, newcomer Helen Dallimore as the ceaselessly egotistical "good" with, G(a)linda, can't reach the comic heights (or the high notes) of the role's Broadway originator, Kristin Chenoweth - though, to be fair, Dallimore is very funny tossing aside a broken wand during her great first-act number, "Popular," a song that she doesn't otherwise quite land. Elsewhere, Joe Mantello's busy, visually chaotic production continues to fold its crowd-pleasing fable of female empowerment into a political parable that seemed to bypass altogether an opening night audience all but leaning forward in collective anticipation of Menzel's next anthemic highlight. So it's a thrill when the star takes a restrained approach to "I'm Not That Girl," always playing the character at hand when the temptation must be to blast every note to the back of the theatre's capacious balcony. (And unlike the previous Broadway transplant at this address, the Billy Joel/Twyla Tharp musical "Movin' Out," Wicked" doesn't look lost at a London home considerably larger than its ongoing Broadway berth.)

Stephen Schwartz's score on repeated hearing strikes me as far cleverer than it's been given credit for, even if it falls more squarely in the pop-rock realm than virtually any of the extensive lineup of musicals that will be competing this busy London season for audiences and awards. One might wish for songs for Nigel Planer's purposefully bland Wizard that didn't evaporate as one listens to them, though even that much is of a piece with a show about the limits of power and the smoke and mirrors attached to status. (Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, is revealed to be far more potent than her supposed tormentor.) And Adam Garcia, eye candy that is, doesn't bring much insouciance to a part (the romantic interest, Fiyero) that, on press night anyway, found him surprisingly ill at ease. But none of this will matter to those happy crowds who come to feast on Menzel and leave intoxicated by the decorative butterball that is Margolyes. A case of shameless scene stealing? Some might even call it wicked.


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