Dragon at Bristol Hippodrome for production of Wicked

Defying gravity: Wicked at the Bristol Hippodrome theatre

Having booked tickets nearly a year previously, it’s safe to say I was very excited when our trip to see Wicked at the Bristol Hippodrome finally came around! I love live musical theatre and the chance to see a new show, particularly such a well-known and high profile production is an experience to savour.

The Bristol Hippodrome

Going to the Hippodrome in Bristol always feels like a treat. Of course, the shows we see there are the highlight and taking the trip up to Bristol often means seeing a larger touring production than our local theatres show. However, the Hippodrome itself is part of the excitement. The Hippodrome feels every one of its 100+ years old…in a good way. It’s such an atmospheric venue, and I love it. From the iconic red theatre seats to the gold accenting and ornate stage it’s easy to imagine wartime audiences sitting as enthralled and entertained as we are today.

Wicked: The background

Rarely for a musical, I knew almost nothing about Wicked before seeing the show. Of course, I know the story of the Wizard of Oz and I was aware it was a different take on the tale. However, I didn’t realise that the story of Wicked is based on a series of books by author Gregory Maguire. Nor did I realise how long Wicked had been running, with the show having been around now for fifteen years. So it was with an open if expectant mind that I took my seat ready for the show to begin.

Wicked: Stage and sets

I always love seeing how a touring production frames the stage, as it’s the first hint you get of the style of the show. Wicked certainly didn’t disappoint, with the pre-show curtain featuring a giant map of Oz with the Emerald City shimmering green in the centre. But more impressive was the enormous dragon sitting above the stage with wings spread wide as if ready to swoop over the audience.

Act One

The show started with a big ensemble piece that was a great intro to the cast and also our first look at the costumes, which were fantastic throughout. The story moved through a flashback to Elphaba and Glinda meeting at university. It was here that the other main character of Fiyero was introduced.

The three leads were really strong and not knowing the story in advance I was surprised how much the musical hinged on these three performers, particularly Elphaba and Glinda, played by Amy Ross and Helen Woolf respectively. Often touring stage musicals have a larger lead cast, whereas in Wicked the majority of the songs are led by either Elphaba or Glinda.

There were a lot of highlights from the first half of the show. There were some really fun ensemble pieces from the university days of the characters, and a standout performance from Woolf during the number Popular. However, the anticipated showpiece moment arrived at the end of the first act with the musical’s most well-known track Defying Gravity.

Although the show pre-dates Frozen by a decade, for anyone unfamiliar with Defying Gravity it’s very much a ‘Let it go’ moment. Indeed both parts of Elphaba and Elsa have been played by Idina Menzel, and the Wicked cast even references the epic Disney song during act one.

Defying Gravity is Elphaba’s spotlight moment, where the character vows to break free of the limits and rules everyone has contained her by and live to her own instincts. It was the kind of live theatre performance from Ross that sets the hairs on the back of your neck tingling, as she rose above the crowd and belted out the popular number.

Act Two

The second act resumed with more of the fantastic costumes and ensemble pieces that made the first act so memorable and the Oz scenes were a highlight for me. There was only one song in the second half I knew in advance – the duet For Good and it was a chance for Ross and Woolf to showcase their complementing voices in a strong ballad.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me of the second half was the way in which aspects of the Wizard of Oz story were drawn in and turned on their head. It’s a little like an origin story that reimagines what you think you know of the original.

The finale of the show brings the audience back to where we started with a reprise of show opener No one mourns the wicked…but with a completely different interpretation of the same situation. In a way this nicely sums up the approach of the story as a whole, reinterpreting the Wizard of Oz characters in a wholly unique way whilst following an interweaving timeline.

No one mourns the wicked…

As we left the theatre our whole group was in high spirits. Whilst there were moments of sadness and social commentary, Wicked is unashamedly and infectiously joyous. The songs are upbeat and the costumes and sets are vibrant and great fun. On that note, if you’re going to see the show, keep an eye on the dragon above the stage…and watch out for flying monkeys!

With smiles firmly fixed on our faces even a few days later (helped by buying the soundtrack the day after!) it’s safe to say that no one mourns the Wicked experience…except perhaps when it comes to an end!