After having seen Wicked in London’s Apollo Theatre three times, I have been more than excited about the new staging which premiered in Germany’s musical capital Hamburg this September. The trailer already gave away that this dramatisation dares to be different and presented an unusual mix of dieselpunk, vapour wave and 90s revival, spiced with millennial unicorns and shiny, tightly worn plastic backpacks.
Instead of all unique frilly costumes in yellow and green, the ten singer strong ensemble choir opens the stage, wearing bright circuit board print raincoats, repeated bob wigs and round selfie gadgets around their neck in unison: Matrix, but in plastic fantastic.
Wicked purists who get excited about brass dragons, yellowed fairytale kingdom maps, monkeys flying through the overture, Judy Garland and Galinda’s shoe cabinet and bubble flying through the West End – be warned: Here Glinda is rather inspired by Ru Paul’s Drag Race than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita while her on-off BFF Elphaba demonstrates Nirvana’s Salvation Army chic. K-pop vs. Grunge, Vivienne Westwood would approve.
The word “Wicked” still does not translate well, and so the musical has kept its English title and Elphaba her line about feeling as energetic as only a true witch can feel. The character Boq has been renamed Moq here, and this makes sense because the original name sounds like the German word “Bock” which is a billy goat and might easily confuse the story. “Heißgeliebt” (literally: “hotly desired / beloved”) is an improved translation of the evergreen “Popular”, enormous fun in charming Dutch accents. The journalist’s usage of the term “witch hunt” becomes literal, the discrimination of those being different more radical: Unapologetic references to recent heated discussions on power abuse, haters, climate change and citizen rights. The illusionist Wizard himself is an obvious take on Trump, showman, charming agitator and reality TV marionette at the same time. Wicked has always been political (Gregory Maguire‘s 1995 novel covers most societal taboos) but what’s happening on stage is incredibly… well, 2021.
If there has been a reference to Hamburg’s sprayer legend Oz, I have missed it when observing the stage also during the interval but at least I discover a Warhol one, along with a Chupa Chups tree in the canteen – this wizard boarding school is purposefully more 1980s high school than Hogwarts, far away Kansas stays a footnote.
Since I came to the Neue Flora theatre seeing Phantom of the Opera twice (plus a special effect demonstration just for kids) and the German musical Tanz Der Vampire (based on Roman Polanski’s Dance of The Vampires aka The Fearless Vampire Killers), the foyer has moved from concrete to eggshell. We are early to have our bags and vaccine QR codes checked, and the names compared with our passports, and once we got a drink and head to a poseur table, we are allowed to take our masks off during the length of consuming our beverage. Masks are to be worn throughout the performance and I see no one not sticking to that rule. One person even wears the masks over mock Boq ears. The orchestra pit I remember is no longer there, but the wizard’s Big Brother cams give us a glimpse of the conductor and the band during the final applause. Finding our seats in the fourth row takes some confusing counting as the former front row has been dismantled for wheelchairs I believe. Public transport is no longer included in the tickets of private theatres and parking costs a whopping 12,50 Euro for musical visitors. But instead of whinging, everyone seems to be thankful that we can be here tonight.
If Wicked is a play about braveness, and about daring to challenge and overcome the status quo, the makers are showing exactly that: Hamburg’s Wicked has turned around every single prop and costume button ever used since the musical’s US premiere in 2003, burnt all but the score safety cards intentionally, and runs proudly into the danger of becoming the most hated musical production ever. More of this please: Let’s all be more tolerant and daring, it can go hand in hand.
**** out of 5 stars
Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Winnie Holzmann, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire
We paid 87 Euro per ticket in the stalls, seat 16 and 17 in row 4 through Eventim.