In the hearts and minds of its fans, Wicked has long eclipsed The Wizard of Oz. A modern classic, the show has been running on Broadway for the past 11 years, and in the West End for the past 8 years too; Wicked has established itself as a must-see musical, and the London production recently welcomed its 6 millionth audience member. Online forums for fans of the hit show all seem to agree on one thing: Dorothy is old news. Not only does the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, win over audiences every time, it also just happens to be one of the best female roles in musical theatre.
One of the reasons the show became such a phenomenon, and the role so iconic, was Idina Menzel. Menzel was best known for her Tony-nominated performance as Maureen Johnson in 1995’s Rent – a full eight years before taking to the Broadway stage in Elphaba’s famous green make-up. Originating the role on the Broadway stage proved career-defining. Menzel won the coveted Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and has continued to emerge as a star on both sides of the Atlantic ever since, most recently lending her voice to the smash hit track ‘Let it Go’ from Disney’s Frozen. When the show first came to the West End in 2006, Idina Menzel was the obvious choice for Elphaba.
Choosing somebody to replace her wouldn’t be so easy, but in Kerry Ellis the producers found a star substitute. Having already done stints in We Will Rock You and Les Miserables, Ellis was a seasoned West End star – the first British actress to take on the role, she made it her own and won a WhatsOnStage Award for Best Takeover in a Role. After 18 months as Elphaba in London, Ellis became the first British actress to take on the role on Broadway, and only the second to have starred in both productions. Spending 5 months on Broadway, and yet another 5 months in London, she gave up the role in 2009, only to return this Autumn for a 12 week run lasting until October.
Ellis, however, isn’t the longest serving West End Elphaba. That honour belongs to Rachel Tucker – a finalist on the BBC talent show I’d Do Anything, Tucker joined Wicked in March 2010. More than a little Popular, Tucker left for maternity leave after 2½ years as Elphaba, succeeded by her former co-star Louise Dearman in October 2012 after over 900 performances.
Her replacement, Dearman has the distinction of being the first actress to play both lead roles in the musical, playing Glinda alongside Tucker for 18 months. Having received an amazing wealth of acclaim in her role as the Good Witch, Dearman’s transformation into Elphaba was met just as eagerly by fans and critics alike, and she spent a further year in the production. After 2½ years Defying Gravity in the West End, she’s now considered something of a Wicked legend too.
Do you think Elphaba is the best role in the West End? What gets your vote? Let us know in the comments section below!