Wicked is a show that has an enormous fan base, with many people seeing it over and over again – and with the prospect of a major movie version in the works, it’s showing no sign of slowing down any day soon. The current UK tour must be one of the largest and most spectacular shows ever seen outside of London, and will attract a crowd on that basis alone. Indeed, everything is on a large scale, from the striking sets and costumes of the Ozmopolitan setting to Stephen Schwartz’s big numbers (a string of which are heard in the first half), to the performances themselves. Based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, which reimagined L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories so inventingly, this is the prequel to The Wizard of Oz – the story of how and why the Wicked Witch of the West became wicked. It’s actually a better and stronger musical than The Wizard of Oz and stands completely on its own merit. But what’s thrilling about Wicked is that it’s more than just spectacle and is a rare example of a large-scale show with a real heart. The intimate story at its centre reveals to the audience a morality tale with issues of friendship, loyalty, trust and an outsider winning against the odds. With this duality, it’s no wonder that it has a vast appeal.

The latest Elphaba and Glinda bring different strengths to the roles than some of their West End predecessors. Nikki Davis-Jones shows a multitude of emotions as the misunderstood Elphaba, displaying a good sense of both timing and character throughout, judging how she plays both drama and comedy, and both the large-scale and intimate moments well. A green-skinned outsider, she’s the exact opposite to Emily Tierney’s blonde and beautiful Glinda, who exists – literally – in her own bubble. Tierney is a slightly more mature and less ditzy Glinda than some, giving the character more depth. There is a strong dynamic between the two leading ladies as they journey from their initial intolerance, even hatred, of one another, to learning about one another and becoming good friends. Their touching finale duet ‘For Good’ reminds the audience how much they have changed each others’ lives and how far they have come. It’s no surprise that the two ladies clash over handsome Liam Doyle’s younger-than-usual Fiyero, who overcomes his own initial arrogance, ‘Dancing Through Life’ as a spoilt brat, to help Elphaba in her quest to expose the Wizard (a charismatic Dale Rapley) and his plan. There’s amusing support too from Marilyn Cutts who shines as the mysterious Madame Morrible, with an eye firmly on what she can gain for herself. The hard-working ensemble play a multitude of characters from monkeys to Denizens of the Emerald City to Citizens of Oz, with some fabulous stylized costumes and energetic movement throughout.

However, it’s Stephen Schwartz’s rousing and outstanding pop-influenced score that is the real star of the show – is there a stronger Act 1 finale than the iconic ‘Defying Gravity’ where Elphaba literally takes flight (a fabulous effect well done here), or a more enchanting and iconic solo than Glinda’s ‘Popular’? Even if the sub-story involving George Ure’s Boq and Carina Gillespie’s Nessarose doesn’t quite elicit the same resonance and empathy as Elphaba and Glinda’s story, it does at least give a useful nod and wink to The Wizard of Oz story which inspired this show. Wicked uses that familiar and well-loved story but takes it to a new level, in a grand and wondrous journey of discovery. It’s an exciting twist of fate when the witch you think is wicked proves to be better-at-heart than you anticipated – and this tremendous (wicked!) production really does have to be seen to be believed.