AT the heart of smash-hit musical Wicked is the story of a friendship tested by the harsh realities of an increasingly hostile and corrupt society, not our mythical childhood Oz. In the opening number Glinda, who we know as the "Good Witch", announces the death of the "Wicked Witch", and it's the youthful story of Elphaba - the green and ostracised - that the first half explores.
The lead roles are played by Nikki Davis-Jones and Emily Tierney respectively, who both bring youthful exuberance and frighteningly impressive stage presence. Tierney has a flair for visual and physical comedy and is a complete scene stealer in the fabulously tongue-in-cheek Popular. Davis-Jones, however, is a grower: The Wizard And I starts out tentatively, while I'm Not That Girl is a more thoughtful interpretation, exposing Elphaba's deep-rooted vulnerability.
Defying Gravity is the turning point, when the boundaries between good and evil are blurred and childhood beliefs about L Frank Baum's "merry" tale are cleverly subverted.
This re-imagining also explains the origins of the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow.
The ensemble and supporting cast are in fine fettle, with deserving nods for Marilyn Cutt's Madame Morrible and Dale Rapley's Wizard, especially his temptingly vaudeville-meets-Broadway rendition of Wonderful.
Flying monkeys, roaring dragons, bubbles and broomsticks are coupled with so many in-jokes, you'll be reaching for your DVD of The Wizard Of Oz before you can say "lions and tigers and bears - oh my!".