Every Wicked lover will have their favourite Elphaba. It could be the first person they saw in the role, the original on West End and Broadway, the one with the biggest powerhouse voice or just simply the one that we think takes the role to a new level. I’ve been lucky to see four different women in that role throughout the years (Nikki Davis-Jones, Natalie Andreou, Emma Hatton, Rachel Tucker) but none of them were “my” Elphaba.
I remember watching Willemijn Verkaik on TV performing “Defying Gravity” ahead of the Olivier Awards back in 2014 and being blown away. It wasn’t even her voice that did it; it was the character she brought to Elphaba that differed from everyone else I had seen in that role. From watching her sing just that one song, it sowed the seed that she was my Elphaba.
I never got the chance to see her live. I kept going to see Wicked and watched incredibly talented women take the stage by storm. The stand out performer for me has to be Rachel Tucker. She was brought back to the show for the 10th anniversary of Wicked in the West End and what a great decision that was. Her voice is absolutely sensational; she had me in tears and my body covered in goosebumps more times than I care to admit. I knew whoever would follow her had a very tough gig.
I saw the news that Willemijn was returning at 1a.m when I was lying in a bunk bed in Australia; which was a normal hour for the news to break back in England. I’m not ashamed to admit that it took me well over an hour to get to sleep after that. I was finally going to get a chance to see my Elphaba in London! With over 2,000 performances under her belt, in 3 different languages and 4 different countries it was finally my chance. I was so excited. I waved off Rachel in the best way I know how; I went to her final performance. Emotions were high and it was the best show I have seen of Wicked to date.
I could hardly wait to see Willemijn and when she first ran out on that stage I couldn’t contain myself and let out a squeal of excitement. She performed Elphaba’s first big number, “The Wizard and I”, with gumption and grit, just as I thought she would.
Willemijn’s voice isn’t the powerhouse voice that Rachel’s is. She isn’t so flawless, which I love. She shows an emotion to Elphaba that outshines any of the actresses I have seen before. She doesn’t worry about being theatrically perfect, she shows Elphaba for what she is; an imperfect, tortured and beautiful character that is finding out where she belongs. Her character acting is exceptional; the awkwardness and anxiety she shows with Elphaba leads you to believe, more than anyone else, that this is the young wicked witch that we see in “The Wizard of Oz”.
I watched her perform “Defying Gravity” and listened to her hold that riff at the end and leave the room speechless with that incredible voice of hers. Even that didn’t prepare me for when she comes through that trap door and delivers “No Good Deed”. Contrary to popular belief, I believe “No Good Deed” is Elphaba’s song. This is when she realises she can never win, whatever she does will always be turned against her. The people needed an enemy and she had been tarred with that brush. It shows her anguish, her pain and her love for Fiyero. Willemijn shone. There’s no other way to say it. That awkward, heartbroken Elphaba that we see brewing from the start finally lets go. The character Willemijn portrays her as means this song enters another dimension. We all identify with her, we see her pain and we understand how it came to this.
As I said at the start, every Wicked lover will have their favourite Elphaba. For me, Willemijn has taken Elphaba to a level that I have never seen before. So with 11 visits to date, and a lot more planned, I can safely say my gut feeling back in 2014 was right… Willemijn is my Elphaba.