INTERVIEW: Waxing lyrical on Wicked

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ON Thursday we announced that Wicked will be flying into Sunderland to make its North East debut at the Sunderland Empire.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the spectacle a few times at its West End home, a theatrical extravaganza which saw it become my all time favourite musical – no mean feat when you review musicals for a living.

But Wicked, more than most, is a show that manages to pick you up, hold you in the palm of its green hand and thoroughly captivate.

At its heart is a tale of two sorcery students who forge an unlikely but profound friendship.

And it’s these heroines which give the show its evergreen appeal, as three-time Olivier Award-winning producer Michael McCabe explains.

“The show is a look at characters that people know from the Wizard of Oz and then putting them in an unknown and surprisingly new situation.

“It’s that take on these characters and the surprise of what happens to them that is key to the show’s appeal. There is genuine surprise by the twists and turns, and the story of how characters become the characters that we know. That element is hugely engaging.

“There are so many films that are made into musicals so people already know the story, but when you take your seat at Wicked you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Michael who is the show’s executive producer in the UK.

Though not always the critics’ favourite, Wicked has become a West End behemoth.

The award-winning London production continues its open-ended run at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, where tickets are currently on sale into its ninth year.

It has just been shortlisted for the BBC Radio 2 Audience Award at the 2014 Olivier Awards, is already the 15th longest-running musical in West End theatre history and recently celebrated its landmark 3000th performance.

It continues to cast its spell around the world where it’s been seen by more than 39million people.

“People do seem to make a very emotional connection with the characters and the piece as a whole,” said Michael.

“The story is very intimate, but the experience of it is huge. So there is an element of value for money because of what you see on stage but people really engage with the journey of Glinda and Elphaba.”

He added: “We had no idea what to expect when we toured this show but the reaction has been amazing from critics and the audiences. The warmth of the welcome we’ve had has been amazing for all of us, particularly the cast.

“What’s great about touring is that so many of the audience are new to the show so the laughter is very genuine and people are really listening to the story.”

Wicked is based on the acclaimed novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire and invents the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West in L Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz.

It looks at how the Wicked Witch began life as a good green-skinned girl who becomes evil, in part, as a result of the prejudice she experiences because of the colour of her skin.

The musical has hit the headlines this month after speculation that Harry Styles would appear in a film version of the show.

Michael says it’s all just speculation at this point.

“It was always intended to be a film, that’s why Universal Pictures is a producer. That journey from script to stage was somewhat by accident but there’s always been that plan to make a film, it just has to be when the time is right.

“It’s not imminent, but it will happen in the next few years. It should make an extraordinary film.

“At the minute the show it still opening in countries around the world and that’s a priority now. Harry Styles has been in the press as Fiyero. It’s a good idea but it’s all very much speculation right now.”

In the meantime, the show continues to wow on stage and, despite being among the first audiences to see the show, Michael says it’s a spectacle of which he never tires.

“I originally saw it as preview on Broadway ten years ago. I have seen it countless times since and No Good Deed is still a moment I really love. Every cast and every actor’s interpretation of a character is different so I never tire of it.

“There’s nothing like standing at the back of the theatre and listening to the audience react to it.

“That roar that goes up at the end of Defying Gravity is spine-tingling. Glee (who covered the track) has certainly made that song very popular, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it staged live, it’s spectacular.”

l Wicked is at Sunderland Empire from March 31 to April 25, 2015. Tickets, priced from £20 to £55, go on general sale on March 31 from 10am.

They will be available in person from the Sunderland Empire box office, on Tel. 0844 871 3022 and online from www.atgtickets.com/sunderland