Wondrous wigs, dazzling dresses, monkey masks and every shade of green you could possibly imagine - this is the weird and wonderful world of Wicked.
Backstage in wardrobe village is where the magic happens to create this blockbuster musical, which is casting a spell over Sunderland Empire audiences throughout September.
Last time it visited the city in 2015, the tour was one of the most popular to ever be staged at the High Street West theatre, bewitching crowds of more than 56,000. And this second outing looks set to follow suit, with 80% of tickets already sold.
As well as the strong story line about female friendship and a sizzling score by Stephen Schwartz, it’s the fantastical costumes, 350 to be precise, and striking sets which keep audiences coming back for more.
Far from travelling by broomstick, it took 13 articulated lorries to transport the show’s sets, props and costumes to Sunderland and a team of 100 people on stage and behind the scenes to stage each single show.
One of those who helps to create the sorcery on stage is company manager Antony Field. “We have all these amazing characters and their costumes are all part of the magic of the theatricality,” he said as we made our way through the rails of feathers, ribbons and rich brocade. “One of the biggest costumes we have is Glinda’s bubble dress which takes two months to make for each actress. It’s worth £20,000 alone. We have an amazing day at the beginning of rehearsals where a team of costume makers come along to do fittings. What they do is incredible and is a real labour of love.”
Helen Woolf gets to don the spectacular dress of 100,000 sequins, weighing 10kilos, each night in her role as Glinda.
“It completely changes you when you put it on,” she explained. “It’s a very structured dress and the second you put it on you feel like a princess, which is amazing.”
Commenting on the show’s popularity, Helen said: “I think it’s because it’s about celebrating other people’s differences and not letting your differences get in the way of life. It’s just a wonderful story about friendship and love.
“Traditionally in a musical that love story is between a man and a woman, but in ours it’s love in a different way, in terms of friendship, so I think that’s something people can connect with.”
Over the years, Wicked has built up a fervent fan base with people coming back to see the show over and over again.
Helen said: “At the stage door you meet people who come time and time again. I think it’s because every time you come to the show you find a new layer or spot something you hadn’t noticed first time. Every ensemble character is also unique in their image and their personal journey through the show, so there’s just so much detail and I think that’s what keeps people coming back.”
Speaking about bringing the West End hit on the road, where it’s now in its 12th year at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, Antony said: “It’s a different cast and crew, but it’s very much the same show with the same production values. If you’re going to bring a show like Wicked on the road you have to do it properly. It has to be the same as the West End and Broadway, you can’t do anything on the cheap. So we have these lavish production values.”
He added: “It’s been great to return to Sunderland. It’s a beautiful theatre and it’s massive backstage which really helps. We’re such a big show that we’re restricted as to where we can go, so we couldn’t go to Newcastle as we just wouldn’t fit.”
He added: “The audiences have been great in Sunderland too, they’ve been laughing at parts other audiences don’t, which is great for us as it keeps the show fresh.”
•Wicked is at Sunderland Empire until September 29. Tickets are available at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on
0844 871 3022 or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland
•Read our review of Wicked here.
•For an insight into how Amy Ross goes green as Elphaba see the video here.
Wicked in numbers
•100 cast and crew
•140 pairs of shoes
•125 pairs of gloves
•30 prosthetic masks
•40 yards of fabric make up Elphaba’s wicked witch dress
•2,000 metres of ribbon are used in the Emerald City costumes