Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Friday, 3 February 2006

Wicked Oz musical heads for London

By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Wicked, Stephen Schwartz's Tony award-winning prequel to The Wizard of Oz, is to open in London in September. It recently became the highest grossing show in Broadway history.

Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba on Broadway
The musical comes hot on the heels of Andrew Lloyd Webber's recent announcement that Evita is returning to the West End.

It is hoped by many who work in the industry that such productions will boost London's theatre scene.

Last year's terror attacks on the capital saw the cancellation of many West End shows and a subsequent drop-off in box office takings.

Despite this, figures released in January revealed that theatre attendance in the capital was up 3.4% last year, compared with 2004.

However, as Lord Lloyd-Webber pointed out in a TV interview this week, those statistics do not take into account the large number of discounted tickets sold to theatregoers in 2005.

The composer's most recent production, The Woman in White, is to close later this month, while the Queen musical We Will Rock You ends in October.

But the imminent arrival of big-budget productions that have already proved their credentials on Broadway sounds a more positive note.

New productions include the Monty Python musical Spamalot and the Billy Joel-inspired Movin' Out.

They will be followed in 2007 by a musical version of The Lord of the Rings, due to begin previewing on Saturday in Toronto.


Set in the Emerald City before the arrival of Dorothy and Toto, Wicked tells how the good witch Glinda first met Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West.

The New York production which opened at the Gershwin Theatre in October 2003 has been seen by 1.75m people.

Eden Espinosa
Eden Espinosa is currently playing the role in New York
At a presentation held in London on Thursday, producer David Stone described it as "smart, passionate and original".

"Wicked truly is a phenomenon," he said, adding that he hoped the West End version - rumoured to cost between 6m and 10m - would run for "many, many years".

That may depend in part on whom director Joe Mantello casts in the lead roles.

No cast members have been announced yet, though Stone said the role of the Wizard of Oz, played by Oscar-winning Cabaret star Joel Grey in the original Broadway production, would be filled by an established name.

He also said some changes would be made to tailor the show to a British audience, whom he hoped would be responsive to its political subtext.

Author Gregory Maguire, he said, was inspired to write his novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by the demonisation of Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the first Gulf War.

The central message of Wicked, he added, was not to judge people on appearance alone.


Whoever plays the role of Elphaba - taken from the initials of Oz creator L Frank Baum - will need to don the same green face-paint actress Shoshana Bean wore during her 18 months with the New York production as understudy and lead.

The show's book will be adapted slightly for British audiences
"It did take a month or so for my skin to adjust," she told the BBC News website. "There were a couple of break-outs at the beginning, and also when I left the show.

"If I sat still it took 20 minutes to apply - though I did it in seven minutes once, because the actress I was understudying for had broken a rib."

Indeed, this was not the only accident that befell the ensemble during her tenure.

"I fell in the orchestra pit once and I caught my foot in a trap door," she said. "It's the most dangerous thing I've ever done."

Bean and Kate Reinders - Glinda in Wicked's Chicago production - performed two numbers from the show on Thursday that were enthusiastically received by an audience made up of West End tour operators and ticket agents.

They were also shown what Mr Stone called an "ooh-aah video" featuring endorsements from audience members and Hollywood actor Dennis Quaid.

Wicked opens at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London on 7 September.

Lloyd Webber settles old scores
01 Feb 06 |  Entertainment
Spamalot names London stage date
20 Jan 06 |  Entertainment
No UK premiere for Rings musical
15 Mar 05 |  Arts & Culture

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