Mark Curry recently took over as The Wizard in the West End production of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.
Telling the untold story of the Witches of Oz, Wicked has now been seen by over 7 million people in London alone and is already the 19th longest-running show in West End theatre history.
Mark’s recent theatre credits include: Dr. Armstrong and Rogers in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (UK tour), Richard Willey MP in Ray Cooney’s Out of Order (The Mill at Sonning), Andre Cassell in Victor/Victoria & Larry in Company (both Southwark Playhouse), The Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show (UK tour) and The Compere in Victoria Wood’s Talent (Menier Chocolate Factory). He famously presented Blue Peter alongside Caron Keating and Yvette Fielding between 1986 and 1990.
I recently spoke to Mark before a performance of Wicked about joining such an iconic show, why seeing Wicked for the first time was an eventful experience and what went through his mind when he stepped onstage at the Apollo Victoria for the first time…
You’ve been in Wicked for over a month now, are you feeling settled in?
Yes! I enjoyed it right from the start of rehearsals… even the auditions were really nice [laughs]. I’m enjoying it more and more now because stepping into something like Wicked which is so well known and into a role that some great actors have done is quite daunting, especially when everybody else here has already been doing it for a while. I was very nervous for the first few shows, and I still get nervous – but now I have the nice nerves. It’s more excitement now… the first few nights I was like “What am I doing?!” [laughs] It’s because it’s such a big show and such a fantastic theatre and a lot is expected from you… and also everybody else is so good.
Well the funny thing is, I had seen it... I came to see Desmond Barrit, but unfortunately the night I came – this was about seven or eight years ago – a lady next to me was very, very ill. I had to help her get out into the foyer and an ambulance was called and it took a long time… so I missed most of the show! I literally missed most of act one and a lot of act two. When I went for the audition, they asked me all these questions like do I know the show and what’s my favourite song [laughs]. I had to admit that I didn’t know it that well. I went to see it during rehearsals and I have to say, I was totally blown away by it.
It’s such a spectacle with such mesmerising detail, but at the heart of it are these two characters who the audience really latch onto. People connect to this show, don’t they?
They do, and there are so many levels to the story about people being different and not fitting in; what makes somebody good and what makes somebody bad, as well as are the evil really evil and are the good really good? The Wizard is really interesting, he admits that he was ‘blown here by the winds of chance’. It’s very relevant, and a clever piece that you appreciate the more you see and get to know it. What has blown me away is the orchestrations – and the lyrics are extremely clever. The first time I watched the show all that was lost on me because of what happened. I have quite a long time before I go onstage, about an hour, so I hear a lot of the show and can listen to the great lyrics and orchestrations. That’s why Wicked is in its tenth year, it’s just phenomenal.
Have you enjoyed taking on your big number ‘Wonderful’?
I love doing ‘Wonderful’ because it’s a very different song to everything else in the show and it’s when you really get to know The Wizard. It’s very clever because he’s still trying to entice Elphaba into joining him. He says what she wants to hear. It’s tricky – he’s charming but there’s more to him underneath. Emma (Hatton) who plays Elphaba is just terrific to work with. She gives me cheeky looks sometimes [laughs], and she’s strong. I love that scene.
And the other person you get to work alongside closely with is Liza Sadovy who plays Madame Morrible! Did she welcome you into the cast?
Awww… Liza Sadovy… she is just wonderful. From day one she was very supportive. She has worked with a lot of Wizards, so I think it was hard for her to have a new person come along. We’re kind of like the mummy and daddy of the company. I look around the cast – I’ve been around for a long time – and think ‘wow, that was me in my twenties… but now I’m the dad of the company’ [laughs]. Liza and I have a good natter in the wings, in fact they’ve got to separate us sometimes because we chat too much. We were chatting so much onstage one night that we forgot to bow! We have great fun together.
What’s the whole atmosphere like behind the scenes at Wicked? Not only do you have amazing leads, but there are extremely talented covers and incredible costume/wigs/makeup/backstage teams.
Everybody is phenomenal! You walk in and the energy is terrific. All the cast do the warm up together, then we have notices and if there’s a birthday there will always be a cake – what I love is that nobody is treated as if they’re not important. Every single cog makes this show work. Sometimes in shows people in the ensemble might be made to feel as if they’re not as important, but they are! They make this show work. There’s amazing energy in this building, and that translates onstage too. Everybody gets a chance to play the parts… and they’re all really good! All the understudies can sing and do it all – every single one of them! The audience would never know they weren’t seeing the lead. It’s an example of how competitive this business is.
What can people who know nothing about Wicked expect from the show?
They can expect a show that never stops moving from the moment it starts. It’s a story that just gets better. It has honest, truthful depth. People will be blown away by the music as well as by the spectacle of it – the costumes and the lighting. It blows you away. Come and get lost in our Wicked world!
It must be incredible performing at the Apollo Victoria – it’s one of the biggest theatres in the West End!
Even though there are over 2,000 people in the audience most nights, you can feel them listening to you. Audiences get so into it! And at the end it’s like a rock concert. Joe Mantello’s (original director) note to everybody in Wicked is to keep it simple and keep it real and be truthful. He thinks that’s why this show works, and I agree with him. I had never been onstage at the Apollo Victoria, and the first time I walked on for my photo call – this was before I had started rehearsals – I actually went, “Oh my god” [laughs]. I think I said, “I’m not sure if I can do this”. It’s big, really big! But when the lights go down you can’t see the audience anyway.
Wicked isn’t just a show, it’s a huge phenomenon. What has it been like to come into that whole world? The fans are so dedicated!
It has been quite daunting, because I know most of the fans have seen the show quite a lot so know what other Wizards have been like. When I walk out of stage door I never expect people to ask me for autographs, but it’s so nice when they stop me and ask me to sign their programme. It makes me feel like I’m being accepted by the fans; they know the show better than me, so that means a lot to me. I guess every actor brings something different to the role.
Final question; I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
First of all I would take the opening number from Company. I did the show at the Southwark Playhouse and it is what it is – it’s a company song. Everybody in the show is singing it and you’ve got wonderful rhythms and harmonies. When you all get it right it’s the most fantastic song, I will never forget doing it. We used to all do it as a warm up sometimes before the show and it was magic.
What else would I choose? This is really tough! Because it’s my current show, I’m going to choose ‘The Wizard and I’ from Wicked. I love it! It builds and it’s exciting. I know most people would say ‘Defying Gravity’, but I think I prefer ‘The Wizard and I’. It’s a great number. I absolutely adore the show Hello, Dolly - I think it’s fantastic so for my final one I’m going to choose ‘Before the Parade Passes By’. I think it’s a great metaphor for life.
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Wicked is currently booking at the Apollo Victoria Theatre to 29th April 2016.
Please visit www.wickedthemusical.co.uk for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit 2-4: Matt Crockett