Last night (27th September) the Apollo Victoria Theatre was transformed into the most swankified place in town, as Wicked celebrated its tenth anniversary in London’s West End. Fresh from her stint on Broadway, London’s longest-serving Elphaba Rachel Tucker led the triumphant performance alongside former Australian Glinda Suzie Mathers who recently made her West End debut in the production.
As the performance drew to an end, former cast members – including all the British Elphabas and Glindas – took to the stage before composer Stephen Schwartz made a surprise appearance to pay tribute to the musical’s extraordinary creative team and explain why the London production is so special to them (it was the first time the entire original creative team reunited to fine-tune the musical since it opened on Broadway, and the changes made for London were later rolled out into all other productions worldwide).
Speaking to West End Frame and other press after the performance, Stephen Schwartz said, “It was a great night; it was fun to see the show here again – there were cast members I hadn’t seen before and I thought they were terrific. The show is still in very good shape, I’m happy to say, and it’s wonderful to be surrounded by so many collaborators who were there at the beginning.”
Discussing the current West End cast, Schwartz explained it was him who recommended Suzie Mathers for the London production. “I’d seen Suzie do it in New Zealand” he said, “I thought she was so great that I recommended her to the casting office here in London. I also loved Madame Morrible (Anita Dobson) and Fiyero (Oliver Savile) I thought was really good, he found a lot of richness in the role that sometimes some of our Fiyeros miss. I’ve seen Rachel before of course because she did it in New York”.
What always strikes me about Wicked is how each actress to take on one of the leading roles is able to do their own thing, portraying the character slightly differently and has freedom to shake things up vocally. “That’s the thing which makes it fun” Schwartz admitted when I asked him if he enjoyed seeing completely different interpretations.
“It’s a show which is open to the actors’ interpretation, obviously they’re saying the same lines, doing the same staging and we want the same laughs to be there… but I like that each actor or actress is able to bring his or her own special nuance to the role. It isn’t one of those productions where someone leaves and someone else is just put in and it feels robotic. It makes it fun for me to see it!”
Later Wicked’s legendary director Joe Mantello was on hand to reflect on the past ten years of the London production. “I come here once a year to work with the company, but tonight was the absolute opposite of that – it was just nostalgia and reminiscing and remembering how special it was to make it,” he explained.
Mantello revealed that Wicked’s success in London came as a surprise as producers had predicted it would only run for five or six years. “I’m shocked! I remember when we were first coming over to do it and our producer said ‘I think we can plan five, maybe six, years for London’. From the very first moment London and the West End welcomed us with open arms, there’s something very special about it.
“The cast album preceded us, so on the first night the audience wasn’t hearing it for the first time. I remember on the first night at the Apollo Victoria there was this energy in the audience of people who had heard about it and knew the score backwards and forwards and they were also seeing Idina. It was electric!”
|Mantello & Idina Menzel|
On working with Tucker, who he also directed in Sting’s Broadway musical The Last Ship, Mantello said, “I got to know Rachel from doing Wicked here and then I put her in The Last Ship; without Wicked in London I never would have known her, and she was really brilliant in The Last Ship.”
Last night the show was slicker than ever; ten years on it’s tremendous to see Wicked feeling so fresh, something which is very important to Mantello. “It is our duty to give people the same show that they were seeing ten years ago - I firmly, firmly, really believe that” he said. “I’ve tried to instil that to anybody who works on the show. And there’s an extraordinary resident team here that do an impeccable job of maintaining the show.”
I honestly have no idea how the cast coped with the pressure; as if performing for the show’s composer and creative team wasn’t enough, they also had previous cast members in the audience as well as producers, journalists and all the dedicated hardcore fans (a few of whom had greenified for the event). Speaking to me after the performance, Rachel Tucker (Elphaba) admitted, “I had a talk with myself in the dressing room and in the wings to grow up, put the nerves aside and just do my show.”
Oliver Savile (Fiyero) added, “That was the most the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done! We all get quite nervous, but I’m usually quite good at just pushing it under the carpet and going on and doing my thing. I woke up this morning feeling nervous – and I’ve been doing the show a year! It’s having past cast who know the show so well watching, and you just want to do it justice.”
Savile is loving life with his new leading ladies! “I’ve loved having the new girls and new people and having new energy” he explained. “It has been so much fun! I mean… Rachel Tucker… Jesus Christ! I still do ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ going ‘ahh that’s Rachel Tucker!’ [laughs].”
|Tucker & Mathers|
The audience went wild throughout the performance, prolonging the running time due to extended applause. “The audience were so behind me tonight, you could hear a pin drop at certain points,” Tucker said. On playing the role for so long, the actress explained, “My Elphaba is deeper and more layered, I know her better now. It’s great to come back and revisit a role because you find out so much more.”
Not only is Suzie Mathers playing Glinda in a different country, but she is also playing the role with a different accent; she’s always previously played Glinda with an American accent, but had to re-learn the role with a British accent for London. “Now if you asked me to do the show in an American accent I’m not sure I could do it! It’s now so in my body in English. The accent changes the character a little bit; you find new things with the accent.”
Also in attendance was Willemijn Verkaik, who is waiting in the wings ready to take over from Tucker in January. “I’m very excited to be going back” Verkaik said. “I can’t wait to get back on that stage. It has been such an amazing journey!”
The Dutch star, who has previously played Elphaba in Germany, Holland, New York and London, said she enjoyed watching the show as part of the audience. “Oh my gosh… it was amazing! I was so happy being in the audience and feeling the energy. I am so proud to be a part of it for ten years – this is my own ten year celebrations too. I had a big smile the whole time.”
As Wicked London flies into its next ten years, excitement is building for the long-rumoured film which is finally on its way. Schwartz confirmed that he is working on the film, and that its director Stephen Daldry was in attendance at the gala.
“We’ve just begun work on it” Schwartz said. “I think we have a pretty good outline of what the movie’s going to be, and how we’re going to reconceive the material for the screen. It’s actually a lot of fun for us and very exciting. The director of the film, Stephen Daldry, was here tonight and we’ve been beginning work with him so yeah… I think it’s underway, it’s a few years away obviously. There will be new songs in the movie, for sure.”
Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Wicked is currently booking at the Apollo Victoria Theatre to Saturday 4th November 2017.
Please visit www.wickedthemusical.co.uk for further information and tickets.