Wicked Celebrates 10th Anniversary: 10 Steps in the Wicked Journey
Today, 27 September 2016 the hit musical Wicked celebrates its 10th anniversary in London's West End. After opening on Broadway in 2004 the show transferred to London's Apollo Victoria Theatre in September 2006 where it has remained a permanent fixture and continues to be one of the most popular and best selling musicals in town. After initially opening with Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel reprising her performance of Elphaba, numerous musical theatre stars have since taken on the challenge, with Rachel Tucker taking command for the 10th anniversary performance.
As with any musical, Wicked's journey to the stage has been an exciting and action packed adventure that has taken over 20 years of hard work and dedication by its creative team. To celebrate it's 10th Birthday in London, we look at ten key moments in the development of the show to explore how the production has become the worldwide phenomenon it is today.
1. Composer Stephen Schwartz first came across Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel 'Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West' whilst on holiday in Hawaii. After being convinced by its musical potential, he tried to buy the rights to the book for a live stage musical. Maguire had already sold the rights to Universal Pictures, but in 1998 Schwartz convinced Universal's Marc Platt to release them in order for him to adapt the show. Platt came aboard the project as a producer alongside Universal and David Stone. (Read our interview with Marc Platt)
2. Work on the musical began in earnest in 1999 and a number of readings and workshops took place between 2000 and 2003. Kristin Chenoweth played the role of Glinda for two readings in early 2001 and remained with the project ever since, helping Schwartz develop both her character and vocal arrangements.
3. Director Joe Mantello joined the project in July 2001 and furthered the development of the characters as well as working with the design team for a presentable aesthetic for the show. Designer Eugene Lee created a set and overall visual design that echoed W. W. Denslow's illustrations for the original L. Frank Baum and costume designer Susan Hilferty chose a "twisted Edwardian" style for her 200+ costumes. Lighting designer Kenneth Posner used over 800 individual lights to bring the 54 different scenes to life.
4. Mantello and Schwartz initially disagreed about the scale of the first production of the show, with the composer wanting to present an intimate version of the show to allow him and Holzman to rewrite quickly. Mantello was concerned about all of the design ideas coming together and pushed for a full scale production in order to make sure every aspect worked. The show played its first tryout at the Curran Theater in San Francisco in the summer of 2003. The show ran for a month and was met with positive reviews by audiences but less than kind words from major critics who found the production favoured style over substance. Schwartz demanded he and Holzman could have three months to work on the show ahead of the Broadway production. The notices allowed the creative team the chance to address key aspects of the plot and structure, as well as the balance between the key characters of Glinda and Elphaba.
5. The original Broadway production opened at the George Gershwin Theatre on 30 October 2003 with a cast that included Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Joel Gray, Norbert Leo Butz, Carole Shelley and Christopher Fitzgerald. The show divided critics but audiences jumped on board with the show's music and story, and demand for the musical quickly spread through excellent word of mouth.
6. Wicked was nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 2004, including Best Musical; Book; Orchestrations; Original Score; Choreography; Costume Design; Lighting Design; Scenic Design and two nominations for Best Actress – for Menzel and Chenoweth. The 2004 Tony Award race was heavily documented, in part thanks to an independent film 'ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway' which followed four new shows, Wicked, Caroline, or Change, Taboo and Avenue Q through development, opening and their respective race to the awards. After a tense campaign battle, with underdog Avenue Q urging the Tony committee to “Vote With Your Heart”, Wicked lost out on the top prize of Best Musical, as well as Best Book and Best Score. Menzel went on to win Best Actress in a Musical, beating her co-star Chenoweth.
7. Commercially, the original production of Wicked has broken the house record at the Gershwin Theatre twenty times and continues to gross well over $1million each week. The show took only 15 months to break even, earning back its initial investment by December 21, 2004. In its first year alone it grossed more than $56 million and in December 2013 became the first musical to gross $3 million in one week. In October 2010 it became the third musical in Broadway history to exceed $500 million in total gross, and went on to celebrate its tenth anniversary on Broadway on October 30, 2013. In February 2016 the show played its 5124th performance, becoming the 10th longest running Broadway show after overtaking RENT.
8. Wicked opened for previews in London on 7 September 2006, officially opening on 27 September. Idina Menzel reprised her role as Elphaba alongside Helen Dallimore as Glinda, Miriam Margolyes as Madame Morrible, Adam Garcia as Fiyero and Nigel Planer as the Wizard. Kerry Ellis became the first British Elphaba and later transferred to the Broadway production to complete a successful run in New York. On 3 June 2014 the show became the 10th longest running production in the West End. The first UK tour of the production began in September 2013 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester which toured to Dublin, Milton Keynes, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, Liverpool, Southampton and Edinburgh.
9. After years of speculation, a Universal Pictures live action film version of Wicked was announced to be in development, with an announced release date of 20 December 2019. The film version is expected to be directed by Stephen Daldry, with Winnie Holzman and Schwartz collaborating on the screenplay. Casting for the film is anticipated to be one of the most exciting aspects of the film version, with each fan having their own idea of who they would like to see immortalize each role on screen.
10. As Wicked London celebrates its 10th Anniversary on Tuesday 27 September 2016 it is already the 8th longest-running show currently playing in West End. Around the world, Wicked has now been seen by 50 million people in 14 countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, The Philippines, Mexico and Brazil) and has been translated into six languages: Japanese, German, Dutch, Spanish, Korean and Portuguese. The winner of over 100 major award, the London production has won the Olivier Audience Award (twice); the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Night Out; a Visit London Gold Award; a Certificate of Excellence by Trip Advisor®, a Critics’ Choice citation from The Times and also became the first ever UK stage production to earn coveted Reader Recommendations from Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan magazines.
Happy 10th Anniversary to Wicked London!
Apollo Victoria Theatre