Last week saw green-faced theatrical icon Elphaba defy gravity as she flew above M Shed, following the official launch and casting announcement for the new tour of Wicked, which gets underway in Bristol at the end of January.

Elphaba M Shed Wicked

Image, Elphaba defies gravity on dockside crane at Wicked launch event at M Shed, credit Darren Bell

After hearing cast members Amy Ross (Elphaba), Helen Woolf (Glinda) and Aaron Sidwell (Fiyero) sing a few numbers from the show and listening to Senior Costume Assistant Hannah Williams who astounded Bristol’s press with some facts and figures about the costumes (how many layers in that petticoat!!), Vivienne Kennedy sat down with Executive Producer Michael McCabe for a chat...

Over eight million people have seen the show in the West End (it’s about to become the 15th longest running show in London theatre history) and quite a few more caught it on its first visit to Bristol a few years ago but what can those who haven’t yet seen it expect?

It’s a very spectacular musical. Touring musicals are often reduced in scale, simply to be able to tour, but with Wicked you’ll see everything that you would see in London.

It’s a fantasy adventure, often described as a prequel to the Wizard of Oz, although actually our story takes place before, during and after that one. You enter an extraordinary world and see this incredible story play out, with a very special friendship right at the centre of everything.

You mention that we’ll see exactly the same show that’s in the West End – does that limit where you can take it?

Very much so. There are only a limited number of theatres in the United Kingdom that we could fit the show into. On the first tour we did have to modify it for some venues but that was a huge undertaking so this tour is all about the venues that are big enough and the Bristol Hippodrome is one!

Actually, it’s not quite identical - we have a flying sequence in the tour production that we don’t have in London…

Oh wow, so we’re going to see something even better than the West End?

Yes, you get a bonus moment in the show!

There are lots of spectacular shows but the design of Wicked is so unique and we still love hearing people react to it and the enormity of it all.

There are around 350 costumes and every single one is unique. Even when the swings go on (they are the dance understudies) they each have their own individual set of costumes for every part. They don’t ever wear what the other person would’ve been wearing. Everything is about the uniqueness of the individual and every costume has a kind of twist – if you look carefully you’ll see there are no two sleeves the same.

Everything is about this world that’s been turned upside down. It’s very clever.

Mike McCabe wicked costumes

Mike McCabe with Wicked costumes

Can you astound us with some of the logistics involved with taking such a spectacle out on the road?

Well, it moves in 11 trucks and packing it up is a feat of engineering in itself. It took a very long time to design every single packing case and each mobile wardrobe. Everything is placed in those trucks with precision.

Even just watching it all come out of those trucks and into each theatre is extraordinary.

You’re visiting 10 cities in total, spending several weeks in each one – why do you think it’s so important to take theatre out of London?

There’s such dedication from audiences around the country who support their local theatres. Many people don’t have the opportunity to travel into London and it is vitally important that we’re all taking work out and travelling with the best version of that work so that audiences all over the country are seeing the best quality.

People were genuinely surprised that we were taking everything with us but it’s something I’m really passionate about. I’m also a trustee of English Touring Theatre, which is all about taking theatre around the country (such as The Weir, which comes to Bristol Old Vic later this month) – it matters to me hugely. I didn’t grow up in London, I grew up in Sussex and I know I was so privileged to be able to watch shows in places like Chichester and Brighton.

You realise how important it is to engage with theatre, wherever you are, and we all have to make sure theatre keeps travelling.

When you spoke to us earlier you mentioned some of the anti-bullying work that the Wicked team do with schools; will you be visiting some schools in Bristol?

We’re hoping to, yes. It’s harder to do that work when we’re only visiting for a relatively short period of time but we tend to be approached by schools wherever we go. It’s a hugely important part of what we do, using the themes of the show to talk to young people.

Halloween’s coming up soon and for the last few years that’s also been Wicked Day; is that continuing this year?

Wicked Day will run and run; it’s another very important part of what we do and a great opportunity to raise some money for charity.

We don’t yet know what we’re going to be doing on tour but Wicked Day normally sees the cast make things that we auction off to use money for different charities. It’s a great thing to do.

Wicked

Image - Cast of Wicked: Helen Woolf (Glinda), Amy Ross (Elphaba) and Aaron Sidwell (Fiyero), credit Darren Bell

Last year you planted lots of trees and helped greenify the country; is that likely to happen again?

The Woodland Trust is one of the charities we work with. It is about legacy and it’s great to be able to plant green things and, again using the themes of the show, to talk about nature and nurture. It’s an extraordinary charity and we all need more green space. Their commitment is incredible.

Until I started doing a bit of research ahead of this interview I had no idea just how much Wicked does “for good” – it really is a fantastic thing.

Going back to the show now… what’s your favourite bit?

Gosh. There are so many. I’ve seen the show thousands of times and there isn’t a performance I’ve watched where Defying Gravity doesn’t send shivers down my spine but I think the song No Good Deed is probably my favourite. There’s something about Elphaba reaching that moment where she can’t fight anymore; she’s giving up and saying ‘OK, you want me to be this character… this wicked witch that you’ve painted me to be”. It’s an extraordinarily powerful song.

I’ve got one last question for you… and I admit to going off on a bit of a tangent here… in addition to Wicked you’re also working on An American in Paris. I watched the trailer yesterday and read some of the reviews… can you bring it to Bristol please?

(laughs) I’d love to but we’ll have to see what happens. Right now, the Wicked tour is the focus and it’s going to keep us busy for at least a year but hopefully… one day…we’ll see.

Wicked opens at the Bristol Hippodrome on Wednesday 31 January and runs until Saturday 3 March. Tickets are on sale now.

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