Ding Dong the Witch is Alive!
With Wicked the musical celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year, should Andrew Lloyd Webber be looking over his shoulder?
The continuing success of Wicked is making rival musicals green with envy. Having seen off Shrek, Wicked has made sure there is only room for one misunderstood green skinned character in both the West End and on Broadway. Opening to mixed reviews when it was first shown on New York back in 2003, the show has demonstrated enviable staying power with the people that matter the most: audiences. With new shows rehearsing to conquer the shires outside of New York and London, could Wicked be about to give Andrew Lloyd Webber a run for his money in the longevity charts?
It was amazing that no one had thought of it before really. 95 years after L Frank Baum first published The Wizard of Oz, Gregory Maguire had the bright idea of filling in the back story to one of cinema's most enduring characters. After all, who could forget Margaret Hamilton and that cackle in the 1939 movie? Wicked the musical, based on Maguire's book, explains how Elphaba became the Wicked Witch of the West. Along the way we find out how the monkeys got to fly ('Fly my prettys, fly!) and we're reminded that there are always two sides to every story.
If someone has green skin, a pointy hat and can fly a broomstick, should we automatically assume that they are wicked? Whether Maguire was trying to make a point about prejudice in his book is uncertain, but with certain sections of society continuing to be judged by the colour of their skin, the show contains themes that are scarily relevant to modern day life. The show invites us to think again about what we think we know. What was dumb of us as a cinema audience was to believe the Wizard's version of Elphaba in the first place. After all, the persona he adopted was the very definition of smoke and mirrors.
The question is now how far can the show go? With Victor Fleming's 1939 movie version proving enduringly popular through generations and 'Oz the Great and Powerful', starring James Franco, proving to be the years biggest grossing film to date, it could be worth placing a bet on Wicked outlasting Phantom. Also adding to the recent surge of interest in all things Oz was the controversial return to the music charts of 'Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead', which rose to number two on the UK charts following the death of Mrs Thatcher. Wicked currently lies 12th in the list of longest running musicals on Broadway, with five million people on either side of the Atlantic now having seen it. A staggering 36 million event tickets have been purchased globally since the show began.
With the musical going from strength to strength, the brand is being pushed further in the year it celebrates a tenth anniversary. Although the show has seen productions in places as far flung as Japan, Australia and Finland, until now British and American audiences have had to travel to New York and London to see what the fuss is all about. That will change later this year with Wicked tickets currently on sale for productions in Texas, Louisiana, Dublin and Glasgow. We're no longer off to see the Wizard, it's the Witches we want to see.