The celebration of Wicked’s 15 years on the West End was a mesmerising event and all worth the sparkle.
I love going to see musicals on the West End. Truly, it’s one of life’s simplest (though not cheapest) pleasures. Though it rarely happens that I go see a musical twice – with one notable exception.
I got a ticket to see Wicked the Musical for 28th September 2021. I did not pick the date intentionally; I was just scrolling through the TodayTix app, jumping from date to date until there was a seat available in my price range on the balcony. See, as somebody who’s of short stature, sometimes military tactics and strategies have to be deployed whenever I go to the theatre, a live concert, or a supermarket with high shelves. So I get my ticket, with the same giddiness as I did the first time I saw Wicked.
It was 4th June 2019 and I wanted to do something special for my birthday. I had seen a handful of small shows with tickets bought through the TodayTix app, but none were a showstopper. But I have loved Wicked since I was a teenager, listening to the original Broadway Cast Recording songs, with leads Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Idina Menzel as Elphaba, belting Defying Gravity at all hours of the night (to my neighbours’ aggressive complaints). I didn’t even know the full plot, except what could have been gleaned from the Wikipedia entry. And yet, it was – and still it – my favourite musical, even when the music was the only thing I had access to it. That should speak volumes for its longevity in the musical theatre world.
TodayTix has this feature called The Daily Dozen, where a number of empty seats get released at 10am on the day of the performance on a first-come, first-served basis. So on that fateful day of 4th June 2019, as I sat a my work desk blatantly not working and refreshing the app, I managed to buy a ticket for an ok-ish price of £29.50 – in row B, seat 29… The second row! A normal ticket for that section would be in the £100 range, if accessible at all!
It was a wonderful experience, a full-circle moment, and then… everything shut down.
Three lockdowns later, the West End and London theatre scene is starting to open again. In order to encourage people to return to theatres, TodayTix ran multiple promotions and deals for Theatre Week. And so, it was time to return.
On 28th September 2021, I arrived to Victoria station and step out to the Apollo Victoria theatre, the home of Wicked. There was a lot of stewards rushing around and general commotion. A camera crew was recording a guy with a microphone stood in front of the theatre, so I asked a steward if it was PR for something. “Sure, it’s the 15th anniversary of the show!”
… I’m sorry, what?
I took my place in the queue, showed my NHS Covid pass and my ticket, and was promptly handed a drink voucher. There were long white tables with glasses of prosecco delicately balanced, and the theatre goers were milling about in quite fancy attire. I was particularly impressed at how many sparkly green sequins were around.
I was really happy with my seat – row P, seat 24 – which is the first row of an upper section, so there was plenty of space and nothing was blocking my view. And as it was the 15th anniversary, every seat had a swag bag (containing a poster, a badge, a mask [???]) and a limited edition souvenir brochure, which was fascinating to read. First day of rehearsal for Wicked in the West End was on Monday 24th July 2006, and the show’s opening night was on Wednesday 27th September 2006. 15 years later, here we are.
As the show started, the atmosphere felt particularly giddy and joyful. It felt like the applause was heavier and more drawn-out compared to my first time attending. It was definitely a full house, if the sweaty stewards running to and fro was any indication.
After the show, the cast was met with thunderous applause, but the show wasn’t ever, and feeling particularly keen, I took my phone out to record.
On the stage came Michael McCabe, who is the Executive Producer of the show. He spoke about the challenges the theatre world has faces in the past 18 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and how glad everyone was to be back at work, and how happy he was to have a special guest with us tonight for Wicked’s 15th anniversary. It was none other than Stephen Schwartz, the man who wrote the music and lyrics to the musical. I found it very inspiring to hear him talk about the difference between TV and the theatre, and how in the latter, the live people on the stage need live people in the seats in order to deliver their art.
You can watch my 7-minute video recording, and I’ve also typed up a transcript of it.
Michael McCabe: Thank you for just indulging just for a few minutes at the end of this pretty spectacular night. After 18 months of what we’ve all been through, we are very happy to be back in our place of work. We are celebrating this incredible milestone of 15 extraordinary years performing at the Victoria Apollo Theatre. I also just want to acknowledge how much we feel about our industry and the unique nature of theatre and of the connection and of the communal experience that we’ve been robbed of, over a long period of time. So it matters to us immensely that we’re here and we’re back.
In the last 2 hours and 45 minutes, we’ve managed to not think about where we’re going to get petrol tomorrow. But we have done our jobs, and that is to transport, to inspire, to enrich lives, and that’s what we all set out to do every day that we are working. So we are immensely grateful that you shared in that experience with us. There is a big sort of collective thank you to everyone who’s played the part in Wicked over these past years, it is a team effort. To every single person who’s either in the building today, or has worked on the show over all these years, your contribution is immeasurable, and it is because of everybody that we are all here. A big thanks to those in the building who are working very very hard to keep us all safe, we appreciate that. On a note of keeping us all safe, I did want to also safe on behalf of our company, how much we value the NHS. We wanted to be able to say to all of you, you inspire us, you are extraordinary, and we are just in awe, of everything we’ve done for all of us over these past 18 difficult months.
Some of you will know that more than 20 years ago, Universal Pictures bought the rights to a book called Wicked – a great one to acquire – and the original intention was to turn that into a movie, but someone had the rather inspired idea that actually, this extraordinary story should be a musical. And that extraordinary gentleman went on to write what is now the very legendary music and lyrics of Wicked. And we’re all very proud to say, here this evening with us, is Stephen Schwartz.
Stephen Schwartz: I just want to echo Michael’s words of gratitude, in saying thank you to this extraordinary cast, our extraordinary musicians and the musical director, the extraordinary crew, the wonderful front of house staff, all of whom worked so hard. But most especially, I want to say thank you to you, the audience. Because without you coming to the theatre, without you putting your bodies in these seats, without live people collectively together with live people on the stage, theatre doesn’t exist. And no matter how wonderful things on the screen can be, they exist without you. But theatre does not. So I want to thank you for being here tonight, for being an audience for the theatre. Go out and see some other show, tell your friends that it’s safe to come back to live theatre, and what kind of special experience that is, and tell them to come see us or see some another show. But what we have missed for these 18 months, this collective community experience, is certainly something that I took for granted until it was gone. So I’m so overjoyed and moved to have it back, and to have you back with us. So thank you so much, and enjoy the next show you see.
Green confetti flew over the cast as they waved goodbye, and as the lights came back on, so did a wave of green balloons that had been pinned to the ceiling, as the orchestra gave us our last little song of the night, announcing it was time for us to go home as well. What an absolutely wonderful night! As everyone poured out of the theatre, it was also pouring from the skies, so we all waddled like ducks to Victoria station. I arrived home at 23:20, then quickly wrote the first draft of this post in some 20 minutes, because I knew the memory would soon fade away, weighed by the passing of time. And while I never intended to blog about my theatre outings, this felt particularly special, to be part of the wondrous world of Oz.