Meet The New West End Cast Of WICKED!
When a musical runs for as long as Wicked (now in its 11th year in the West End), one of the joys is making a return visit when there's a major cast change. The latest clutch of new cast members took over on 24 July, and BroadwayWorld was lucky enough to chat to several of them after the 5 September performance that formally unveiled them to the theatrical media.
We started with the obvious question: how does it feel coming into such a well-established show with such a loyal fan base - exciting or daunting?
Jack Lansbury, who plays Boq, is honoured to be part of such a sensational cast: "And this is my West End debut, which is even more phenomenal!" Andy Hockley (The Wizard) also feels it's an honour, and isn't too daunted, having previously spent two years in mega long-runner Phantom of the Opera, which has an equally passionate following.
He's also keen to stress the importance of Wicked's extraordinary connection with its fans: "You can tell from the audience and when people chat to you at the stage door that it's a really loved show. The reaction tonight was absolutely astonishing - we couldn't have wished for a better audience!"
New Fiyero Bradley Jaden isn't quite so chilled out, however. "It's ridiculously daunting - I'm petrified every night! It's such an iconic show and you don't want to be that person who lets the show down. It develops every night, which is amazing but also scary because you're constantly on your toes." I guess that's what happens when you're "Dancing through Life", Brad!
And what of the new Glinda and Elphaba? The scariest thing for Sophie Evans (Glinda) was taking on such a huge role at the relatively young age of 24, but she was "excited to show that I can do it and have the passion you need for this show - I thoroughly enjoy it."
Whilst Alice Fearn (Elphaba) admits to being a little daunted by previous role-holders, she says: "You want to put your own stamp on it and be true to your version of Elphaba. As an actor, I like that challenge!"
Speaking of their predecessors, have the new principals been influenced by seeing any of their performances?
"Of course," says Fearn. "In both ways - you'll think 'It's great how they've done that', but also 'I'm not going to do that'! But you shouldn't try to do what they do - it should always come from the story. If you come at it that way you'll always perform your version, regardless of how similar some characteristics might be."
Fearn confesses to "barrelling on through" during a recent bout of neck pain. Her dresser pointed out to her that such determination is common, saying "That's an Elphaba trait right there".
Evans is also putting her own spin on her role: "If you ask any of the cast, my Glinda is just me!" However, she did find some useful inspiration from Savannah Stevenson's interpretation: "She was so honest and classy, which is really important to avoid Glinda being a bimbo character that people don't connect with."
Hockley, meanwhile, is proud to be carrying on a grand tradition of Welsh Wizards, following in the footsteps of Des Barrit and Martyn Ellis, both of whom he'd seen in the show. So was the Wizard of Oz in fact from the Valleys? Hockley laughs: "Maybe there's something that Gregory Maguire's not telling us in the book!"
Jaden picks out a particular aspect of previous Fiyero Oliver Savile's interpretation that he feels he hasn't quite been able to capture: "I'm still trying to replicate those massive arms of his - he set the bar high." He also notes that one of the key challenges for Fiyero is to play against "two such incredibly powerful women as Alice and Sophie - you've got to try to catch up with them".
Taking a sidestep from their own roles, we also asked which other part in Wicked the cast would like to play, given the chance for one night only.
It turns out there's rather a lot of love for Chistery, with Lansbury, Jaden and Fearn all confessing it would be their top pick. Jaden would like to do the role because it's "so physical, completely different and out of my comfort zone", and Fearn agrees: "I'd never achieve it - I have no arm strength, but I'd just love to climb all over the set!"
Lansbury enthuses: "I'm quite into my acrobatics so Chistery would be the one for me! Although to play Elphaba would be phenomenal too - the journey she goes on as an actor and a vocalist is amazing."
Apparently current Madame Morrible, Melanie La Barrie, may also need to watch out - both Evans and Fearn are keen to jump into her shoes in the future. Evans feels that "Madame Morrible's just so sassy", and Fearn says: "If I don't come back in 20 years' time and play her, I'll be upset with myself!"
Hockley, meanwhile, would be keen to play Fiyero, "but 20 years ago when I could still get into the jodhpurs..."
Finally, we asked for the cast's thoughts on the Wicked movie, due in 2019. Are they excited to see it? How do they think it'll translate from stage to screen?
They're all very excited at the prospect. Lansbury is curious to see whether the big screen adaptation sticks faithfully to the musical, or also takes bits from the book. (It's worth pointing out here that composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz has already hinted that there'll be some new songs...)
Lansbury also sees potential for the movie "to have an absolute field day with special effects, to create those characters and animals, and the Emerald City".
Jaden thinks it could bring the musical to a whole new audience, and predicts it might be "very different and a bit darker. But as long as they stick to the story and passion of the piece I don't see what can go wrong." Both Fearn and Evans find it hard to imagine how the movie might look and how some scenes might be expanded to fill the screen, but can't wait to find out.
And what about their dream casting (apart from themselves, naturally)?
Stephen Daldry take note: Hockley makes a strong case for Sir Ian McKellen as The Wizard. "He's a fantastic actor; he's got the gravitas and there's a little bit of world-weariness about him as well (if he ever reads this, I mean that in the nicest possible way!). And if anything ever happened to him, I'd obviously be ready to step in at the last minute!" Fearn also has a firm idea for one of the leads: "Chris Pine has to be Fiyero - there, I've said it!"
Jaden and Evans would like to see true musical theatre performers in the lead roles. According to Jaden: "The story is so incredible that it doesn't need famous people." Evans agrees: "Two unknowns would be quite cool - the two girls [Glinda and Elphaba] need to be genuine, gutsy performers." Lansbury feels the same way. "They could use a name or someone completely unheard of - I think it's more exciting not to know!"
We're happy to subscribe to that opinion too, Jack - for now, at least!
Photo credit: Matt Crockett