Wicked stars Amy Ross and Helen Woolf on bringing the show to Southampton
- Credit: MATT CROCKETT
Something Wicked this way comes… the hit musical follows the yellow brick road to Southampton this month. Leading ladies Amy Ross and Helen Woolf share tales from behind the emerald curtain
Something devilishly magical flies into the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton this month.
Following a multi-million pound refurbishment which has seen the theatre’s Grade II listed auditorium repainted and brand new seating in the Stalls and Circle, the Mayflower will play host to the UK and Ireland tour of the award-winning Broadway and West End musical hit, Wicked. What better way to continue the Mayflower’s 90th year celebrations than to welcome an exclusive and final South England leg of such a critically acclaimed touring production? Talking to Wicked’s Amy Ross and Helen Woolf who play the iconic roles of Elphaba and Glinda, it’s easy to see how one could become spellbound by a production which is now the 14th longest running West End show of all time.
“Wicked is all round perfection,” Amy explains. “It’s visually stunning. The choreography is beautiful. The score is absolutely perfect. It’s just a wonderful story which I don’t think anyone could fail to connect with in some way.”
Based on the bestselling novel by Gregory Maguire which re-imagines the stories and characters created in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of two young women who meet as sorcery students at Shiz University. They strike up an unlikely but profound friendship which will change their lives forever. As their extraordinary adventures in the Land of Oz propel them towards their destinies as Glinda The Good, and the Wicked Witch of the West, we follow the incredible journeys of the blonde and very popular Glinda (Helen) as she becomes seduced by power, and the green-skinned and misunderstood Elphaba (Amy) who remains true to herself despite all the consequences for her future.
Far from the traditional musical theatre plots where romance is the driving force, Wicked is one of a few hit shows which propels strong female roles into the spotlight; something which its leading ladies are thrilled about.
“We feel so lucky to be in these iconic roles. Particularly as so many musicals explore romantic relationships. It’s so great to be in a show which focuses on two women and their friendship,” Amy shares. “That’s at the heart of the show. It’s a lovely message about embracing your differences and learning to love each other.”
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Wicked is truly a hit for the modern era. With showstoppers such as Defying Gravity and For Good, it’s this focus on female roles taking centre stage that has led to some commentators naming Elphaba and Glinda as 21st century heroines.
“Glinda is very funny – she’s seen as wanting for nothing but underneath all that she faces rejection on many levels,” Helen describes her character. “It’s how she deals with that - that is the magical thing about her. The best message that comes across with Glinda is that no one’s perfect but we can all do our best to make things right.”
As their story unfolds, the show explores the characters beyond their original pigeonholes of the popular girl and the outsider.
“Elphaba’s always fighting for things to be fair and never giving up. Being green, she’s very different, an outsider. In today’s world when we see so many airbrushed photos of perfect looking women, it’s a great message which she’s putting out there – that it’s ok to be different. Don’t apologise for looking different. Just embrace it,” Amy shares. “Both characters have such an incredible arc of emotions.”
Seen all around the world by over 55 million people, Wicked has won more than 100 major awards. With many memorable past productions, it might be hard not to feel as though you were stepping into another actress’ shoes, especially for Helen, as she was originally cast as Glinda’s understudy in the London show prior to the tour. However, the pair have embraced their roles without feeling hampered by comparisons or expectations about their onstage personas.
“When I found out I’d got the part, I’d already played Glinda quite a few times. However, I’d never done eight shows in a row for weeks on end,” Helen explains. “Of course you bring elements of yourself to the role. You don’t want to copy anyone. Naturally we’ll all be different because no two people are ever the same.”
“People have expectations about the show and our parts – more than in any other show I’ve known. However Helen and I don’t see that as a pressure,” Amy reveals. “We approach it as a privilege, to take on roles which have been played by such incredible women before us.”
It’s this ability to bring their own personalities to the role alongside their fantastic onstage chemistry which has been highly praised by critics and fans of the show as well as those seeing it for the first time.
“Wicked is an incredibly well-oiled machine,” says Amy. “I thought that as a result we’d be going in trying to replicate the way it had been done before us. However, we’ve really been allowed to bring our own personality to the parts, which is so important from an acting point of view. You want to believe in the choices you’re making.”
Behind the Emerald Curtain, there must be challenges when taking such a well-known hit on tour. Moving a production which involves over 100 people both on and off stage, adjusting to each theatre with local dressers and different technical environments, one would imagine a few hiccups along the way. It seems that here too magic forces are at work as cast and crew are able to adjust without compromising the integrity of the musical, even with a gruelling schedule of eight shows a week.
“There’s a real buzz everywhere we’ve been. Everyone has been so enthusiastic,” Helen laughs. “I’ve never known a job be so slick. The love and the passion and care behind the scenes is something like I’ve never seen before.”
“I’ve done tours before where you go to a smaller venue and they cut the set back and change things,” shares Amy. “What’s great about the Wicked team is that they aren’t prepared to do that. They want the show to be exactly as it should be everywhere we go.”
Reaching a milestone of 200 performances on tour, it seems that every leg has offered up a new experience too.
“The touring side of it keeps it really fresh. Every venue is slightly different; the audience respond differently to different things,” Amy continues.
“What I love about theatre is that people can put aside the world for a couple of hours and just be entertained. We’ve got a lovely story to tell and both of us feel very lucky to be a part of that,” Helen adds as they both prepare to dash off to costume and don the green makeup in Amy’s case.
With so much passion and energy from this talented pair in the green room, this Wicked tour is sure to cast its very own spell over audiences at the Mayflower Theatre in no time at all.
Wicked is in Southampton from October 3-27 2018. Tickets are still on sale via www.mayflower.co.uk and are priced from £24.50 mid-week and £29.50 at weekends.
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