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Wickedly magical musical flies in to Leeds this week

Amy Ross plays Elphaba in Wicked the Musical which comes to Leeds Grand Theatre this week.
Amy Ross plays Elphaba in Wicked the Musical which comes to Leeds Grand Theatre this week.
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Wicked the musical sells itself.

The show was at Leeds Grand Theatre in June 2014 and it is unusual for a show to fly back into the same city within such a short space of time, but the producers behind this hit show are no mugs. The show sold and it sold well last time it was here, so a return trip was always on the cards.

That’s not all – the show is back in Leeds for an extended run, arriving this week and sticking around until July 7. Oh, and an extra show has been added on July 5.

That is some going.

“You do a lot of interviews when you are in shows and it’s lovely to be able to say that the show you are in is selling really well and you don’t have to lie,” says Steven Pinder, who plays the Wizard.

Best known for his role of Max Farnham in Brookside, Pinder is delighted to be touring with the show.

“When I auditioned for the show I actually went in there a bit blind because I hadn’t seen it. Then you do a it of research and look on YouTube and realise this thing is a huge hit. Then when I got into rehearsals, I went to actually see the show and could see why it was such a success. It is a great story and the music and orchestration are just so beautiful.”

The great story Pinder refers to is one of the greatest stories ever told, one that has lasted many lifetimes. The Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum was published in 1900 and immortalised in 1939 when Judy Garland played the Kansas farm girl whisked away to the land of Oz. Dorothy and her adventures in Oz have entertained generations ever since.

In 1995 Gregory Maguire took the story and looked at what came before. A prequel to The Wizard of Oz, if you will. In 2003 Godspell composer Stephen Schwartz and My So Called Life scriptwriter Winnie Holzman came together and in a stroke of genius created the musical Wicked, which took the bones of the Wizard of Oz and came up with something genuinely breathtaking in its ingenuity.

Wicked tells the story of the Wicked Witch and the Good Witch and imagines how they came to be who they are. It asks the question, what if the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz wasn’t wicked, but just misunderstood.

Unlike several people I know, I had never heard the music before I saw the musical for the first time, the last time it was in Leeds. Defying Gravity is the stand-out number that audiences seem to arrive in the theatre already well aware of, but it had hitherto untroubled my own music collection. Inside the theatre I was stunned at the music, but more than that, I was mesmerised by the intelligence of this mass-entertaining musical.

The good witch is recast as Glinda and the Wicked Witch as Elphaba, in a clever nod to the originator of the story, and the musical charts their young lives and examines how each of them became who they are.

In the UK tour, which stops of in Leeds next week, Amy Ross plays Elphaba.

“I’ve had a little time away from the show, but we performed it in Zurich on New Year’s Eve and that has got me excited to get back to it again,” she says.

“It is a gift for any actress in musical theatre, she goes through an incredible journey and those songs, they really are so exciting to sing.”

When you join the cast of Wicked, there is the weight of history behind you.

Following its 2003 Broadway premiere, the musical went on to break all kinds of records all over the world and in March 2016 became one of a handful of shows that have surpassed £1bn in takings.

“There is a real responsibility,” says Ross.

“Everyone knows that music, everyone loves it and you want to do the original cast recording justice (Idina Menzel, of Frozen fame, was the originator of Elphaba on Broadway).

“There is so much in this show that makes it magical, lots of little touches in terms of the story and the script that are like little love notes to the original story.

“I think the reason people love the show is that it has absolutely everything going for it. It ticks so many boxes, the story is brilliant, it has characters that audiences can relate to, the costumes, the set design. The choreography is beautiful and the score is epic.”

It’s fair to say that she is excited about the show. As, it would appear, is Yorkshire.

At Leeds Grand Theatre, to July 7. 0844 848 2700.