Wicked’s UK executive producer, Michael McCabe talks to GLT about the defying success of the show which has recently marked 17 years in the West End. 

When Wicked first opened in London in 2006, Michael was asked how long he thought it would run for. His response? “In my wildest dreams, it would be amazing to get five years in that huge theatre.”

Now in its 17th year in the West End, Wicked is one of the most successful musicals of all time and has been seen by more than 11 million people in London alone, performing over 6,000 times at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Michael said: “It has been incredible to watch its momentum. It’s now very much part of the landscape and feels like a permanent fixture.”

Michael McCabe

Michael’s producing credits include Sweeney Todd, An American in Paris and The Prince of Egypt

So what is the secret to its long-lasting success? Michael attributes it to several reasons. He said: The Wizard of Oz story has endured the test of time in an extraordinary way and has inspired so many other versions of the story. What Gregory Maguire, the writer of the Wicked novel, did was turn that story on its head which really engaged people. Most people knew who the Wizard of Oz and Wicked Witch of the West were, but then Gregory questioned that and asked what if she wasn’t wicked, what if everything we knew about her wasn’t true. 

“There’s also the love that people have for the songs which still endure and deliver, and it’s about the experience. It’s a huge show in a huge theatre. The crux of all long-running shows is that people have to want to see you more than once. Thrown into all of that is the spectacle, the costumes - and you have the complete package in terms of how you feel when you leave the theatre.”

“The crux of all long-running shows is that people have to want to see you more than once.”

Michael McCabe, Wicked UK executive producer

Despite seeing it countless times, Michael points to the show’s new interpretations and freshness with every cast. He said: “The story resonates more strongly with people as the show has gone on. The core of the show has always been very true to the story and when a new cast member comes in, they bring a different energy.”

Above all, Michael highlights the need for escapism which he feels is “greater than ever”, adding: “People want those few hours to immerse themselves in our magical show; it’s a chance to let go.” Talking of the landscape post-pandemic, Michael said: “If ever we needed to know how much people care about culture - we certainly learnt that when the theatres were shut. Since we reopened we’ve been saying that it will settle down, but it hasn’t yet.”

Wicked 2023-24 London Company

Source: Matt Crockett

Michael believes the story of Wicked resonates even more today.

Unsurprisingly his role as executive producer of Wicked UK is all-encompassing. He said: “I’m a custodian of the show and I’m incredibly privileged to work with an amazing group of people. I knew one of the originating American producers so that’s how my journey began. I’m a custodian of their show. It’s all teamwork, we’re cogs in a wheel and work so hard to deliver the show, night after night.”

With a 40-year career (he was the original marketing director of Mamma Mia! worldwide) which has earned him four Olivier Awards, it’s fair to say Wicked UK is in safe hands.

Wicked the musical

Source: Matt Crockett

Grammy Nominated Alexia Khadime has recently returned as Elphaba and Lucy St. Louis has taken over the role of Glinda. 

They’re also gearing up for their third tour later this year. Michael said: “The first time we toured, you didn’t know at that point how aware people were of Wicked outside of London. That tour proved to us that the reputation of the show was already everywhere and so it’s a brand. People know they’re buying into something that’s very established and much loved.”

And even with all that going on, when Michael does find himself in the theatre, he’ll “nip in” for the end of the first act and that all-powerful Defying Gravity performance. He said: “If ever you need that reviving moment, go and stand at the back of the theatre, it will reinvigorate you for weeks. What I find extraordinary about Defying Gravity is the sound of the audience at the end of it, it’s incredible.”

But his favourite part of the show is…No Good Deed. He tells us why: “It’s the moment Elphaba surrenders to what everyone is saying about her - that she’s a wicked witch. It’s that moment, the song and the staging of that song - for me, it’s a complete moment of theatre. It’s a spine-tingling moment which is incredibly powerful.”

For more information and tickets go to www.WickedTheMusical.co.uk