theatre: Wicked’s 2013 Cast Change

Well I’m pretty sure everyone who knows me is aware of my fondness for the show Wicked, it’s definitely not a secret. This past weekend was the cast change of the 2012/2013 cast of the show, as well as the 3,000th show of it in the West End, so it was definitely a big weekend for Wicked!

For some crazy reason, I ended up dayseating for cast change (not recommended ha, very very very cold) to get front row seats to see the show, and I know a lot of people who couldn’t be there will want to know the nitty gritty details of the day, so expect this blog to be a long one…

Typically at a cast change the stage door is incredibly busy both before and after the shows, thankfully before the matinee it wasn’t as bad as last year when Rachel Tucker (Elphaba) and many of the ensemble departed from the show, it was pretty chaotic then. Not that it wasn’t still busy! However I managed to see the cast members who were leaving that I wanted to say a quick ‘Good luck’ to pre-show before we all went into the theatre for the first show of the day.

For those who don’t know, generally at a cast change the matinee on that day will be the ‘muck-up matinee’ – where ‘mistakes’ or things not normally in the show happen, however as it was the 3,000th show of Wicked we were told the cast wouldn’t be able to do anything. Well, that was a lie!

Muck-Up Matinee/3,000th Show

The show began as normal with the opening number No One Mourns the Wicked but it wasn’t long before little muck-ups were added. Jason Winter’s normal line in NOMTW is simply “Look! It’s Glinda!” preempting Glinda’s entrance to the show, but Jason elongated it with a ridiculous “Loooooooooooook! It’s Glinda!”, which was shortly followed by Gina Beck extending a note that is normally interrupted by Marc McBride with the line “Glinda! Exactly how dead is she?!”, if it isn’t a word change it’ll be an impressive note change to ‘muck up’. Just before Elphaba’s entrance, Oliver Watton changed the line “Glinda, is it true you were her friend?” to “Glinda, is it true, you were her B F F?” which Gina then had to respond to with “Well. It depends what you mean by B F F.” which had us howling with laughter. I’m not sure whether this was intentional or a muck-up, but Paulo Teixeira ran on as a student for Shiz basically bald when he usually has a mohawk, that was a shock! As Gina entered the Shiz scene as Galinda on the suitcases she went up a scale of higher notes in “Old” which she’s hinted at doing for a while with her Phantom of the Opera Background, and it was brilliant.

In the Wizard and I, a group of the ensemble normally run on during the song, are shocked and disgusted by Elphaba, laugh at her and run offstage. However, Phillip Catchpole was left to run on alone, do a ridiculous scared sound and then run off alone, the tricks the ensemble play on each other in muck-ups! Then a similar thing happened in What is this Feeling? where Aisling Duffy ended up being on one side of the stage on her own with Elphaba, then being joined after a delay by fellow ensemble members.

Next was the classroom scene in which personalised letters were handed out to each of the cast members rather than the ‘essays’ they normally receive. I’m assuming these letters were from Christopher Howell who played the role of Doctor Dillamond but couldn’t be there for the matinee due to scheduled rehearsals of new Andrew Lloyd Webber show Stephen Ward. The letters appeared to be very touching as many of the cast members were very shocked to receive them and couldn’t stop smiling at them; a very sweet gesture. The line “The artichoke is steamed,” was changed to “The brocolli is boiled,” from Gina in this scene, causing many legitimate laughs in the ensemble and audience!

In Dancing Through Life there were so many muck-ups, and I probably missed a few as it’s so hard to pick out what everyone is doing. The first change was a little horn attached to the bicycle that Will Bozier rides into the scene on and also being beeped, making as much noise as it possibly could! Following this Gina changed ‘Biq’ to ‘Beck’ when referring to Sam Lupton who plays the character Boq, and after Glinda successfully gets rid of Boq at the end of the courtyard choreography, Fiyero normally says “You’re good,” and instead Ben (Freeman) changed it to “You’re hot!”, still very apt for his characters attitude. Again the ensemble picked on each other by letting only one of the guys run onto the left side of the stage (left as you’re looking at it anyway) when Elphaba and Nessa are discussing the party at the Ozdust Ballroom. When Gina, Michelle Pentecost and Chlöe Hart run on as Galinda, Pfannee and ShenShen just after this, Pfannee and ShenShen encourage Galinda to give a ‘hideodious hat’ to Elphaba for her to wear to the Ozdust Ballroom. Normally they’ll just say “Yes you do!” in response to Galinda’s “I’d give it away, but I don’t hate anyone that much,”, instead they replied “Oh, my, OZ! Yes you do!” which was spot-on, it fits with the show too well even as a muck-up!

The danced coined as “The Elphie Dance” in Dancing Through Life is a funny affair anyway, but in muck-up matinees they’re always something else entirely. Louise Dearman added in not only the running man dance move, but also a roll on the floor?! Which Gina then had to hilariously replicate. While watching Louise do the crazy dance initially, Ben also changed the line “She doesn’t give a twig what anyone else thinks,” to “She doesn’t give a marmite soldier what anyone else thinks,” which I’m sure Gina, being a huge marmite fan, would’ve appreciated. Fun fact: Rachel Tucker made Louise do the roll in her cast change as Glinda a couple of years ago, so it was really funny to see her make someone else do it. Not only did Gina do it, but when it came to the ensemble imitating the Elphie dance, ALL of them simultaneously rolled on the floor (watch it here!), and I’m pretty sure most of the audience who understood what was going on couldn’t stop laughing. Kudo’s Wicked cast, kudo’s.

Next up was Popular, a song that on it’s own is hilarious, when it’s Gina Beck’s Popular it’s even funnier, and then when it’s a muck-up matinee Popular? Oh wow. Firstly she went up a scale of notes when exclaiming that her and Fiyero are going to be “Married!” before making it incredibly difficult for Louise to retrieve the ‘little green bottle’, something that I believe Louise did as Glinda to Rachel too, so more cross-overs of muck-ups there! While doing the “Popular dance” that follows after “Populer-lar… La la la la, we’re gonna make you pop-u-lar” she did a crazier dance than normal followed by falling into the splits and having to get Louise to help her up! While showing Louise how to ‘toss toss’ her hair, Gina included a giggle after the ‘toss toss’ that Louise was renowned for while in her contract as Glinda. On the first attempt at doing it, her giggle was a half-effort, but on the second attempt it was spot on to what you would’ve heard when Louise played the role of Glinda, very spooky to see her green and doing the giggle but a gorgeous tip off to her time as Glinda. While trying to change the frock into a ballgown, Gina practically screamed “Ballgooooown!” and while decorating Louise with a pink flower, Gina chose to use not only one flower, but three extra ones pinned to her dress and changed the line “Pink goes good with green,” to “Pink goes well with green!”. To close a brilliant Popular, Gina showed off again by going up a scale on the “me” in “Just not quite as popular as me!” to rapturous applause.

In the next classroom scene, Ben who has to imitate the ‘toss toss’ anyway had to add in the giggle too which was brilliant, and in the choreography after Elphaba’s rage, only two of the male ensemble members were left to dance on the stage where normally there are about 7 of them? More ensemble trickery. Before I’m Not That Girl, Elphaba shouts out “Fiyero!” as he runs offstage and normally doesn’t receive a response. For this matinee, Ben quickly re-appeared to just say “Yes?” before running off, and how Louise maintained a straight face to sing, I don’t know.

The next muck-up was in One Short Day where one of the three flatheads ran onstage with half of its back unzipped, allowing the audience to see the body of the person inside the costume. Noticing this, the flathead quickly went ran offstage and then was followed by a techie, potentially a risky muck-up to those totally oblivious to what was going on but hilarious nonetheless! You can also watch that here. Correction! Apparently the flathead being unzipped wasn’t actually a muck-up and was simply a costume malfunction, what a show for it to happen in hey! The essence of live theatre…

During the Wizard’s scene before Defying Gravity, Paulo Teixeira completely stole the scene as Chistery with his exaggerated movements and mannerisms, imitating the Wizard and over-acting reactions, it was brilliant how many people were just watching what he was up to during that scene. As the guards ran on about to chase Elphaba before Defying Gravity, no one else said the line “Yes your Ozness!” apart from Will Bozier, causing a bit of humility for him. Also the line “Fetch the battering ramekin!” was said in a different voice and I’m sure they said something ridiculous like “Mind the gap!” before it?! I’m not 100% on that but it’s what it sounded like! Then Louise totally blew everyone away with an incredible Defying Gravity, as to be expected.

The first muck-up in the second act of the show came from the incomparable Chlöe Hart, taking full advantage of showing off with her “Like some terrifying green blizzard, throughout the land she flies!” line in Thank Goodness, riffing upwards on “flies”, and her partner for the scene Paulo had also borrowed a fan that belongs to someone else in the scene to use. In the engagement ballroom scene a few scenes later, two of the guards who appear downstage had donned moustaches (Movember effort?!).

I wasn’t sure how many muck-ups they would logistically be able to put into the second act, but they certainly went all out in the catfight scene. Gina started them by changing the line “I hope they don’t get lost, I’m so bad at giving directions,” to “ I hope they don’t get lost, I knew I should’ve given the satnav,” – a satnav, in Oz?! In their fight, Gina pretended to punch Louise rather than slap her, which Louise then replicated, and Gina was more ferocious than normal with her wand spins. Usually the guards run on quite quickly when the pair start fighting, however they waited longer than the norm, letting Gina and Louise awkwardly extend their fighting and making the guards line of “Sorry it took us so long to get here miss!” even funnier. Furthermore, at the line “I can’t believe you’d sink this low,” Louise had literally sunk to the floor, making the guards holding her kneel down also, and Ben made his entrance to the scene by swinging in on the rope backwards, meaning he couldn’t jump down properly so swung back into the wings and had to run back on!

In the March of the Witch Hunters scene, last year the ensemble had a variety of props rather than the normal pitchforks and torches etc, however this year they kept their normal props and the muck-up was to be found with Harriet Thorpe’s Madame Morrible wig. Rather than being neatly tied into sections at the back, the whole bottom section of it had been let loose to hang down on one side, and it remained like this for the rest of the show.

 For Good contained a tiny something that was a really cute muck-up rather than a funny one. To those who were at West End Live 2012 you’ll have seen this before, where Rachel tapped Gina’s nose in the penultimate lines of the song, and Louise did the same to Gina in the matinee. Like I said, it was more cute than anything else, and also a bit of a tearjerker.

For the finale of the show, Ben managed to squeeze in a few more muck-ups in his lines, when he finds Elphaba and she says “You’re still beautiful,” he quickly put in a “Why thank you,” before “You don’t have to lie to me,” which was great because a laugh was most certainly needed at this point.

Considering we were told there would be no muck-ups, I’d say we were quite happy with seeing just under 50 of them occur?! It becomes a bit of tradition for some shows to have these matinees to allow the cast to have a bit of fun before the change-over, and though I haven’t mentioned every little detail there were also extra riffs and such included that wouldn’t normally be allowed in the show as they should stick to the book as much as possible obviously! It’s all just great fun.

 Also as it was the 3,000th show, in the bows Louise made a small speech about how special a show Wicked was, and thanked everyone involved in it from the cast to backstage crew to front of house staff and also to the audiences themselves. After three enthusiastic “hip hip hoorays!” a classic Wicked balloon drop also occurred to celebrate the 3,000th show, and pink and green balloons were released onto the audience!

Cast Change Show

This year’s cast change is only the second I’ve been in attendance for, however there is absolutely no doubting the energy that radiates throughout the theatre when it’s the cast change evening show. Often British audiences in the theatre are considered tame, but from what I’ve experience of these shows we’re quite the opposite.

Cheers erupted from the audience after the pre-show announcement, and even before Gina descended in the bubble the audience were cheering for her entrance, some even responded with a giant “YES!” to her line of “It’s good to see me isn’t it?”. Basically, lots of cheers that in any other show would be annoying, but to me in a cast change show they’re heartwarming! Only when they’re not truly covering lines though, that is annoying ha!

Not only were the audience full of energy and excitement for the show, but so were the cast. It’s fantastic to see how they somehow manage to put even more into it that they normally do because for some of them it’s the last show of their contract, and they were truly making the most of it.

Throughout the scenes with the ensemble I would notice little looks, smiles and hugs of encouragement, it was a case of everyone holding each other up and making sure they managed to get through most of the show tear-free (though that was lost later on).

After an incredibly strong No One Mourns the Wicked from Gina and the ensemble, Louise Dearman ran onto the stage to rapturous applause from the audience, a common thing for the Elphaba’s to receive in their cast change show. You could see the pure happiness on her face in that moment.

 The Wizard and I was incredibly powerful, it was great to see Louise just let go and put her all into it, and the applause from the audience afterwards was again thunderous. Following this was a hilarious What is this Feeling?, which I love because of the interactivity that the whole cast have with each other, the ensemble’s filthy looks at the Elphaba, the exaggeration in choreography, they were all on top form.

One of the things that I’ll miss the most from this cast is the relationships they’ve formed in their characters, even if you see the show just a few times it’s easy to see where certain members of the ensemble have bonded and know how to make their characters noticed in the show. I think the biggest example of this is Chlöe and Michelle as ShenShen and Pfannee, who would be the funniest and snarkiest onstage duo, always adding in new original things and making us laugh!

Gradually through the show the cheers from the audience became louder and louder, and more frequent too! For example when Gina bows in Popular after “And it’s all because of me,”, something else to note in Popular was how Gina added back in the spin and “wheeee!” sound after leaping across the stage with “la la la la”‘s, something that she had to take out of the show just over a year ago, so that made a lot of people happy seeing that again!

Every song in the show became a lot more emotional as it built up to Defying Gravity at the end of Act 1, even songs like One Short Day that are meant to be really happy?! Emotions, flying everywhere. Needless to say there were a LOT of tears in the interval, I myself was okay at that point but the same definitely can’t be said for others around me.

However Act 2 turned on the waterworks for me. Horrifically. Since the last muck-up matinee, Gina has put her completely own spin on the end note of Thank Goodness and from the first time we heard it, it literally blew me away. The only way I can describe how she sings this last note is that it’s like a vocal explosion, like a firework going off in the form of a little riff and holding this amazing end note. That was probably a rubbish explanation for what it sounded like, so just go to 5:27 and hear it for yourself. I shrunk into my seat and the pathetic tears started there…

Katie Rowley-Jones who plays Nessa gave such a strong Wicked Witch of the East in this show, it’s always impacting but in this show especially there was lots more emotion and was something that impressed me a lot. Ben was given a big cheer and applause in his entrance to the catfight scene which I liked, it’s nice everyone being able to audibly show their support for these entrances when in a ‘normal’ show it doesn’t tend to happen.

Personally, No Good Deed has always been my favourite song in the show to hear Louise sing, she puts so much passion into this song in particular in my eyes, creating a truly witchy representation. I feel like the audience were on edge for the whole song it was that intense, and she received applause similar to that after Defying Gravity it was that strong. March of the Witch Hunters was especially loud and angsty for the cast change show, again it felt like everyone was putting in their absolute everything for their last.

Understandably, there were many sobs during For Good. It’s the tearjerker song regardless, but in a cast change show it’s heartbreaking. Thankfully both Gina and Louise managed to make it through the song, on many occasions it’s been a case of one of the leads not being able to finish it due to emotions overwhelming them. It was a totally different case for the audience members though who were crying their eyes out from the first notes (myself included, I’m not going to lie!).

From this point onwards I doubt anyone was hiding their tears or trying to stop them, because once the Finale started it was a lost cause. Gina still managed to sing the angelic soprano notes with ease (how, I do not know), though I’m certain I saw a tear go down her cheek. The last “No one mourns the, wicked!” while looking round at all the ensemble who wouldn’t be there on Monday and especially seeing Chlöe crying her eyes out, that absolutely turned me into a sobbing mess.

In a cast change show, executive producer of Wicked Michael McCabe makes an appearance to congratulate the cast members on their respective contracts and read off the names from the ‘leaving list’. Those who had left the show were: Hayley Gallivan (standby Elphaba), Lucy Van Gasse (standby Glinda), Gemma Atkins, Emma Green, Chlöe Hart, Robert Jones, Michelle Pentecost, Stuart Ramsey, Paulo Teixeira, Oliver Watton, Jason Winter, Harriet Thorpe (Madame Morrible), Keith Bartlett (Wizard), Christopher Howell (Dr. Dillamond), Ben Freeman (Fiyero), and last but not least, Gina Beck and Louise Dearman.

Michael then spoke about how he’d already said goodbye to Louise once before when she left the show as Glinda, and how it had come about for Louise to be Elphaba. He also reminded the audience of the fact she was the only person to have played both Glinda and Elphaba in any of the 9 productions of Wicked around the world, a statement that was greeted with huge cheers.

Gina then took over to say a few words, thanking Michael and the production companies for the opportunities they’d given them to be a part of the show. She also thanked everyone involved in the show as Louise had in the matinee, thanking backstage crew, front of house crew, and how it was all such a brilliant environment to work in. Louise then spoke joking that it was all too intense and she was trying to not make eye contact with anyone. She especially mentioned those in the production company who had offered her the opportunity to go through the Elphaba material, and for giving her the job. In between thank you’s, she focused on thanking the company she’d had the pleasure to work with, emotions making her stop mid-sentence as she tried not to cry (“They’re just so brilliant, so ta-, so talented,”), but managed to carry on and say good luck to those staying in the show and those joining.

Furthermore she spoke of the support they and the show had received, saying she’d never known anything like it with the support the fans give. Louise also said she hoped everyone would continue to support the incredible show that Wicked is.

Two of the dressers in the crew, Troy and Theresa, then joined the stage as Louise and Gina wanted to specifically thank them, as Gina said, “I wouldn’t be able to do the show without Theresa,”. Gina also thanked the entire company, saying they were “the most amazing, talented, exciting, lovely, funny people to work with, to ever hope to work with.”, and how their fantastic relationships backstage made it even easier for them to translate a brilliant show onstage. It made it so much easier for them. After one last “Thank you so much!” from Louise the cast did their final waves and retreated to the back of the stage. As they walked back, we in the front row threw red roses onto the stage for them.

 So after more crying (there was a lot…) and recovering from said crying, there was then the chaos of the stage door to face. Even in my best mood I don’t enjoy crowds and when there’s a mass of people lining up from the stage door of the theatre to it’s box office, it’s not something I want to be stuck in!

 Rather than being pushed into a barrier, I decided to stand at the very bottom and thankfully still managed to see most of the lovely cast members who would be leaving the show to say a quick ‘goodbye’ and ‘good luck for the future’. However, thankfully this time round a lot of them have jobs to go into so it’s not like it’ll be a long time until we all get to see them again. I think what people don’t understand about why we get so emotional over a cast change is that you get so used to seeing people in this one place that we all know and love, and when they leave it changes the whole psyche of it.

Regardless, it was a fantastic day. Generally it’s the one day of the year that everyone who you know from Wicked will be in the same place, and while there’s a sad atmosphere it’s mostly electric too, there’s a buzz around it. It’s definitely a day that if you attend you won’t forget. Furthermore, this cast have been so brilliant and as individuals they all deserve success as they are such a hardworking bunch of people, it’s been a pleasure to see them in Wicked as much as I have. They are a huge part of why the show is so magical to people, and why we would keep going back.

I just feel sorry for those who randomly thought “Hey, let’s go see Wicked on this day!”, they really didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for…

3 thoughts on “theatre: Wicked’s 2013 Cast Change

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