The Broadway transfer of Wicked is likely to be one of the most expensive musicals in West End history (See News, 22 Dec 2005). Though no exact figure is being published for the cost of the production, which opens at the Apollo Victoria on 27 September 2006 (previews from 7 September), it will be between £6 million and £10 million.

At a launch event, held today at the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel for 350 industry guests as well as journalists, American producer David Stone said that Wicked’s cost would be at the “high upper range of what West End musicals cost”.

He promised that those who have appreciated the “oohs and ahs” of the $15 million Broadway original, would not be disappointed. “The production here in London will be just as spectacular. It will not be scaled down at all.” The musical has a 40-strong cast, who require 400 costumes and 80 wigs per performance, as well as a full orchestra.

Wicked tells the “untold story” of the Witches of Oz - popular blonde Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and her spin-victim friend Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West – who were both immortalised in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz.

Since its premiere in October 2003, Wicked has been Broadway’s highest-grossing show and, over this past holiday period, broke the record for the biggest weekly box office gross in Broadway history (See The Goss, 6 Jan 2006). Stone said today he hoped the show will run for “many, many years” in London.

Some script changes will be made for the benefit of UK audiences, particularly in the college-based scenes. While casting is not expected to be announced until mid-May – open auditions started today – Stone said performers will be British, including “two great actresses” and “people that you definitely know” in the supporting roles of the Wizard and Madame Morrible. “The land of Oz is a fantasy land,” Stone explained. “It can just as easily be a British one as an American one.”

In addition to speeches by Stone and British executive producer Michael McCabe, attendees at today’s launch were treated to video interviews with American co-producer Marc Platt of Universal Pictures and composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who persuaded rights-holder Platt to turn Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West into a stage musical instead of a film.

Clips from the Broadway production and vox-pops with theatregoers there were also shown, and recent US cast members Shoshana Bean (who has just completed a run as Elphaba in New York) and Kate Reinders (Glinda in Chicago) performed the numbers “The Wizard and I” (Bean) and “For Good” (Bean and Reinders).

The West End production of Wicked will reunite the original Broadway creative team. It’s directed by Joe Mantello and designed by Eugene Lee, with costumes by Susan Hilferty, lighting by Kenneth Postner, sound by Tony Meola, orchestrations by William David Brohn and musical staging by Wayne Cilento. In addition to Stone, Platt and McCabe, the show is produced in London by the Araca Group, Jon B Platt and Universal Pictures.

Ticket prices range from £15 to £55. Public booking opens on 5 March 2006, for an initial booking period to 24 February 2007.

- by Terri Paddock