Wicked Young Writers Meet Emerald City Stars at the Library of Birmingham

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To coincide with the Wicked UK run at the theatre this summer, the Birmingham Hippodrome in association with The Library of Birmingham offered an exciting opportunity for young writers across the city to show off their storytelling talents and cast a spell over competition judges, with extra special prizes awarded to the most magical tale-tellers.

Throughout June and July, budding writers aged up to 18 submitted their stories, and today, the winners of the Wicked Young Writers competition – Lauren Bull and William Bezzant – arrived at The Library of Birmingham to claim the first part of their prize – an exclusive meeting with cast members from the Wicked UK tour! Huge congrats to both Lauren and William, who will also be treated to a night out at the theatre this evening with complimentary tickets to see the show!

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While there, the cast members also chanced to meet one of the library’s avian protectors – a hawk who helps keep pesky seagulls and pigeons away from the towering building.

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Wicked Women and a “Wonderful” Wizard – Wicked UK on Tour

Wicked UK & Ireland Tour_Emily Tierney (Glinda) and Nikki Davis-Jones (Elphaba)_Credit Matt Crockett_MCR_6654

Last year saw the release of Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful, conceived as a sort of prequel to L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s story, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Despite its title, Baum’s story is very much a female-centric one, in which the supposedly “wonderful” wizard ultimately proves to be nothing more than a con-man, while the book’s truly powerful characters are its women – Glinda, Dorothy and The Wicked Witch of the West. For all its gorgeous design and the hype surrounding the film, meanwhile, Oz the Great and Powerful proved full of disappointing and, at times, downright misogynist revisionism, and this over a century after the publication of the original book. Fortunately, Raimi and his scriptwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire were not the first to attempt a before-Oz story: ten years prior to the release of the latest Oz film, Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s brilliant Wicked first appeared on stage. Based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, it is without a doubt a much more positive and interesting Oz prologue that both builds on the proto-feminism of Baum’s work and looks forward to the current trend for revising and revisiting villains that we’ve seen recently in films like Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph and, of course, Maleficent.

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It’s difficult to imagine a film like Maleficent existing without Wicked – the musical’s influence is clear in everything from Maleficent‘s plot and characterisation to its modern gothic style. It’s interesting to note here that the film’s director, Robert Stromberg, also acted as production designer on Oz the Great and Powerful, further suggesting that these similarities are no accident. Like the designs in the work of filmmakers such as Stromberg and Tim Burton, Wicked is darkly beautiful and visually stunning, here thanks largely to Susan Hilferty’s amazing and deservedly Tony Award-winning costumes – something like Willy Wonka meets Effie Trinket with steampunk elements. These are complemented well by Tom Watson’s excellent wig designs,The Oz Head_Credit Matthew Crockett while Eugene Lee’s fantastic sets include some truly spellbinding features such as The Clock of the Time Dragon looming ominously above the stage and the Wizard’s huge and terrifying mechanical head.

It’s far from all style and no substance, though. While the score perhaps leaves something to be desired (few of the tunes are what you’d call hummable), the lyrics are great, and there are a few stand-out numbers such as the touching “For Good”, which packs quite an emotional punch for a what’s essentially a fairy tale. Its complex, multi-faceted characters, too, seem to transcend the fairy-tale framework they find themselves in, while the story itself is compelling and thoughtful.

Wicked is a classic tale of social injustice and intolerance told from the perspective of a long-suffering, misunderstood outsider, that warns against placing too much trust in authority figures. Interestingly, it’s not only Elphaba who faces disdain and ridicule from her herd-like peers: there’s an even darker undercurrent that hints at troubled race relations, with Oz’s talking animals caged, enslaved, silenced and blamed for all the ills of the world. A teacher at Elphaba’s and Glinda’s school becomes a literal scapegoat, shortly before the origins of Wonderful Wizard of Oz characters like the Cowardly Lion and the witch’s flying monkeys are revealed. The moral message of the play is brilliantly summed up in the scathingly satirical “Wonderful”, sung by the Wizard in Act II:MCR_7049_RT

‘Elphaba, where I’m from, we believe all sorts of
things that aren’t true. We call it – “history.”

A man’s called a traitor – or liberator,
A rich man’s a thief – or philanthropist.
Is one a crusader – or ruthless invader?
It’s all in which label is able to persist.
There are precious few at ease
With moral ambiguities
So we act as though they don’t exist.

They call me “Wonderful”
So I am wonderful.’

The Wizard’s assessment of “history” becomes all the more poignant when considering the fact that the ill-fated, caprine Doctor Dillamond happened to be Elphaba’s history teacher, rendering his removal from the school symbolic in more ways than one.

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Dale Rapley is brilliant as the thoughtful and tragic Doctor Dillamond, standing in sharp contrast with Marilyn Cutts’s perfectly pantomime Madame Morrible, and sharing some genuinely touching moments with Jemma Alexander’s charming Elphaba. Taking over from Nikki Davis-Jones, Alexander really steps up to the role with skill and confidence. Liam Doyle is also great as Fiyero, but perhaps the production’s best performance comes from Emily Tierney as Glinda, who definitely undergoes the most profound changes as the story unfolds. Tierney masterfully manages everything from bitchy airhead schoolgirl “Gah-linda, with a Gah”, to the contrite and grieving grown-up Glinda we see at the end of the show.

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This is a wonderfully entertaining piece of theatre, with plenty of spectacle but also with some important things to say. Last night was the first time I’d ever seen Wicked, but I hope it won’t be the last!

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A Wicked Opportunity for Young Writers!

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Have you got a great story to tell? Fancy spending a day with members of the cast from Wicked? In association with The Library of Birmingham and the smash hit, West End musical itself, the Birmingham Hippodrome is currently looking for the best of the Birmingham’s young writing talent to send them stories full of magic, mischief and mystery for the chance to win a truly unique prize!

Young writers aged 18 and under are being invited to send in an original tale with a theme or topic of their choice that is as clear and captivating as possible. Entries will be split into two age groups, with those aged 7-11 asked to write 250-500 words, while older children aged 12-18 can submit up to 1000 words. One lucky winner from each group will be invited to take part in “a sparklingly emerald day” that will include the chance to meet the cast at The Library of Birmingham, before taking their seats at the Birmingham Hippodrome to enjoy the show!

Said Sara Rowell, Partnerships & Marketing Senior Manager from The Library of Birmingham:

IMG_8971‘We’re delighted to partner with Birmingham Hippodrome for the Wicked Young Writers Award, which aims to encourage young creative writing talent in the city and region. Children and young people have the very best imaginations and we hope this competition – and the Wicked prize – will inspire them to let their natural story-telling abilities flow and get writing this summer.’

In order to enter the competition, visit the website for the Birmingham Hippodrome or the The Library of Birmingham and download and fill out an entry form. Completed forms should be returned to wickedwriter@birminghamhippodrome.com, posted into one of The Library of Birmingham’s entry boxes, or sent to the theatre at Wicked Young Writers Competition, Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst street, Southside, B5 4TB. Entries close at midnight on Wednesday 9 July. Winners must be available on Wednesday 30th July.

New Season Launch – Autumn and Winter at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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After the fabulous free theatre we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks across Birmingham’s city centre, the summer may finally be over, but the fun is far from it! The Birmingham Hippodrome has just announced a new season packed full of all sorts of exciting shows to brighten up the cold, dark winter days!

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18389_sFrom October through to Spring next year, you’ll be able to enjoy a range of smash-hit musicals, National Theatre shows on tour, contemporary dance, world-class opera and ballet from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Welsh National Opera, and of course, the return of the world’s biggest pantomime this Christmas.

The new season kicks off next month with the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, E=MC² and Tombeaux (3-5 October) and later The Sleeping Beauty, (8-12 October) followed by the National Theatre’s War Horse (16 October – 9 November). If you want to get yourself some War Horse tickets, act fast, since the show is almost sold out already!

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Alongside the War Horse run, two additional special events will be taking place: Only Remembered (Friday 8th November), a concert featuring live readings from the original War Horse novel by its author Michael Morpurgo and music from John Tams and Barry Coope, and a War Horse-themed sleepover (Friday 25th October) that will see the Patrick Centre transformed into World War I-style trenches.

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Towards the end of the month, there will be more opportunities to experience free outdoor shows in Birmingham. Make sure you wrap up warm for Illuminate! (25-27 October) a three-day light spectacular featuring interactive street projections from Shanghai, dance performances and The Lanterns of Terracotta Warriors, an extraordinary exhibition originally created for the Beijing Olympics.

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Throughout November, the Welsh National Opera will present Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (12 & 16 November) and Gaetano Donizetti’s new Tudors series: Anna Bolena (13 November), Maria Stuarda (14 November) and Roberto Devereux (15 November). 

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As Christmas approaches, the Hippodrome will be helping you to get into the festive spirit with a Birmingham Royal Ballet production of The Nutcracker (22 November – 12 December), as well as its excellent, all-star pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (19 December – 2 February). This year’s panto will star Gok Wan, Stephanie Beacham, Gary Wilmot, John Partridge and winner of the BBC’s Over the Rainbow series Danielle Hope.

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February is a great month to catch some ballet at the Hippodrome, with two more productions from the Birmingham Royal Ballet (Three of a Kind from 19-22 February and The Prince of the Pagodas from 25 February – 1 March), as well as Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake (5-15 February).

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Meanwhile, March is the month for music, with three WNO operas and two exciting musicals.  The Welsh National Opera will present Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (4 & 8 March) as well as two brand new productions, Manon Lescaut (5 & 7 March) and Boulevard Solitude (6 March). From 11-15 March, award-winning producers Music & Lyrics will be presenting their take on Fiddler on the Roof, starring Paul Michael Glaser and, towards the end of the month, the theatre’s stage will be flooded with 12,000 litres of water every night as part of its Singin’ in the Rain performances (18 March – 5 April), starring Maxwell Caulfield and Faye Tozer.

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In April, Wet, Wet, Wet frontman Marti Pellow will star in Evita (8-19 April), while a brand new musical based on the classic TV series Happy Days will star Sugababes’ Heidi Range (22-26 April). The Happy Days musical is written by the series’ creator Gary Marshall, with creative consultancy from Henry Winkler, TV’s original “Fonz”.

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May sees the return of the biennial International Dance Fest Birmingham, co-produced by the Hippodrome and DanceXchange. The festival will kick off with Sideways Rain (29-30 April) by Genevan contemporary dance company Alias, and will also include Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s M!longa  (23-24 May), international hip-hop festival Breakin’ Convention (20-21 May), a new adaptation of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies by Matthew Bourne (14-17 May) and a performance from acclaimed ballerina Sylvie Guillem in 6,000 Miles Away (6-7 May). Bourne’s new production will feature young New Adventures dancers from the West Midlands as part of efforts to inspire a new generation to get involved in dance. 

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As Spring leads on into summer, the National Theatre‘s five-star comedy feast, One Man, Two Guv’nors will arrive in Birmingham (26-31 May), providing an excellent opportunity to catch this highly-praised production if you missed it in London. One Man, Two Guv’nors is an adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s classic 1743 comedy The Servant of Two Masters, reimagined in 1960s Brighton by Richard Bean.

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So it comes full circle back to summer. Next summer’s big musical show will be Wicked (9 July – 6 September). It may seem a long way to plan ahead, but tickets for Wicked are already being snapped up by audiences. In September, the Hippodrome will also be showing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Check back here for details about when tickets go on sale.

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To book tickets and for more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Happy watching!