IT is 20 years since the musical juggernaut that is Wicked (the show based upon Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West) made its Broadway debut.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, this wildly popular prequel to L Frank Baum’s Wizard Of Oz offers audiences the backstory of Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West.

Despite the famous complexity of Maguire’s opus – which takes us from Elphaba’s experience of boarding school, through her university relationship with the “good witch” Glinda, to the ­political machinations in the city of Oz – the show has proved to be a smash hit with ­audiences on both sides of the ­Atlantic and around the world.

The National: Prominent Broadway actor Eden Espinosa garnered widespread acclaim for her longstanding portrayal of the eponymous Wicked Witch of the West ElphabaProminent Broadway actor Eden Espinosa garnered widespread acclaim for her longstanding portrayal of the eponymous Wicked Witch of the West Elphaba

According to American theatre ­magazine Playbill, in the decade 2010-19, Wicked was the second-highest-grossing musical theatre production on ­Broadway, second only to Disney’s blockbuster ­movie spin-off The Lion King.

Much of this success can be put down to Schwartz’s diverse musical score, which includes the show’s much-loved number Defying Gravity. The songs in Wicked draw strongly upon the ­American ­musical songbook, with forays into classical symphonic music, rock ‘n’ roll and, even, the religious choral tradition.

Such was the early acclaim for the show that it received 10 nominations at the 2004 Tony Awards and won three of the coveted gongs. Idina Menzel was named Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Elphaba, Susan Hilferty as Best Costume Designer and Eugene Lee as Best Stage Designer.

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Wicked’s ongoing fame is reflected in the fact that it has spawned, not one, but two forthcoming movies. ­Universal ­Pictures has employed director Jon M Chu (the man behind the 2021 film ­version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights) to make the movies.

Explaining the decision to make two, sequential films, rather than just one, Chu wrote: “As we prepared the ­production … it became impossible to wrestle the ­story of Wicked into a single film without ­doing some real damage to it.

“As we tried to cut songs or trim ­characters, those decisions began to feel like fatal compromises to the source ­material that has entertained us all for so many years. We decided to give ourselves a bigger canvas and make not just one Wicked movie but two.

“With more space, we can tell the ­story of Wicked as it was meant to be told while bringing even more depth and ­surprise to the journeys of these beloved characters.”

Tantalisingly, composer Schwartz has indicated that he will be writing new musical numbers for the movies. Many aspects of the films remain under wraps, but Universal has let it be known that the first movie will end with the ­show-stopper Defying Gravity.

The release date for Wicked Part 1 has been set for November 27, 2024, with the second film due to hit cinemas late in 2025. Final production work on the movies was affected by the recent strike by members of the merged trade ­union, the Screen Actors Guild-American ­Federation of Television and Radio ­Artists (SAG-AFTRA), but Chu insists that won’t affect the release dates. The director has, of course, secured the ­services of big-name performers to play the lead roles of Elphaba and ­Glinda. The “wicked witch” will be played by acclaimed musical theatre artist Cynthia Erivo, who won the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2016 for her portrayal of Celie in the Broadway musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple.

“Good witch” Glinda will be played by Ariana Grande. The American pop star and actor is believed to have coveted the role for years. She appeared on TV channel NBC’s special for the musical’s 15th anniversary, on which she sang the number The Wizard And I.

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Given this extraordinary success, it’s interesting to note that Wicked did not meet with universal critical acclaim when it premiered on Broadway.

Writing in the American ­entertainment ­industry’s house journal Variety, critic Charles ­Isherwood opined: “A strenuous effort to be all things to all people tends to weigh down this lumbering, overstuffed $14 million production.

“Wicked is stridently earnest one ­minute, self-mocking the next; a ­fantastical allegory about the perils of ­fascism in one scene, a ­Nickelodeon ­special about the importance of ­inner beauty in another.

“There are flying ­monkeys, flying ­witches and flying ­scenery, but the ­musical itself truly soars only on rare ­occasions …”

The paper had changed its tune by the time of the 2005 tour of North America, however. Reviewing the show in ­Toronto, Richard Ouzounian reassured Variety readers: “You can relax, my pretties. The big green money machine known as Wicked is in fine shape on the first stop of its national tour.

“A lot of care has gone into this ­remount, stripping away only a few ­extraneous trappings from the Broadway ­version, but delivering a spectacular-looking show guaranteed to send most [­audience members] happily skipping down the yellow brick road to the box ­office for a long time to come.”

Producers will be hoping, nay expecting, similarly enthusiastic reviews for this latest revival. The cast for the tour is led by West End stars Laura Pick (Elphaba) and Sarah O’Connor (Glinda) and includes Fife-born performer Megan Gardiner as Elphaba’s younger sister, the “Wicked Witch of the East” Nessarose.

Gardiner is, she says, “delighted” to be taking up the role. “This is a dream show to be a part of,” she continues.

“I am so excited to be touring this show to these gorgeous theatres of the UK and Ireland, but Edinburgh, my home, has a special place in my heart. It is an honour to open the tour there.”

Word is that tickets for the Edinburgh performances are going as quickly as ­flying monkeys. So, if you fancy a Wicked Christmas, you’d be well-advised to move fast.

Wicked plays the Edinburgh Playhouse, December 7 to January 14, then touring until January 12, 2025: