Wicked’s success is thanks to young, repeat audiences – McCabe

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Wicked celebrated five years in the West End this week, with its executive producer claiming its ongoing success has been thanks to a predominantly young audience.

The show has grossed £145 million at the box office. It is the ninth longest-running musical currently playing in London and the 18th longest-running musical of all time in Theatreland.

According to Michael McCabe, executive producer for Wicked in the UK, 58% of audience members are under the age of 35. "And they're not all teenage girls - it is still very much couples in the their 20s and early 30s," he said.

Wicked opened in September 2006. In the same year, Avenue Q, Cabaret, Caroline, or Change, Daddy Cool, Dirty Dancing, Evita, Porgy and Bess, Monty Python's Spamalot, The Sound of Music and Sunday in the Park with George also opened. Following Dirty Dancing's closure in July, Wicked is the only one of those musicals still running.

McCabe believes that its popularity is due to the familiarity of The Wizard of Oz, mixed with the newness of Wicked's plot, which tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West's childhood. He also pointed to the production's marketing strategy, which focused on digital media to spread positive word of mouth, helping to encourage repeat audiences and counteract a mixed critical reception to the show.

"That has been an extraordinary part of the success - how many times people come back. That is also true of all the big, long-running shows - like Phantom and Les Mis - when you become a show like that you do rely on the fact that people come more than once, they bring grandparents, bring their grandchildren," he said.

"Around Wicked is this incredible community of fans and we were very much able to use the revolution of social media that was happening when we began to spread word of mouth. We've made a massive investment in all forms of digital PR, marketing, etc, to help drive the word of mouth, but the bottom line is no matter how much marketing a show does, it's still the show that matters."

In December 2010, Wicked became the first West End production to gross more than £1 million at the box office in a single week. It has so far increased its box office gross every year and is on course to do so again in 2011, with the show reporting it is £2 million ahead of where it was grossing this time last year.

"That is really the phenomenon of Wicked," added McCabe. "We're not just standing still, we're still growing. We're still watching the graph going up. Every year has gone up on the previous year.

"At the beginning of the show, I said to my American co-producers I hoped, in my wildest dreams, we would do five years in this theatre [the Apollo Victoria]. So, now, I'm certainly hoping that we'll do ten - there are no signs of it slowing down."