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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Making Room for Wicked

Broadway Show Comes to Milwaukee

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It’s not easy being green, when it involves 17 semi trailers.

Wicked, the musical, whizzes into town this week, and brings with it 450,000 pounds of equipment and a company of 55 people. The personnel include cast, production managers, stagehands and other backstage support. By far the biggest production imported this season, the show will feature an orchestra of 20 pit musicians, nine of them hired locally.

“The Uihlein stage of the Marcus Center must be completely stripped of lights, curtains and every other movable fixture to make room for Wicked,” says Heidi Lofy, vice president of sales & marketing at the Marcus Center. “The load-in will employ nearly 100 workers, most of them local hires, working in 12-hour shifts to ready the show for the July 14 premiere. The only other imported production that comes close to this is Phantom of theOpera, when the steel structure of the hall needed to be reinforced to support the show’s chandelier.”

The trucks arrive on Monday morning, and the sets, props and costumes are unloaded and ready to go by Wednesday evening’s performance. There are so much backstage requirements that the Todd Wehr stage, normally the home of First Stage Theater, is drafted into use as a dressing and costume room. The exterior of the building will also be transformed, with a month of green lights reflected upon the Marcus Center’s travertine marble.

The company will remain in Milwaukee for four full weeks, a financial benefit for the city through rented hotel rooms, cars and restaurants. Wicked arrives from Houston, and then packs up for Columbus in mid-August.

During the run, the Marcus Center has arranged a “Community Day” where 200 low-income kids will receive tickets to the July 15 matinee and meet with the cast following the performance. Also, members of the Wicked cast will open a Brewers game with the national anthem.

The Marcus Center is a non-profit entity of Milwaukee County. “We offer the Broadway series as a way to subsidize affordable rent to our resident groups such as the Milwaukee Symphony, Ballet and Florentine Opera,” says Lofy.

Plans are underway to schedule the 2011/12 Broadway line up. Explains Lofy, “Next season we will have around 20-25 shows from which to choose. Naturally, everything depends on availability. Not every show that plays the Great White Way goes on the road, as only 20% of Broadway productions recoup their start-up costs. For those shows that are considered financially viable for touring, a cast is selected and a basic travel itinerary is planned. This year we really wanted to offer In the Heights, but the show’s availability and our schedule didn’t mesh. We also looked at bringing TheAddams Family, but both the New York and the Chicago productions garnered tepid reviews. When planning a season, we also consider what has already played in Milwaukee, the content, and of course the quality of the show.”



As for this current season, everything is set in stone. Young Frankenstein is the season opener in November, an impressive production with big sets. Following is a Milwaukee favorite, and the ultimate feel good musical, Mamma Mia. “This is the fifth time we are presenting Mamma Mia, and every seat will sell out,” says Lofy. ” This is the one show where people come back year after year.” Next is Hair, a production that started in New York Central Park, transferred to Broadway and is now touring the country. “It’s a great show, one that the audience is encouraged to participate both on stage and off,” says Lofi. A new production of Les Miserables, fresh from London, follows.

Fiddler on the Roof plays the Marcus Center in June. This will be the first time that Fiddler will be presented on the Marcus Broadway series, though it is a classic musical where almost every song is beloved by the audience.

Finally, Jersey Boys, the musical featuring the sounds of the original boy band of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, will be presented for an extended four week run.

“It’s such an amazing show. It is told and staged in a very innovative way with a superb cast,” adds Lofy.

There is a caveat when purchasing tickets for the Broadway series in Milwaukee. Buy tickets only through the Marcus Center or TicketMaster. “These shows are selling out, and some may purchase fake tickets at inflated prices from scalpers or auction sites. We feel for these people, especially when they arrive at a sold out show with a child, there isn’t much we can do for them” says Lofy.

Wicked!