‘Wicked” isn’t merely a musical; it’s an entire green-tinged world.
It’s a world full of heart, courage and brains, one in existence, in some ways, for more than a century:
• Originally created in 1900 by L. Frank Baum in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
• Brought to glorious Technicolor life in 1939 by Victor Fleming and Judy Garland.
• Turned on its head in 1995 by Gregory Maguire in his novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.”
• Conjured for Broadway in 2003 by composer Stephen Schwartz, writer Winnie Holzman, director Joe Mantello and producer Marc Platt.
And now, for the first time, “Wicked” is coming to Spokane for 16 performances at the INB Performing Arts Center starting Wednesday.
Clearly, the Inland Northwest is primed to enter the wonderful world of “Wicked.”
People lined up at the box office during the wee hours when tickets first went on sale in March. A number of performances are already sold out and many have only limited availability.
By the time Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, issues her final cackle on May 29, about 40,000 people will have crowded into the INB.
How, exactly, did the Wicked Witch of the West make the unlikely transition from Toto-threatening tyrant to singing, dancing Broadway star?
Marc Platt, the producer of “Wicked,” can answer that question better than anyone. He is the man who first dreamed of bringing Maguire’s novel into life,
Platt, a Hollywood movie producer, acquired the rights to the book in 1996 and started developing it as a film.
“But I wasn’t satisfied with those screenplays,” said Platt, by phone from his Hollywood office. “There was some kind of magic missing.”
And then came a phone call from old friend Schwartz, a successful Broadway composer in the early 1970s with “Godspell” and “Pippin.”
“Stephen said, ‘Did you ever think of turning “Wicked” into a musical?’ And the moment he said ‘musical,’ a light bulb went off in my head,” said Platt.
“I thought, ‘That’s exactly what’s missing from these (screenplays) and why it’s not feeling magical.’ This is a world, the world of Oz, and it wants to be musicalized.”
Never mind that Platt had never produced a movie musical, much less a Broadway musical. Schwartz talked him into making “Wicked” into a stage musical first, and a movie musical later (if all went well).
So Platt brought on Holzman, famous for writing TV’s “Thirtysomething” and “My So-Called Life,” and Mantello.
The key story arc gradually began to emerge – the friendship between two fundamentally different woman, Glinda the Good (also spelled Galinda) and Elphaba.
It retained the key underpinnings of Maguire’s world, but departed in significant ways. Some characters in the musical are not even in the book.
Early in the development process, the cast did its first-ever reading of the entire show, in a room with a piano. That’s when Platt first felt a shiver.
“At the end of that reading, there was so much instantaneous applause, and so many tears, and such an overwhelming response, just from people sitting in that room, we looked at each other and said, ‘There’s something really special here,’ ” he said.
The feeling grew in May 2003, when the show finally opened in San Francisco for its first out-of-town tryout.
“We knew it still needed some fine-tuning, for sure,” said Platt. “But you could feel there was something magical in the theater.
“This was confirmed for us by the third or fourth performance in San Francisco, when the box office lines started going around the block every day.”
When “Wicked” opened in October 2003 on Broadway, it received mostly (but not unanimously) good reviews. Business was respectable, but not spectacular.
Then, a couple of months into the run, Platt noticed something odd. Instead of suffering the usual post-holiday, midwinter slump, the show just kept climbing.
Word-of-mouth was causing it to sell out by the beginning of February 2004 – and the “Wicked” phenomenon was in full swing. Today, after more than 3,000 performances, it is still playing to capacity audiences.
“Wicked” spawned new companies in London and Australia and a number of tours.
Today, there are seven companies, including two national touring companies, one of which begins loading-in here Tuesday.
It’s a big show, with a cast of 28 and elaborate Oz sets. Platt said it’s identical in almost every way to the current Broadway production.
Yet not, surprisingly, not identical to the show that opened on Broadway in 2003.
“There’s different choreography, different songs, songs that have been completely restructured and lines that have been added or deleted,” said Platt.
“Our philosophy is that if we continue to maintain the quality of the show and fine-tune the way we can tell the story, the show can run a very long time.”
Yes, but isn’t it dangerous to fiddle with a smash?
Platt laughed and said not to worry.
“We didn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” he said.
Or, to put it another way, Oz remains the same green-tinged world.