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Theater: ‘Wicked’ becomes juggernaut

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When “Wicked” scored a mixed critical reception in the wake of its fall 2003 opening on Broadway, nobody expected the show to turn into the unstoppable juggernaut it remains today. Not even its producers.

It wasn’t until summer 2004, when the Wicked Witch of the West-centric tuner bucked streetwide downward trends during the July 4 weekend and the Republican National Convention, that the industry — including “Wicked” producers David Stone and Marc Platt — sat up and thought of the tuner as more than a soft hit.

“That was the first indication this was something beyond what we understood,” Stone says.

Since then, the “Wicked” empire has expanded to include productions in Chicago and L.A., a national tour and international incarnations in London, Tokyo, Stuttgart and Melbourne. The cume for the Broadway production, the perennial top grosser on the Rialto, recently surpassed the $300 million mark. Broadway hasn’t seen a juggernaut of this size since Disney put “The Lion King” on the boards in 1997.

“Most of my day is about ‘Wicked,’ ” Stone says. “It’s really running a business.”

The Oz connection clearly contributes to the popularity of the musical (which has songs by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire), but that’s likely less of a factor in places like Japan where “The Wizard of Oz” is less well-known.

Stone cites the universal appeal of the story’s sympathetic angle on a traditional villain. “Here is a show that makes clear that this person is not who we think she is, and no one is only this or that,” he says. “And if that’s true of Elphaba, then it’s true for all of us.”

Disney musicals make money

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