It's a Wicked business model…

Wicked is the Broadway musical extravaganza that has been setting box office records throughout it’s 4 1/2 year run.

In fact, according to this article in the Kansas City Star, Wicked is set to break $1 Billion (with a B) in Box Office Gross Revenues sometime in the next couple of weeks!

Here are some other interesting facts from the Star’s article:

“According to the “Wicked” producers, more than 3.5 million people have seen the Broadway production, which rakes in more than $1.4 million a week.

A like number has seen the national tour, which set a record in January in St. Louis when it grossed more than $2.3 million in a single week — the highest weekly gross in North American touring history.

By the end of its run, more than 45,000 people will have seen the show in Kansas City.”

All in all, you’d have to say that the producers are onto something.

What’s the show like?

I had a chance to check it out last night at the Music Hall in downtown Kansas City and I was really curious to see what all the fuss was about.

The sets and costumes were very evocative and effective without being over the top – they ranged from peasants storming the castle to boarding school with a Hogwart’s flair, to the urban scenes set in the Emerald City with a very ‘ozmopolitan’ flair – lots of green retro ballroom styling and flair.

The cast was fantastic all the way around.  We were there on a night that had an understudy for Elphaba (Wicked Witch of the West), one of the 2 primary lead characters, and she did a great job.  I can’t compare her directly to the normal lead, but I certainly don’t feel like we missed anything.  There was a lot of energy, good timing, great vocals and great comedic performances especially from G’Linda (the Guh is silent).

The music was about what you would expect from a top-notch current Broadway musical, absent any real show stopping numbers.  That’s not to say it wasn’t very good, just not particularly memorable relative to other show’s lead songs.

Finally the story is what I believe really sets this show apart.  Based on the book by Gregory Maguire, it’s a very clever retelling of the classic Wizard of Oz.  The viewpoint is based on the inhabitants of Oz, particularly 2 witches that meet at school with very different backgrounds and viewpoints.  There’s a real sense of satisfaction in how the story ties together with all of the details you already know about Oz.

All in all, it’s a very professional, polished, clever and fun experience that would be applicable to almost any age.  I would highly recommend seeing it if you get a chance.

What about the Business Success?

The amazing thing (to me anyway) is the huge amount of success that this show has commanded in a very short period of time – without being head and shoulders above the competition in terms of the quality of the product.

Although I’m not a Broadway groupie by any means, I have seen most of the popular shows from the last 20 years (along with quite a few that wouldn’t make that list as well).  I believe a good Broadway style show or a play is a great way to experience new ideas and find inspirations.

With that in mind, the actual production of Wicked, although very polished and professional is not all that much different than several other shows I’ve seen in the last few years, including The Producers, Spamalot, Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q or Les Miserables.  Arguably all of those shows have some element or another that is markedly superior to Wicked – and yet Wicked’s box office success is well ahead of any of it’s peers.

Here are some reasons why I think Wicked is doing so well:

1.  It’s a story that people already understand before they get to the theatre.

Yes it’s based on the book Wicked that’s been out for 12 years or so, but more importantly it ties very well into the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz that’s been around for more than 100 years and is well ingrained into American culture.  In short, people get it and they appreciate not having to learn something new while they’re being entertained. 

As a corollary, Spamalot taps into the same idea based on Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail, but the source material generally isn’t nearly as well known or prevalent as Oz.

2.  They’ve done a great job in building the brand of Wicked.

They’re giving people what they want, but they are also encouraging people to do more than just go to the show.  There’s a whole line of Wicked apparel that actually looks like something people would want to wear.  They are fan groups and based on the crowd that we went with, people obviously go multiple times to the show and make it a destination.  They took the initial popularity of the show and kept building on it.

3.  It appeals to a really broad audience.

Not only is it a subject that appeals to most Americans (who hasn’t seen the Wizard of Oz on TV several times…) but more importantly it appeals to a broad range of ages (which isn’t true for most Broadway shows that I’ve seen).  Not only is it appropriate for kids, but they’ll actually enjoy it (assuming they’re familiar with the story overall). 

Just like Disney and Pixar continue to hit home runs with family friendly movies, Wicked is the best example I’ve seen (although I’m sure The Lion King is right up there) of the same idea for a theatre production.

Anyway you look at it, they’ve taken a good product and made it remarkable, generating well above average business results.

Can you think of other reasons why this show has become such a phenomenon?  Share your thoughts here – or let me know if you saw the show and what you thought of it.

Shawn Kinkade

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