The Wall Street Journal
Behind the Scenes - A Backstage Hit
by Robert J. Hughes
July 28, 2006

Some stage parents have found a new backdoor way to showcase the talents of their aspiring offspring.

Every Saturday, several hundred people line up to take a backstage tour of Wicked, the hit Broadway musical that traces the back-story of some characters from The Wizard of Oz. Once inside, some parents use the tours to arrange impromptu auditions -- even having their kids sing a tune right in the lobby. The more aggressive ones ask for the phone number of the agents for the two actors who give the tour.

One recent Saturday, a woman began gushing to Wicked actor Anthony Galde about how well her daughter could sing, act and dance -- “a triple threat,” the woman said. Mr. Galde, who plays a variety of roles in the show, smiled and offered a noncommittal “That’s great.”

Sean McCourt leading a Behind the Emerald Curtain tour
The weekly tour at Manhattan’s Gershwin Theatre, called Behind the Emerald Curtain, offers a glimpse of what goes into staging Wicked. Never mind that some of these people have never even seen the musical or that the tourgoers aren’t allowed onto the stage (union rules prevent that). They pay $25 to see a short movie on how Wicked came about and get a glimpse of the planning that went into the show, including a scale model of the set design. A recent Saturday crowd of locals and tourists reverentially examined the displays of costumes, masks and other props as if they were in a museum. Among the star attractions: the $35,000 gown of the heroine, Glinda, which was handmade down to its beading. But then the decorum was broken by a gaggle of teenage girls -- Wicked has a large fan base among young people -- who burst out in songs from the show, including “Defying Gravity.”

The idea for the tour grew out of the backstage talks that Mr. Galde and Sean McCourt, another Wicked actor who also serves as a guide, gave for regional theater owners and group-sales bookers. The tour has been running since January, and Marc Platt, one of the Wicked producers, says it’s been so popular that he plans to launch similar tours at the musical’s Chicago run and at the London run set to open this fall. While institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera and Radio City Music Hall offer backstage tours, "Wicked" is the only current Broadway show to do so. won three Tony awards and has been selling out most nights since it opened in October 2003.

The tour is another example of how the theater industry is trying to boost profits. Not only do many seats at Broadway musicals go for about $110 these days -- and “premium” seats can hit $300 -- producers are bringing in extra cash through other means. Though they have long sold cast albums and T-shirts, concession stands in theater lobbies now hawk everything from coffee-table books to mugs, necklaces, charm bracelets -- and even golf balls.

Behind the Emerald Curtain is an attempt to extend the already greatly extended Wicked franchise even further. The producers have turned the interior of the Gershwin Theatre into a theme mall. Images of Wicked characters decorate the walls and “Oz Dust Boutique” souvenir stalls are located throughout the space, including the street-level lobby, where the public can enter without a ticket.
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