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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Author: English-Bowers, Molly
Date published: January 27, 2010

Enough with former Mayor Matt Driscoll's contrivance of labeling Syracuse the Emerald City: The three-week run of Wicked actually made it happen. The Broadway blockbuster rolled into the Mulroy Civic Center on Jan. 13, and heads out after a final performance on Sunday, Jan. 31. It leaves with it a lot of good vibes, increased revenue for downtown restaurants, and a hint that it will be back.

"We are going to end up at 98 percent capacity, 47,000 people total, who came to see the show," said Albert Nocciolino, of Famous Artists, which brought Wicked to Syracuse. "This is the Broadway show that has the highest repeat engagement attendance of any show in history. It'll be back to Rochester in the spring, and back to Buffalo."

Furthermore, the success of Wicked hasn't been confined to upstate New York. "Wicked had been on Broadway for five years, and it still outsells any show on Broadway," Nocciolino said. "Right now there are companies in London, Chicago and San Francisco, and two companies touring the country, one of them in Syracuse. In fact, this is the second-smallest venue in America the show has played in."

Only Salt Lake City and its Capitol Theatre, with a seating capacity of 1,800, is smaller than the 2,100 seats available at the Crouse Hinds Concert Theater, 411 Montgomery St. The Rochester Auditorium Theater seats 2,400, while Shea's Performing Arts Center in Buffalo fits 3,000. As is usual practice with Wicked, no matter where it's performed, a block of 20 seats is made available for a $25, day-of-show lottery. "Every performance, the lottery sells out," Nocciolino added. "We always have a line waiting. The lottery is very popular on Broadway and among college students."

The three-week run of Wicked wasn't an accident. A lot depended on the venue being available since it is home to the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and the Syracuse Opera. "The Syracuse Symphony and OnCenter staff have been terrifically cooperative," Nocciolino noted. Further, producers devise a three-week run based on a formula that will result in sellouts. "The equation for markets like Syracuse is three weeks. We did three in Rochester and three in Buffalo. The producers know that a three-week run here will sell it out, and it sets it up for bringing the show in again."

So if you weren't able to make it to the Crouse Hinds Theater for the show that won three Tony Awards in 2004-Best Actress for Idina Menzel as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch; Scenic Design; and Costume Design-it'll likely be back. But you still have until this Sunday, Jan. 31, to get to the Civic Center.

"We've received tremendous support from the metropolitan area," noted Nocciolino. "That we can do shows like this, that people can turn out; it has met every bit of our expectations and then some." And that included illuminating the National Grid building in a green hue, an easy feat, it turns out.

According to company spokeswoman Courtney Quatrino, all the technicians had to do was flip a switch and, voila!, instant Emerald City. "The building is lit up anyway," she said. "The system already contains a variety of colors. It's very simple for us to change the color scheme in support of the community. Next month it will be red to raise awareness of women's heart disease."

The ease with which National Grid granted the request, however, most impressed the Wicked people. "Having National Grid get their building lit up green: That made the experience even more terrific for the community," Nocciolino said. Show producers made the request to Sandy Baker, vice president of sales and marketing for the OnCenter complex. "They asked me what we could do to let the whole city know that Wicked was in town," Baker noted. "I called National Grid a week before the show, and they were so supportive right away."

Not nearly as supportive was Tony Curulla's Jan. 15 review in The Post-Standard, which noted the play's technical wizardry, which he thought won out over the story line. While this writer wasn't completely bowled over by the play either-the second act felt rushed to tie up all the loose ends-it's impossible to deny the cleverness of the premise. Telling the stories of the witches of Oz before Dorothy drops by makes for an entertaining read of the novel by Gregory Maguire. And Curulla's admission that he is not an Oz fan reeks of Communism. Seriously.

And despite some trepidation at discovering that Elphaba would not be played by Donna Vivino but rather her standby, Merideth Kaye Clark, her expressive voice quickly cast aside any worries. And just what is a standby, anyway? "That's a great question," said Nocciolino. "The standby is an actor who does nothing but play that role. An understudy prepares to play several different roles. The role of Elphaba is so difficult that one actor could not do an entire week of eight performances. It's so demanding; she's on stage almost the whole time. And as far as talent, both are interchangeable."

In Syracuse, Broadway spectacles prevail, and we were equally as eager to shell out big bucks to see The Phantom of the Opera when Famous Artists first brought it here in 2001. "We've been doing shows in Syracuse for many years," noted Nocciolino, "and the only other one that came close to this attendance-wise was when we did Phantom for the first time."

Ultimately, the successful run of Wicked builds upon the great turnout that the Everson Museum of Art enjoyed with Turner to Cezanne, the exhibit of Impressionist art that closed Jan. 3 and attracted 60,000 people to downtown Syracuse. And the powers-that-be are paying attention.

"When we live here we tend to forget so many of the things that are happening here," said Baker. "I don't think people realize what we have regarding the arts. Shows like Turner to Cezanne and Wicked open up the door for arts organizations to do other big things. We were excited to welcome the cast and crew to Syracuse, and they have had a great experience here. They said they have felt welcomed from the time they got here."

Wicked performances continue on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Jan. 28, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Jan. 29, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 30, 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 31, 2 p.m. See Times Table on page 20 for more information.

-Molly Engnglish-Bowers

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