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It's coming back? That's wicked!

Fans have something to scream about as the `Oz'-themed musical plans a long return to Los Angeles.

July 17, 2006|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Legions of young fans love "the green girl" -- that is, Elphaba, a teenage incarnation of the much-maligned Wicked Witch of the West in the Broadway musical "Wicked."

The glossy $14-million show, which came to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for about seven weeks last summer, played to sell-out crowds dominated by screaming tweens and their patient parents, many willing to wait in lines of 400 to 1,000 in hopes of snagging a last-minute ticket to the wildly popular prequel to the "Wizard of Oz" story.

Now, the producers are banking on the girl-power story of the friendship of the good witch and the "green girl" bad witch to bring them more green in Los Angeles.

Early next year, "Wicked" will return to the Pantages for a longer stay. After racking up what the producers report is a combined $350 million from its Broadway production, a North American tour and an open-ended production in Chicago, "Wicked" moves into the Pantages in February with a new, yet-to-be-cast production of the show for Los Angeles.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 19, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
"Wicked": A story in Monday's Calendar section about the return of "Wicked" to the Pantages Theatre said that Broadway in Chicago was a joint venture of Clear Channel Communications Inc. and Nederlander Organization Inc. Clear Channel spun off its live entertainment division into an independent company called Live Nation in December. So Broadway in Chicago is a joint venture of Nederlander Organization and Live Nation.

The musical, which made it bow on Broadway in 2003, will open Feb. 21 after about two weeks of preview performances, Marc Platt, one of the show's producers, said late last week at his office at Universal Studios. The new production has yet to be cast, Platt said. Tickets, which will range from $25 to $88, initially will be available only to subscribers of the Pantages' Broadway/L.A. theater series. Martin Wiviott, who runs the series, said tickets will go on sale in September or October.

Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, "Wicked" has music by Stephen Schwartz ("Godspell," "Pippin") and book by Winnie Holzman, best known as a television and film writer whose credits include the teenage-angst TV series "My So-Called Life." Also a film and TV producer, Platt is the producer of "Wicked" in conjunction with Universal Pictures, the Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and David Stone.

Wiviott says the popularity of last summer's seven-week engagement is impossible to compare to that of the 2,700-seat Pantages' last blockbuster, "The Lion King" -- which played to more than 2.3 million people during a 2000-03 run. It will return to the Hollywood venue for eight weeks, beginning Nov. 16.

But, Wiviott added, "this show has such an excited fan base that I didn't see for 'Lion King.' The word I would use is 'frenzy.' It's unlike anything I've ever seen before."

Wiviott said that the open-ended "Wicked" run will require Broadway/L.A. to place some of its subscription shows in other theaters, including the Wilshire Theatre, the Brentwood and Wadsworth theaters or UCLA's Royce Hall. "We did that during 'Lion King,' " he said.

Platt is predicting the same success for the L.A. production that has occurred in Chicago, where "Wicked" is bringing in $1.2 million per week at the 2,200-seat Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre.

"It's broken multiple box-office records," said Ted Boles, a press representative for Broadway in Chicago, a joint venture of Clear Channel Communications and the Nederlander organization, which oversees Ford Center's five downtown theaters. "It's that theater's most successful show to date."

According to the trade paper Variety, "Wicked" is continuing a streak as the top-grossing show on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre, taking in $1.4 million last week and topping "Lion King's" $1.2. million and "Spamalot's" $1.1 million.

Because it has only been around for three years, "Wicked" cannot yet compete with long-running shows such as "The Phantom of the Opera." That show, which bowed in 1988, recently became the longest-running show in Broadway history and has earned $3.2 billion globally. "Phantom" also holds the title as the longest-running musical in Los Angeles, running for four years and four months, from May 1989 through August 1993.

Neither has "Wicked" become as ubiquitous as the ABBA musical "Mamma Mia!," which has grossed more than $1 billion and at recent count had 11 productions worldwide. But "Wicked" will open a new production in London in September, and Platt just returned from Japan, where another production is planned. Based on revenues from the currently running shows, Platt predicts that "Wicked" will have earned $500 million by February or March.

Unlike "Phantom" and "Mamma Mia!," one place "Wicked" is not headed any time soon is Las Vegas. "I think that one has to sort of retool a show to work there," Platt said, "and we are not ready to do that."

"Wicked" was conceived as a feature film, receiving its first reading at Universal. But Platt says it immediately became clear that the piece was better suited to the musical stage. In 2004, the show won three Tonys but lost the best musical trophy to the puppet-populated "Avenue Q."

Because of its connection with Universal, "Wicked" has been considered for film treatment, as has happened in recent years with "The Producers," "Rent" and "Chicago." "For sure, there are many interesting filmmakers who have come in to talk about it. We are interested in making a film -- it is the logical conclusion," Platt said. "But we are not in a rush at the moment because the musical is still growing, the audience is still growing. We have not yet reached a plateau in New York or Chicago or for the tour -- and we expect the same will happen in Los Angeles."

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