How do you become one of the best-selling shows on Broadway? The answer is simple: Go for the widest appeal possible.
Start with a clever story based on an American classic. Add infectious music and bright humor. Include dark, political underpinnings that resonate with older audiences, and magic and flying monkeys for younger ones. Then give the whole thing a great big emotional punch.
That's "Wicked," and those are the ingredients that in the past seven years have helped the Broadway production consistently rank as one of the two highest weekly grossing shows, taking in more than $1 million every week.
Yet there's no denying the fact that one particular demographic is wickedly enthralled by this show.
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"It's not a secret that young girls love the show. They are rabid and vocal and come many times to see the show - and that's fully intended," says "Wicked" producer Marc Platt. He is involved with eight companies performing the show worldwide, including the U.S. touring company that opens at Charlotte's Ovens Auditorium on Wednesday for the first of 32 performances over four weeks.
"Wicked" is centered around two very strong and very different female protagonists.
Glinda (the Good Witch) is spoiled and self-absorbed, perky and perfect. Green-skinned Elphaba (the Not-So-Wicked-After-All Witch of the West) is sullen but smart, dissatisfied but determined. When they come together as reluctant roommates at sorcery school, Oz is transformed.
Teenage girls, Platt says, "have grabbed onto what I call the more aspirational wish fulfillment of these two role models - two women who have character and intelligence and wit and find love and make sacrifices and change as individuals."
On some level, we've all been there. We've all struggled with self-esteem, or felt peer pressure, or known the value of friendship and the need to respect diversity. But 15-year-old girls generally experience those things more acutely than the rest of us. (Plenty of boys do, too, but young male friends aren't at the heart of "Wicked.")
"Glinda and Elphaba's relationship is a turbulent one, filled with conflict and misunderstandings, but that's also how friendships can be - especially in high school," says Cynthia Gendrich, professor of theater at Wake Forest.
"I think we're all drawn to plays and films that acknowledge our experiences as meaningful and important, and if 'Wicked' does one thing, it puts two girls at the center of the action and explores what it's like to be them. What other recent plays have done that?"