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It's oh too easy — especially in this age of instant TMZ, Jackassery-type fame — to forget the first big celebrities in this country came from the stage. And it was the stage door not the security on the movie set that held back the average folk from the performers.
All this comes to mind when Celebrity Attractions brings to Little Rock a theatrical event on the magnitude of "Wicked," the musical that offers a different slant on "The Wizard of Oz." There is no question that the show by Steven Schwartz ("Godspell"), and Winnie Holzman (primarily a TV writer for shows such as "thirtysomething" and "The Wonder Years") is the most popular theatrical production in the United States.
Celebrity Attractions clearly anticipates a big demand for tickets. "Wicked" will be docked in Little Rock for two weeks for 16 performances; most Celebrity Attractions shows stay for two or three days. Performers in "Wicked" note the way fans aren't shy about demonstrating their affection for this sung tale focusing on the Wicked Witch of the West.
"All the time there are people showing up at stage door that have come in from other cities," says Chris Peluso, who takes on the role of Fiyero. "People fly from San Francisco and other places and they are seeing it again. The show has a very strong fan base. They really want to see every new person in the cast. They keep track of it."
While you can always count on a lag between the time a show becomes a hit on Broadway and eventually tours to Central Arkansas, "Wicked" has taken a while to arrive. The musical opened on Broadway in 2003 and though it was immediately panned by The New York Times, it's still running in New York and in various tours around the world.
Based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, "Wicked" tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Glinda the Good Witch (played first on Broadway by Kristin Chenoweth) and Elphaba, the girl born with emerald green skin who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West.
Certainly the characters of Glinda and Elphaba have garnered a lot of the attention, but "Wicked" is a big spectacle of a musical with a large cast and many special effects. Production notes from "Wicked" state that there's approximately 200 pounds of dry ice used per show and enough electricity to light up 18 houses.
Perhaps one shouldn't be surprised at the popularity of this new spin on "The Wizard of Oz." Celebrity Attractions recently brought in a touring production of the beloved American fantasy and the appetite for L. Frank Baum's tale doesn't seem to be slacking.
"The closest [play as popular as 'Wicked'] I've been in is 'Mama Mia,' " says Peluso. "Even then, it's not near the reaction. Fans loved 'Mama Mia' for the music, but they don't really care for the story like they do in 'Wicked.' "