Wicked, a musical that follows the story of what happened before the Wizard of Oz, has been defying gravity on Broadway for 13 years.
This is a very long time for a show to survive on the Great White Way. In fact, Dec. 4 marked the day it officially became the ninth longest-running musical. It took the spot from the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast.
However, when Wicked first opened, the critics were not in love with it. Actually it was quite the contrary. The critics ripped the show apart, but commented that the cast members were extremely talented.
In a review from The New York Times titled “There’s Trouble in Emerald City,” Ben Brantley wrote opinions such as, “[Kristin Chenoweth] provides the essential helium in a bloated production that might otherwise spend close to three hours flapping its oversized wings without taking off” and, “‘Wicked’ does not, alas, speak hopefully for the future of the Broadway musical.”
Howard Kissel, for The New York Daily News, explained the musical “is an interminable show with no dramatic logic or emotional center,” and said “the show seems to believe that whenever you reach an artistic impasse, throw money at it.”
To top it all off, Charles Isherwood wrote a piece for Variety that called Wicked “a strenuous effort to be all things to all people [which] tends to weigh down this lumbering, overstuffed $14 million production.”
So how did a musical that was met with its fair share of disdain from critics continue to entertain audiences for so long? The key was finding and establishing a fervent fan base. That fan base largely consisted of teen girls who eventually flocked to the theatre en masse and sustained the show that once met mixed reviews.
Marc Platt, a big time producer of titles such as Legally Blonde, Bridge of Spies and the much-anticipated La La Land, featuring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, was instrumental in solidifying the strong fan base. According to an article by the Wall Street Journal, Platt “realized he had an important demographic to cultivate: Movies taught him that teen girls tend to be repeat ticket buyers and vocal customers, urging friends to see something they like.”
In order to encourage teen girls to snap up the tickets, he urged the marketing staff at Universal Pictures, a place where he once was a top executive, to cultivate buzz about the show in various online chat rooms and the musical’s website, as well as make a deal with Stila, a popular cosmetics brand, to create products based on the musical.
The Wicked team continued to find tactics to sustain the draw of teenage girls and it worked. As of Dec. 4, Wicked was performed 5,463 times on Broadway and dazzled audiences in many other countries. There are future plans for a movie of the same name, which will again be produced by Platt.
The lesson with Wicked is clear: critics do not determine how a show will fare on Broadway. With savvy marketing and a determined team, the future of a show can be unlimited.
Ilana Bernstein is a junior journalism and theatre double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.