‘Wicked’ getting ready to defy gravity at PPAC

The "Time Dragon" is positioned over the stage of the Providence (R.I.) Performing Arts Center as crews load in the set of the touring company of "Wicked," September 20, 2016. (WPRI-TV, Marcos Valentin)
The "Time Dragon" is positioned over the stage of the Providence (R.I.) Performing Arts Center as crews load in the set of the touring company of "Wicked," September 20, 2016. (WPRI-TV, Marcos Valentin)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The posters proclaim that ‘so much happened’ — to the Witches of Oz — ‘before Dorothy dropped in.’

Tuesday, a lot was happening on the stage of the Providence Performing Arts Center before Galinda and Elphaba and others can take the stage for the national tour of “Wicked.” The Broadway show is in Providence for three weeks. Load-in, as it’s known in roadshow parlance, requires tractor-trailers to be backed up to the theater’s loading dock on Pine Street, and every piece of the set to be hauled off and into place on the stage of the former movie palace.

Walls with a steampunk flavor and branches mounted on them had to be placed so they could be attached to ropes to be “flown” into the ceiling, along with arches and gears — and poles descending from aloft with attached lights. An army of union workers screwed bolts into place.

Steve Quinn, the touring company’s manager, said he’s been with the show for eleven years; it’s the fourth time a touring “Wicked” has come to Providence. The show first premiered — not on Broadway, but at a theatre in San Francisco — in 2003, and is currently playing on Broadway. The touring show is a $11 million production, Quinn said, and encompasses eleven 52-foot tractor trailers.

If you’ve ever been on the stage of PPAC, the space for actors, sets and the rest is actually not that big: only about 40 feet from the back wall to the front of the stage. “It’s a little tight backstage,” said Quinn. “But you forgive everything we don’t have back there because it’s so nice performing in such an old, historic venue.”

Tickets are available at PPAC’s website. The show also runs a ticket lottery before every show; if you go to PPAC two and a half hours before curtain and sign up, your name could be drawn to buy a ticket for the heavily discounted price of $25 each, cash only.

The show’s songs were composed by Stephen Schwartz, with a book by Winnie Holzman based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, which in turn was based upon the 1939 movie musical of The Wizard of Oz and the original 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Three weeks is a little longer than the show would linger in town, but the performers get a kick out of Providence. “Audiences are very responsive here… It’s a cultured audience,” said Quinn. With a clientele used to renowned local theatre companies like Trinity Rep, “they know what they’re getting into.”

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