Backstage view

Wicked: Taking the yellow brick on the road

Wicked: Taking the yellow brick on the road

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A dragon centerpiece frames the Wicked stage. Photo by Meredith Rainey
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Down to the last detail. Photo by Meredith Rainey
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Heavy lifting. Photo by Meredith Rainey
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The many layers of Emerald City. Photo by Meredith Rainey
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The inner workings of OZ. Photo by Meredith Rainey
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Rolling things into place. Photo by Meredith Rainey
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Austin Photo Set: News_Meredith_Wicked_backstage_jan 2012_detail
Austin Photo Set: News_Meredith_Wicked_backstage_jan 2012_heavy lifting
Austin Photo Set: News_Meredith_Wicked_backstage_jan 2012_layers
Austin Photo Set: News_Meredith_Wicked_backstage_jan 2012_clockwork
Austin Photo Set: News_Meredith_Wicked_backstage_jan 2012_rolling

Oz isn’t built in a day.  It takes two and a half. Two and a half days and close to 100 workers to assemble 13 tractor trailers worth of sets, lights and props to make Oz every bit as enchanting as you might expect. Every moving part has to be just right for the Emerald City to shine. 

As Head Carpenter on the Wicked Munchkinland Tour, Justin Klynsma manages the construction crew that includes about 30 staff and about 70 local contractors.  He says it’s one of the more intricate shows on tour.  “It’s one of the biggest shows on the road right now. Us, The Lion King, Jersey Boys is also a real big show. We have a whole lot going on. We bring the big Broadway show to every city we go."   

The most intricate part of the Wicked set can take up to a day to assemble, it's a dragon proscenium that looms over the front of the stage and is the first thing that draws the audience’s attention. “It’s mostly made out of formed plastic and foam so he looks like he’s made of metal but he’s pretty light and he really sets the tone. When you come into the space that’s the first thing you see, the big dragon with the Oz map and he’s setting [up] this magical evening,” says Company Manager Erica Norgaard, who manages logistics for the cast and crew.

 "It has really a lot of heart and it’s a great story about friendship and not judging people by the color of their skin — in this case green." 

Because the dragon takes so long to assemble, Klynsma says the company has two that rotate each city. One is being set up while the other is being taken down. Each dragon has the wing-span of a small plane and takes up a whole semi.   

The stage floor and automated effects are also key to creating the magical world that is Oz. “There’s a lot of automation in the show. Right now they’re putting a lot of flying pieces into the air and then once that happens they’re going to put the floor in and the floor has a lot of smoke and fog effects built into it and some automation. So they’re just trying to put all the pieces together…. This company has been traveling for three years now so it’s pretty well oiled,”  Norgaard says.

Well oiled like a tin man perhaps? Norgaard says it doesn’t hurt that this isn’t the company’s first rodeo in Austin. The Broadway hit played to sold out crowds in 2009. “We’ve been here before so that means that we’re pretty ready to go back into this space again. We know what issues we ran into last time, but you know, there’s always something." 

Whatever snags the crew may hit during the two and half day move in, the audiences captivated by the show each night are none the wiser. Norgaard says they are taken to a place that may bring back memories from childhood and remind them of lessons their parents taught them about not judging books by their covers.  

“It’s characters that you’re really familiar with.  You grew up with them.  They’re from The Wizard of Oz…. But it’s this great story and twist on how they became those people and you feel like you know them. And then you see this whole twisted background story and it has really a lot of heart and it’s a great story about friendship and not judging people by the color of their skin — in this case green." 

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For the members of this touring company of Wicked, it’s clear there’s no place like the road.  With a quick click of your heels, you can make them feel at home in Austin.   All the moving pieces of Wicked will be working like clockwork at Bass Concert Hall from January 25 and February 12.  Click here for ticket information.