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‘Wicked’ goes for it big time in Fresno

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The folks bringing “Wicked” to Fresno in April 2011 staged a big bash last night for several hundred people at the Saroyan Theatre to promote the show. In an event that was a cross between live infomercial, news conference and pep rally to sell advance group tickets, the “Wicked” promoters — who set up cocktail tables adorned with little witch hats and silver wands in the lobby beforehand — unveiled an ambitious plan to market the popular Broadway musical on an unprecedented scale in Fresno.

From hanging a big map of Oz to lighting the seated audience in an eerie green glow, the advance “Wicked” team ramped up the spectacle, even bringing in a few of the show’s stars (Teal Wicks as Elpheba, pictured in the San Francisco production, and Emily Rosek as Glinda) to sing a couple of the belt-to-the-rafters empowerment ballads that have helped make it such a hit. It was quite the show — and the sell. By the time the presentation — crammed with glowing video testimonials, a taped message from composer Steven Schwartz and a live presentation from “Wicked” producer David Stone — was over, I felt like “Wicked” not only was being pitched as a great musical but as the solution to world peace, plus everyone who sees it is guaranteed to lose 10 pounds.

Key info that emerged at the event:

  • There will be 16 performances of “Wicked” during the 12-day run April 6-17, including one Thursday matinee. I can’t remember there ever being a weekday matinee in Fresno.
  • Top ticket price for premium seats at all performances will be at least $125. That’s the top group-ticket price. Group tickets go on sale April 16. There will be 175 premium seats sold at each performance. Single-ticket prices haven’t yet been announced, but they certainly won’t be less than the group price, and could be more.

  • Other group ticket prices for lesser seats are $80, $60 and $50 for Friday/Saturday evenings and Saturday/Sunday matinees; and $72.50, $54.50 and $45.50 for Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday evenings and the Thursday matinee. Again, the single-ticket prices haven’t been announced.
  • There are two ways to get your hands on tickets before seats are available to the general public: get a season-subscription to Broadway in Fresno, or organize a group.
  • The national tour coming to Fresno is essentially the same show you get in New York or San Francisco — with a few less flying monkeys.
  • This is a big step up for Fresno theater, the Broadway in Fresno folks say. If sales go well, this market might be in line for other big touring shows such as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Lion King.” “A successful date for “Wicked” is really going to put us on the map for more shows to come,” said Bruce Granath of the series.

Some of my thoughts:

Number of tickets to sell. It’s unprecedented for a show in Fresno. The Saroyan has about 2.400 seats, so at 16 performances, we’re talking about 38,400 tickets to “Wicked.” That’s about three times the capacity of a sold-out Taylor Swift concert at the Save Mart Center.

The top ticket prices. There are a couple of ways to look at the announced $125 group-sales top ticket price, which I’m assuming will be the top individual-ticket price as well when those go on sale. It all depends on your definition of “premium seats.” When you consider that a premium seat package (which includes complimentary beverage) at the Orpheum Theatre, where “Wicked” is playing in San Francisco, is $200, it seems like a pretty good deal. However, I’m not sure if the premium seats in Fresno are as exclusive as the ones in San Francisco. There are 175 for each performance in Fresno, which seems like a lot — almost a fifth of the entire orchestra. Are these really “premium seats” or just the top orchestra price? To put things in perspective, the top quoted San Francisco orchestra price is $99. Again, it all depends on how exclusive those San Francisco premium seats really are. I’d always sort of thought that there were at most only 40 or 50 truly “premium” seats in a Broadway theater — but I guess it all depends on how much the market is willing to pay.

Other ticket prices. In the lower price ranges, the Fresno “Wicked” options seem like a really good deal. The $80 top orchestra price for “non-premium” seats is about $20 less than San Francisco prices, and a heck of a lot cheaper than Broadway. Again, however, it depends on the definition of “premium.” Also, keep in mind that the Saroyan is bigger than the Gershwin Theater in which “Wicked” is performed in New York (though at 1,809 seats, the Gershwin is the biggest Broadway house, which means that it’s still possible to sit pretty far away from the stage).

The season-ticket factor. The other shows that are part of the Broadway in Fresno series next season only play in Fresno for two nights. So, assuming that season-ticket holders fill up those two performances, there will be 14 remaining shows in the “Wicked” run to sell. How will that happen? Promoters say that in other cities, many of those tickets have been purchased by season-ticket holders who take advantage of their first-rights option to buy as many additional tickets as they’d like. That chunk of sales, combined with group-ticket sales, will likely account for many of the tickets being sold before they’re made available to the general public.

Will the “Wicked” run sell out? The promoters sure are confident. It was interesting to note how aggressively they’re going to market the title. The audience for the preview event included movers and shakers in the Fresno advertising and media communities — more general sales managers and account executives were spotted than you could shake a wand at — along with non-profits and local theater folks. Go ahead, we were told. Form a group!

How do you get tickets? Again, the important thing to remember is that the only way right now is to get a season-subscription to Broadway in Fresno, or organize a group. Either that, or make a trek to see the Wizard.

Responses to "‘Wicked’ goes for it big time in Fresno"

Stephen says:

Tall order.

As a theater fan/phile, I’m hoping for the best.

The Orpheum premium seats are just front orchestra as well, and to me there is a little bit of difference between premium and not at the Orpheum.

The Saroyan tho? I dunno…seats are seats there, unless you can score the first 5 rows, which one really doesn’t need for Wicked, it doesn’t seem worth it to me at all. Sitting front balcony is a great seat for Wicked in my opinion.

I’m scared to death for the sound, however. How did it sound last night, Donald? This is a theatre that struggles with Kathy Griffin’s sound, let alone a big wonderful production like ‘Wicked.’

Man. 38,000 people at those prices for something that doesn’t say “Billy Graham” or “Tyler Perry Presents…?”

I dunno.

Donald Munro says:

We were seated on the stage, and the sound wasn’t an issue. I’m assuming that the “Wicked” team will be hyper-sensitive about making sure the sound is good for the run, but that’s just an assumption.

Do you think they’ll be able to sell 38,000 tickets, Stephen? And will you be willing to spring $125 for a premium seat?

FSDogs1 says:

Definitely exciting. I recently saw the performance in san fran, but it will be a million times better to have it in FRESNO!

BJ says:

I saw this in SF twice, both times in the back row on the floor. I felt like I was closer to the stage than I actually was, the production is so huge. There are no obstructed views at Saroyan, so all seats are good. Just depends on how much you want to pay. I can’t wait to see it again. Plus the other shows in the Broadway Series – a great season. I’m seeing all of them.

Stephen says:

I wouldn’t pay One Twenty Five if Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenowith were still in it. I’d maybe pay eighty for that. For the tour cast I’ll see it once for forty bucks and move into the vast open orchestra seats at intermission.

It’s a really really tall order.

And I’d still be frightened about the sound. Very.

Julie says:

I enjoyed the event- and agree it was quite a pitch and created exited about the possibility of sold out shows… they said they sell out everywhere they go!

For ticket prices- my 2 cents- not really bad seats in Sayoran and the span while it might be high for some, does have mid and low level tickets. I noticed however, the low 45ish range is the extreme back rows of the high balcony so most of those I imagine will sell out quick as there are not that many of them. Curious to see what ranges are left when the public sales open.

I am excited for the whole season and for the first time will become a season ticket holder- not necessarily for Wicked itself but I would love to see all but say 1 of what is coming. I have seen Wicked and Spamalot both in Chicago – both with great productions and am excited to see them again. Personally, I would pop for the high to mid range but the way the season tickets break down per show- that really is the cheapest way to go. per show per ticket.

For the minimal investment of the special event- which from a marketing stand point I thought was well put together and an idea they should do every year on some level, they are working to guarantee what I figure is well over 3 mill in ticket sales. I was invited as a friend of Fresno Lexus by the way- since they are the Broadway Fresno sponsor- and others got there by being the first 100 season ticket holders to renew as well as the groups Donald mentioned. Smart….already making it exclusive yet hitting the groups hard.

As a performer I have to say side note- it was fun to see even the ‘pros’ have to take it for the team and do ‘gigs’. Just made me smile…

jamie says:

the sound in sf for wiked was terrible so why would anyone thing the touring production would be better? all the performers were so overmiked you couldnt understand 70% of the lyrics. but i find this show so overated. it’s like the john holmes of musicals. is bigger always better?

Dawn says:

Fresno is very lucky to have Teal Wicks coming here as Elphaba. I have seen four different performers in the role and Teal was by far the best. Not only is her voice and range excellent but her acting on stage in the transition from naieve college girl to “wicked” witch was heartfelt and moving. I plan to see it multiple times next year besides my season ticket night and take as many folks along with me as I can.