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Something 'Wicked' this way comes: Tanger Center opens inaugural Broadway series with 'untold true story of the witches of Oz'
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Something 'Wicked' this way comes: Tanger Center opens inaugural Broadway series with 'untold true story of the witches of Oz'

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GREENSBORO — Glinda's first line in "Wicked" will resonate on multiple levels when the blockbuster Broadway musical opens Wednesday at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts.

Glinda (the Good Witch, played by Allison Bailey) descends in her bubble and says to the citizens of Oz, "It's good to see me, isn't it?" 

Talia Suskauer, who plays the lead character Elphaba in the touring production, hears the audience's reaction.

"Audiences have been letting out this cathartic release of emotion when she says that line," Suskauer said from Charlotte, where the show ends its run on Sunday before heading to Greensboro. "I can hear it all the way backstage. It’s pretty spectacular."

Yes, it will be good to see you, Glinda.

Tanger officials and audiences will be glad to see "Wicked," after seven-plus years of waiting to bring Broadway back after War Memorial Auditorium closed.

Now they can see it in a new venue.

From March 2020 to this August, the "Wicked" cast experienced a nearly 17-month touring shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's happy to be back on stage, telling and singing "the untold true story of the witches of Oz."

It was the first touring Broadway show to resume since the pandemic began. It also will be the first touring Broadway show at the newly-opened, 3,023-seat Tanger Center at 300 N. Elm St., a $93 million project financed by the city and private donors. 

"Even when it got really hard in rehearsals, we remembered that there was a time where we wished we could have been doing this," Suskauer said. 

"Wicked" resumed touring Aug. 2 in Dallas, then went to Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte.

It will play here from Wednesday through Oct. 24.

Learn the ins and outs of attending shows at downtown Greensboro's new performing arts center.

"Wicked" will open Tanger's inaugural 2021-22 Broadway season, which also includes "Beautiful: the Carole King Musical," "Dear Evan Hansen," "Come From Away," "Disney's The Lion King" and "Mean Girls."

"Hamilton" and "Rent" aren't part of the series, but will be presented there in 2022. 

Even before "Wicked" opens, the 2021-2022 Broadway series already had sold 17,489 subscriptions.

"Hosting an annual Broadway series featuring the very best touring productions will be a cornerstone of the Tanger Center's success and impact on our community," said Matt Brown, managing director of the Greensboro Coliseum complex, which runs the Tanger Center. 

The Tanger Center, Nederlander and Professional Facilities Management partnered to present the Broadway series here.

It's been nearly 10 years since a task force of local arts and business leaders began studying the feasibility of a downtown performing arts center.

Meanwhile, War Memorial Auditorium in the Greensboro Coliseum complex continued to host touring Broadway series. But the auditorium, built in 1959 and out of date, wasn't able to attract many top shows. 

Brown lamented that the city was losing events to the Durham Performing Arts Center. 

War Memorial ended its touring Broadway series in 2014. The auditorium closed later that year, to be replaced eventually by the new downtown venue.

The state-of-the-art Tanger Center was ready to open in March 2020.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered live entertainment worldwide. It delayed the Tanger Center's opening until last month, when city native and Grammy Award-winner Rhiannon Giddens performed there Sept. 2 with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi.

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The Tanger Center has hosted concerts, comedy shows and family entertainment since.

Now, it's time for Tanger's long-awaited Broadway series.

The plot of "Wicked" begins before and continues after Dorothy Gale arrives in Oz from Kansas. It tells the story of two unlikely friends, green-skinned Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and the bubbly blond Galinda (whose name later changes to Glinda the Good Witch).

They struggle through opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love interest, reactions to the Wizard's corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba's fall from grace.

After Sunday's show in Charlotte, the set will be loaded into 13 tractor trailers and trucked about 100 miles to Greensboro, said David O'Brien, "Wicked" production stage manager for nearly a decade.

That's much closer than the tour's next stop in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The proximity enabled crew to visit the Tanger Center recently to plan where everyone and everything will go, O'Brien said from Charlotte.

"It's beautiful," O'Brien said. "The community is so lucky to have that venue."

"Wicked" book agents, event managers and producers actually visited the Tanger Center during construction, to ensure that the show would fit.

"We do not cut the show physically," O'Brien said, "If it doesn't fit in a theater, we won't play that." 

Show setup will start sometime Monday. Although 65 people work within the traveling company, about 100 people will work when set pieces are brought from the trucks into the theater, he said.

O'Brien praises in particular the size of the Tanger Center stage area. The stage itself is 117 feet wide, and 52 feet from the curtain to back wall.

Other amenities include state-of-the-art sound and lighting, 72 line sets to fly pieces of scenery on and off stage quickly, multiple dressing rooms, and wardrobe and laundry facilities, Brown said. The loading dock has been enclosed to prevent inclement weather from interfering.

"It gives us room to breathe a little bit," O'Brien said of the size. "There is plenty of space for our stuff. That’s a luxury. Less than half the theaters in our country have that amount of space. When you are compacted into a smaller space, the anxiety gets higher because of COVID."

The production requires all cast and crew to be vaccinated, and be tested weekly for COVID-19. 

Cast and crew must be masked, except for cast on stage, O'Brien said. 

Nor can they have contact with the audience. That means no greetings or shaking hands before or after the show.

“Too much of a risk," O'Brien said. "We need to keep this show up and running.”

The Tanger Center requires that audience members also be masked.

But unlike some other venues, it does not require all audiences to prove they are vaccinated or have had a recent COVID-19 test. It leaves that to individual performances, and the Broadway series does not require that.   

Despite precautions that "Wicked" takes, "It always feels like there's this monster behind you named COVID," O'Brien said. "It's just waiting to touch somebody and have the cards all fall down."

Suskauer joined the cast six months before COVID-19 shut down the tour. 

She first saw the show on Broadway when she was a child. The character of Elphaba had inspired her.

"I'd also seen two women, strong in their own ways, lead this show," Suskauer said from Charlotte.

So it was a dream to play the role, a nightmare to leave it for 17 months, and a reawakened dream to return.

Glinda's first line sounds almost as if it were written for this moment, Suskauer said.

"But our script has not changed since it was written almost 18 years ago," she said. "It speaks to the timelessness of 'Wicked' — that it can fit into any period of time and be relevant."

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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