Before witches sing and monkeys fly, before Munchkins dance and wizards bellow, before the curtain rises tonight and Kansas gets its first look at the gravity-defying musical "Wicked," there's work to do.
There's hauling and lifting.
Drilling and sawing.
Rigging lights, sound, props and scenery.
"This is the place to be if you're a techie," said Rocky Nickel, a Wichita stagehand who worked Tuesday to help prepare Century II for the 24-performance run.
"This is the show."
It takes nearly 200 people 2 1/2 days to unload and assemble the elaborate equipment, scenery and costumes featured in "Wicked." Advance crews arrived Monday, and by Tuesday morning the Concert Hall stage and adjoining Exhibition Hall were bustling construction zones.
"We've got 16 to 20 hours of labor getting the house ready... so it can be a little overwhelming," said Justin Klynsma, head carpenter for the show.
"The pace is pretty fast, pretty crazy. But we'll get it all done."
Some work had to be done before the touring company arrived from its last stop in Des Moines. The ceiling above the Concert Hall stage was reinforced with steel to hold an 8,000-pound proscenium — a technoscape of wheels and cogs that surrounds the stage and supports an enormous winged dragon the crew calls Norbert.
On Tuesday, Norbert flashed his red eyes over an empty hall as crews rigged more lights and sound equipment. Fourteen tractor-trailers haul everything from show to show, said Bryan Landrine, production stage manager.
"Everything we need, we bring. Everything we might need, we bring — every nut, every bolt, every screwdriver, everything down to the last extension cord," he said.
Wichita is the smallest city and the smallest theater "Wicked" will play on this tour. Klynsma, the head carpenter, said crews will adjust to the tighter space by hanging some props or set pieces in the wings or offstage. Actors will use makeshift dressing rooms in the adjoining Exhibition Hall, and many of the cues for set changes will have to be rewritten, Klynsma said.
"It's not a big deal, but it's definitely a challenge," he said. "We're used to twice this much space."
Closets full of costumes, wigs, shoes and accessories — set to be unpacked early today — give "Wicked" its other-worldly, Dr. Seuss-inspired look. Among them is a black beaded dress the green witch, Elphaba, wears in Act II, Landrine said. It weighs 45 pounds and is worth about $45,000.
"All this stuff — the special effects and costumes and everything else — it's all for the story. And it's an amazing story," Landrine said.
The story is based on the best-selling novel "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," by Gregory Maguire, a parallel novel of L. Frank Baum's classic "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
It's the tale of an unlikely friendship that develops between Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda, who becomes Glinda the Good.
"It's about what makes people who they are. It's about perceptions of good and evil," Landrine said. "This is a show that takes everything you ever thought about an iconic movie like 'The Wizard of Oz' and turns it on its ear."
Helene Yorke and Marcie Dodd, who portray Galinda and Elphaba, traveled to Wichita on Monday and spent Tuesday resting, said Erica Norgaard, associate company manager. Both are scheduled to attend a news conference today before heading to Century II to kick off the Wichita run.
This year's flu epidemic is a concern for cast members — especially the leads, Norgaard said. "We pretty much encourage them to live like nuns — to eat well and take care of themselves and go home and go to sleep."
Landrine said he hopes Wichita audiences enjoy the show, which opens tonight and continues through Nov. 8.
"When all this comes together, it really is magical," he said. "It's one of the biggest, best shows out there."