Arts & Culture

'Wicked' brings millions to city

"Wicked," the Broadway blockbuster that left Wichita on Nov. 8 after a three-week run, sent audiences over the rainbow.

About 45,000 people saw the mostly sold-out show, making it the most successful touring show in Kansas history, says Theater League president Mark Edelman.

Local businesses were among the beneficiaries. The show pumped about $5.5 million into the Wichita economy, said spokesmen from Theater League and Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That sum includes such things as $250,000 in payroll for musicians, hair and make-up artists, stage hands, security personnel and other temporary workers who were hired to help, said Edelman, whose Kansas City-based group brought the show to Wichita. It also includes about $125,000 for hotel accommodations for the cast and crew at the Hyatt and Broadview.

But the most widespread impact was a jump in restaurant and bar business, particularly downtown and in Old Town.

"Our Harvest Kitchen and Bar achieved revenue numbers from food and beverage before and after performances not seen since its opening," said Aaron Bastable, the Hyatt's director of sales and marketing. "It was very good for us that 'Wicked' was here."

Restaurants in Old Town also saw large crowds.

"Our evening numbers were up significantly — 20 to 30 percent — at Uptown Bistro and Sabor," said Matthew Rumsey, director of operations for Empire Restaurant Management.

"I was in restaurant management in New York for five years, and I recognize the pre-theater crowd. It's great to have that random surge whenever touring shows come through."

Go Wichita uses a formula that estimates that a day visitor spends $60 and that overnight visitors spend considerably more.

Ticket sales, which totaled more than $2 million before the show even got to town, came from 37 states, including Alaska, according to a spokesman from WichitaTix, Century II's box office.

"The response was amazing," Edelman said. "No one has ever seen anything like it by all measures, from group ticket sales to sales tax generated to dollars for local payroll to what visitors spent besides going to the show."

The city also benefited from thousands of dollars of permanent improvements that "Wicked" tour managers made to Century II Concert Hall's proscenium and backstage area. He said that if the city would add 10 more feet of depth to the back of the stage, then "Wichita could physically handle any of the large shows out there."

Staging such a big show successfully in Wichita means that others are now possible, including "The Lion King," "Mary Poppins," "Shrek: The Musical," "Jersey Boys" and "Billy Elliot," Edelman said.

It also helps demonstrate to convention organizers that Wichita is in a higher cultural league, said Maureen Hofrenning, Go Wichita vice president.

"I was talking with a writer for a Florida convention magazine who noticed on our Web site that 'Wicked' was coming," Hofrenning said. "She said that if Wichita is the kind of city that can get it, then it's the kind of city they want to deal with. That's really exciting for us."

Wichita was the smallest city and had the smallest theater on this "Wicked" tour, Edelman said. Century II Concert Hall has 2,200 seats compared with 4,200 in St. Louis' performing hall, 3,200 in Oklahoma City and 2,700 in Des Moines.

So when will the next big tour come through? Because Century II's schedule is booked so far in advance, Edelman said it would be 2011 or 2012 at the earliest to find a three-week or longer block.

"'The Lion King' and 'Mary Poppins' are now taking us seriously, so we have to get started," he said.

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