'Wicked' a show of market strength

The estimated $5.5 million in revenue that flowed into Wichita's economy from the 24-performance run of "Wicked" in Century II Concert Hall surely says something about the durable appeal of all things "Wizard of Oz" in the state that both the fictional Dorothy and Wizard call home.

It also says something about the ability of the arts and entertainment to draw a crowd in south-central Kansas, especially at a time when people are zealously guarding their leisure dollars and arts groups are struggling:

People will happily dig deep and show up in Wichita when the event excites them, paying $57-$125 a ticket in the case of the 45,000 who saw Kansas City-based Theater League's "Wicked."

Such a big audience for one offering is a local rarity, though, which fuels perceptions that Wichita is a limited touring market and predictions that the Intrust Bank Arena will have trouble filling up.

But Wichita also got a display of such drawing power when more than 30,000 saw the Rolling Stones at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium on one October night in 2006, and when 55,000 attended Garth Brooks' five shows at the Kansas Coliseum in 1997.

And in case anyone thinks locals only come out for touring acts: Music Theatre of Wichita, which fills 70,000 seats during its five-show run each summer, drew nearly 25,000 with 12 performances of "High School Musical" two years ago.

Wichita will learn more about its market potential at 10 a.m. Dec. 4, when tickets go on sale for country-pop megastar Taylor Swift's April 1 concert at the Intrust Bank Arena. Not only did Swift sweep through Sunday's American Music Awards with five wins, including favorite artist, but one of her two opening acts for the Wichita booking, Gloriana, also won the breakthrough artist award. Local fans will need to act fast on Dec. 4: Earlier this year, Swift sold out New York City's Madison Square Garden in one minute.

If the elaborate touring production of "Wicked" was a high-profile test of the local market for musicals, about 45,000 people helped Wichita pass with flying colors. That should be good for its potential to attract more top-quality touring shows, which would serve Wichita's quality of life.

But given that much of the revenue for the show itself left Wichita, perhaps the best result of the successful "Wicked" run will come if it whets its audience members' appetite for more and prompts them to sample and better support homegrown arts and entertainment.

For their part, local arts organizations should ponder what Michael M. Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., counseled at the local "Arts in Crisis" forum last week at Century II — that tough times call for even more creative thinking and programming, to get people excited and enliven the community.