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(Image by: Barry Wisdom)
Jason Daunter clearly recalls the first time he saw "Wicked," the magical, and soul-touching musical by composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz and author Winnie Holzman. It was in 2005 during the first of a record-setting four visits one of the show's touring companies has paid to the Mile High City.
But ask him how many productions he's witnessed since first falling under the spell of what is sometimes called "the untold story of the witches of Oz," and he has to make an educated guess that has lots of zeros.
The St. Louis native, who originally studied directing for the stage, first joined the "Wicked" family on Broadway more than four years ago before taking on the job of national tour production stage manager, coordinating the artistic integrity of the show (basically responsible for everything that slides, is plugged in, hung up, worn or sold). It's a year-round job as cast and crew travels from coast to coast and beyond (the company will spend Thankgiving and Christmas performing in Hawaii this year).
For the next four weeks, Daunter is wrangling his team of 130 – including 60 local "temps" – for the Broadway Sacramento presentation of "Wicked," which runs May 23-June 17, 2012, at the Community Center Theater.
"There are eight companies worldwide right now," says Daunter during a Tuesday morning meet-the-media break underneath the show's silver "Time Dragon" (which looks metallic but is mostly fiberglass). "And it's the same production worldwide – the same version."
One of the primary reasons why the show has yet to show any signs of audience apathy – even after multiple return visits – is the "Wicked" dedication to consistency and Broadway-grade production values that fully replicate the experience a visitor to New York's Gershwin Theater might have enjoyed when original cast members Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel and Joel Grey debuted the show in October 2003 (after a successful San Francisco tryout).
"There's a drive to maintain how fresh it is," said Daunter, who said "Wicked's" evergreen themes of alienation and acceptance deserve equally timeless staging. "It's a worldwide cultural phenomenon, and it continues to maintain its integrity. It's a show people will come back to time after time."
Daunter, a veteran of such Broadway tours as "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "A Christmas Carol," said a fairly regular rotation of cast and ensemble members also serves to keep the show fresh – both for audiences and longtime staff members.
While identical loads of scenery, set pieces, props, costumes, lighting rigs, musical instruments, sound equipment and more roll from city to city in 14 semi-trailer trucks in support of both the first and second national tours (the second national tour typically plays shorter runs in smaller or infrequently visited cities), cast and crew fly the friendly skies to gain more time to rest and rehab between their eight-show-a-week engagements.
This week, the second national tour of "Wicked" is completing its run In Durham, N.C.
For Daunter, the first order of business after checking in is a bit of personal housekeeping.
"The first thing I do is to unpack everything and put away the luggage," said Daunter, "so it doesn't seem like a hotel."
Another aspect of Daunter's job is providing peace of mind.
When casts and crews arrive, they have the confidence of knowing an advance team has already surveyed the performance venue during an earlier site visit. Daunter first came to Sacramento in January to confirm what was going to have to be changed or cleaned out to accommodate the show. What audiences see on stage may be identical from city to city, but there are alterations frequently made backstage in order to provide makeshift makeup and dressing rooms, as well as spaces for physical therapy tables and equipment.
A "Wicked" run at a city's local performing arts center means more than giving theaterlovers a taste of the Great White Way in their own backyard, it's a solid boost to the local economy, said Daunter. From the visiting company's need for hotel accommodations, restaurant visits, and Whole Food market runs, to the temporary union-heavy jobs the show provides, a host city can expect a decent employment and revenue bump.
Among the 60 jobs created by the company's visit to the Community Center Theater are those for stagehands, electricians, musicians, carpenters, dressers and merchandisers.
Daunter said "Wicked" will reach another milestone during its Sacramento run, delivering its 3,000th performance while on tour.
Occasionally forgetting what city one's in is an occupational hazard, said Daunter, who admitted to losing track of everything from the day of the week to his current time zone. But he's not complaining – or planning an exit.
"As long as I enjoy what I'm doing, I'm going to be here," he said. "I don't think I'll ever get bored of it – there's always new people, new cast members and crew. It's a great show."
JUST THE FACTS
WHAT: The Broadway Sacramento presentation of the Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical "Wicked" (based on Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West")
WHEN: Plays March 23-June 17, 2012, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 2 and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays (plus an additional 7:30 p.m. Sunday performance May 27)
WHERE: Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento, Calif.
WHO: Directed by Joe Mantello; musical staging by Wayne Cilento; featuring Nicole Parker (Elphaba), Alli Mauzey (Glinda), Liz McCartney (Madame Morrible), PJ Benjamin (The Wizard), Justin Brill (Boq), Emily Ferranti (Nessarose), Paul Slade Smith (Dr. Dillamond), Andy Kelso (Fiyero)
TICKETS: (916) 557-1999 or (916) 808-5181; Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H St., Sacramento; Convention Center Box Office, 1301 L St., Sacramento; www.calmt.org. Please note a lottery for a limited number of $25 orchestra seats will be held before each performance of "Wicked."