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Joan Marcus, Joan Marcus, Joan Marcus
Nicole Parker as Elphaba in "Wicked."
I think that's when something can last for a long time if it tells a great story about characters you care about. It just gets into people's hearts. —Nicole Parker, who plays Elphaba

In the world of theater, there are musicals, and then there are MUSICALS: productions with a reach so vast they "defy gravity."

"Wicked" just happens to be one of those — which comes as no surprise for most folks here in Salt Lake City.

"There's something unique about Salt Lake that we haven't yet understood," said Broadway producer David Stone.

"Cast album sales in Salt Lake, from almost the beginning, are always sixth or seventh in the number of copies sold," he said. "It's only behind cities like New York or Chicago and L.A. where the show ran for years.

"But Salt Lake is much further ahead of Houston, Boston and other cities that are much larger. It's the second time 'Wicked' has been to Salt Lake, and it sells out instantly. "

According to Elisabeth Nebeker, with MagicSpace Entertainment, "'Wicked' is poised to be another record-breaking engagement, with only some scattered seating available towards the end of the run."

But Salt Lake has hardly cornered the market on amazing ticket sales or adoration of the musical based on what happened before Dorothy Gale, from Kansas, dropped in on Oz — causing a flurry of activity among the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch.

The New York Times called "Wicked" "Broadway's biggest blockbuster" and "the defining musical of the decade."

The Broadway production of "Wicked" has broken the house record at the Gershwin Theatre 20 times during the course of its run — regularly grossing in excess of $1.7 million each week.

"Wicked" has grossed a combined total of $1.8 billion for its North American companies.

Since it began in March 2005, the national tour of "Wicked" has broken the house record in every city in which it has played.

That's not even getting into the international productions.

But why the astounding popularity?

"The show talks about many things: how history gets written and how writers decide what is history and how governments and societies decide what's good and what's wicked," Stone said. "What is goodness and what is wickedness is something that really touches a chord in Salt Lake."

"At its most basic, 'Wicked' is just really great storytelling," said Nicole Parker, who plays Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, in the national tour.

"I think that's when something can last for a long time if it tells a great story about characters you care about. It just gets into people's hearts."

Parker, who first played the green witch on Broadway, often receives letters from fans who really connected with the show or the character — a well-intentioned young lady who doesn't quite fit in and is judged because she looks different.

"Until the end of time, people will identify with both of these girls," Parker said.

"I remember seeing a news story on the first time 'Wicked' played in Salt Lake City with a line around the door, and I thought, 'That would be a fun city to do this show,'" she said.

Almost three years later, Parker will get her chance. "I'm already starting to train running on stairs so I can belt those notes at your high elevations.

"It's funny, you first think about the vocal challenge," she said of the role known for its up-in-the-rafters, belt-style singing. "But I was shocked at how vigorous the role is offstage.

"There's so much running, the dress is heavy, and sometimes there isn't even time to drink water.

"This role is the closest I'll get to doing something athletic," she joked. "You feel like you run a marathon every single night."

With 35 major awards to its credit, including a Grammy and three Tony Awards, "Wicked" seems to be running a marathon of its own.

"You know, as a producer, it's not just about dollars like a lot of people think," said Stone, who has produced other Broadway hits in addition to "Wicked," such as "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and Tony Award-winning "Next to Normal."

"It's really about time," Stone said. "Musicals take many years to develop and you want to feel the time you put in will be worth it."

With the show loved around the world — playing everywhere from Salt Lake City to Holland, San Diego to Seoul — one can assume that the years spent creating "Wicked" were certainly worth it.

But that wasn't Stone's motivation. "Something I learned a couple of years ago: Any time in my career I've done something thinking, 'This is going to be successful,' I fail. Every time I've said, 'I just love this. I'm passionate about these artists and this story; I just know I love it,' the show has worked."

"I've loved 'Wicked' from the beginning," he said. "I thought anything that can entertain me and move me at the same time — that's something I want to be a part of."

If you go ...

What: "Wicked" — the national tour

When: July 18-Aug. 26

Where: Capitol Theatre, Salt Lake City

How much: $55-$195

Web: arttix.org

Phone: 801-355-2787