Ever since my daughter and I took the super-cool backstage tour of Radio City Music Hall, I've been on the lookout for similar behind-the-scenes experiences. Since the Broadway show Wicked is my daughter's absolute favorite musical (we wore out two CDs of the original cast before I got smart and downloaded the songs), I figured its Behind the Emerald Curtain tour would feel like a magical trip to Oz.
With so many big Broadway musicals aimed at families like The Lion King and Mary Poppins, I assumed lots of shows offered this kind of behind-the-scenes tour. I was wrong. Right now Wicked is the only Broadway production that invites fans to see all of the incredible work that goes on offstage. And since it's hosted by two current cast members, you can ask them anything you've ever wanted to know about life upon the Wicked stage and what it's like to be on Broadway.
The Behind the Emerald Curtain tour isn't a backstage tour (physically you never get beyond the seats or the lobby). However, it does give you a good idea of how hard it is to mount a show of this magnitude. After the guides introduce themselves, you watch a short documentary featuring all of the major creative players, including composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, book writer Winnie Holzman and director Joe Mantello. I'm not going to lie: Unless you're a diehard theater queen (which I admit I am), this film probably won't be of that much interest. It didn't really hold my six-year-old's attention, even though she's such a huge fan of the show.
But what came after certainly excited her. We were ushered into the vestibule, which had been transformed into a temporary museum with models of the set, original costumes, masks, props and other paraphernalia. It was amazing to see all of these items up close. The level of detail is stunning. Little things you'd never notice from the audience, like the bits of lace and red velvet in Elphaba's dress, can finally be appreciated. Our guides told us a bit about how everything was made, and answered any questions we had about the items on display. My daughter just wanted to know how much the big green hat cost. (She was disappointed to hear it wasn't for sale.)
The tour concludes back in the theater, as the guides share their insight into working on Broadway. It's not all fun and glamor (the hours are long, the work is strenuous, the paychecks are low). You also see another more interesting doc with time-lapse footage of the incredible set being built and a glimpse of how crazy things are backstage on a nightly basis. Wicked has 125 people working behind the scenes! The guides also take questions from the audience, and their answers are quite candid. One woman asked what was the biggest mistake that ever happened on stage in Wicked. Apparently it was the time Joey "New Kids on the Block" McIntyre completely blew his first entrance as Fiyero, the love interest. My daughter asked how Elphaba "flies" at the end of Act I. In case you haven't seen the show, I won't ruin the effect by telling you here. (If you have a little kid who's really into The Wizard of Oz, this is the Broadway show to splurge on. You can also try for cheap lottery rush tickets two hours before showtime.) There are also a few great photo ops, including a very cool Steampunk-ish clock with gears.
Even if your kid is a fan of Wicked, Behind the Emerald Curtain is best suited for tweens and teens who've already seen the show. You also need to be into theater. (We were seated next to a high school group and the jocks looked seriously bored.) Although you exit through the gift shop, try to resist: Most of the items for sale can be purchased cheaper on amazon.
Behind the Emerald Curtain takes place on Saturdays at 10am at the Gershwin Theater, 222 West 51st Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. $33. Ages 10 and up.