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November 24, 2014

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Photos: Dragons and witches and neon, oh my! A behind-the-scenes look at ‘Wicked’

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Leila Navidi

The crew works during load-in for “Wicked” at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.

‘Wicked’ Behind-the-Scenes

Carpenters work during load-in for Launch slideshow »

The job sounds daunting, even for a crew seasoned over seven years of staging “Wicked” — unpack 15 52-foot trucks containing thousands of props and costumes; connect 80 stage panels; raise the stage at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts a full 18 inches; set up 200 lights; and rehearse an entire orchestra, all in 2 1/2 days.

Despite the time crunch, “Wicked” company manager Steve Quinn was at ease this week, joking and chatting with crew members as they unpacked crates and boxes with choreographed efficiency.

“It’s been very easy,” he said of the process. “We like easy.”

“Wicked,” the hit Broadway musical inspired by “The Wizard of Oz,” opened its six-week run Wednesday at the Smith Center in downtown’s Symphony Park.

The Tony- and Grammy-winning production joins “Mary Poppins,” “The Color Purple,” “La Cage Aux Folles” and others in the slate of top-tier musicals to come to the center.

But performers could take the stage, the crew had to transform Reynolds Hall, which has traditionally been used for concerts.

It went off without a hitch, thanks, in part, to practice: The crew of about 100 has been able to fine-tune the process over the production’s seven years and 3,100 performances on its national tour.

However, Quinn noted that this stop’s set-up has been particularly painless; by Tuesday morning, they were ahead of schedule, something Quinn credited to the Smith Center’s spacious design.

“Most theaters have two loading docks, but the Smith Center has three, and they’re all on the same level,” he said. The ample space allows the Las Vegas iteration of “Wicked” to be “99 percent of what you’d see on Broadway.”

“There really haven’t been a lot of challenges, except for the fact that most of us aren’t familiar with the layout because it’s so new,” Quinn said.

With the backdrop raised, the Reynolds Hall stage is almost twice as large as it appears during its normal slate of pop and classical music concerts. The black curtains and stage lights have been replaced by green neon and set panels of enormous cogs that frame the stage on either side. Called the “upstage cog wall,” they flank the faux-rusted metal of the proscenium, which is lorded over by a snarling metallic dragon the cast and crew have nicknamed Ozwald.

Though, according to Quinn, Ozwald’s wingspan is the size of a small Cessna plane, that’s not even the largest piece of scenery.

“That would be the Wizard of Oz head,” he said. “We haven’t even begun to deal with that one yet.”

Quinn needed more than the core crew’s 25 people to help with that and other heavy lifting, so the production picked up 60 locals to assist with load-in, set up, laundry, and hair and makeup. Quinn said Las Vegans’ familiarity with the industry make the job that much easier.

“We tour a lot of cities that don’t have anything in town but us, so it’s really nice to be in a city where the theater community is thriving,” Quinn said, explaining that for much of the cast and crew, a stop in Las Vegas doubles as an opportunity to visit friends and family and reconnect with other performers and show runners.

“I think we’re going to see ‘Jersey Boys’ tonight,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to see a show that isn’t ‘Wicked’ ”

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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