CHARLOTTE -- Did you wait too long? Miss your chance at snagging "Wicked" tickets before they sold out?
You don't have to be green with envy just because you don't have the hottest ticket on the planet. There is a cure. Not only are there prime orchestra seats available for all performances of the hit Broadway show, now playing at Ovens Auditorium through April 20, they're going for just $25 each.
All you need to do is win the "Wicked" lottery.
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Daily lotteries are being held for 20 tickets at the Ovens box office at 2700 E. Independence Boulevard - with the exception of this coming Monday, April 14, the one off-day for the Ozzians. Not to worry, two daily lotteries on April 10, 12, and 19 (for 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. performances) make up for the slack. If you don't click on those days, there are twin daily lotteries on Sundays, April 13 and 20 (for 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. performances).
The other six lotteries occur singly during the 16-performance run beginning today, all before 8 p.m. performances.
Feeling lucky? Show up at Ovens Auditorium - careful with the math, now - two hours before any performance with valid ID and sufficient cash to pay for tickets if you're a winner. Parking will be free in the Ovens lots if you inform attendants that you're trying your luck.
Present yourself at the box office and have your name placed in the lottery drum. Then for the next 30 minutes, read the rest of this newspaper, munch on a snack, drift off to Blackberryland, or groove to your preprogrammed iPod universe. Read a book? Worth a try.
The important thing is that you're present when the lucky 10 names are drawn. Why 10? Because the maximum number of tickets that a winner can purchase is two. You'd have to be a dimwit from Kansas - or missing a brain altogether - to take less.
Tom Gabbard, president of the NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, has been lobbying to bring "Wicked" to Charlotte ever since this blockbuster first hit the road. The lotteries have been a feature of the national tour for years, heightening the fever for "Wicked" in every city where it plays.
Gabbard freely admits that "Wicked" stole the idea.
"The lottery concept," he explains, "really started with 'Rent,' which came up with this notion of having some low-priced seats for fans that were available at the box office day-of-show. For a number of years, if you walked by the Nederlander Theatre, you'd essentially see people seven days a week camping out in front of the theater."
Who would ever object to grubby hard rock fanatics bunking on scenic Manhattan sidewalks? Yet somehow these bohemian Hoovervilles eventually aroused safety concerns. Bowing to these outspoken Samaritans, management at the Nederlander refined their dole and turned it into a lottery.
"Ultimately it winds up being a much more convenient thing for people," Gabbard asserts, "rather than having to camp out for days in advance. So really our lottery is falling on the heels of that tradition."
Aside from the timing (the "Rent" tradition has their groupies show up three hours before each performance rather than two), marketers for "Wicked" have tweaked their lottery in one other important respect to suit their audience.
"With 'Rent,' Gabbard points out, "the 20 tickets are for front-row seats. With 'Wicked,' they're not. At 'Rent,' because it is somewhat of a rock concert, they like having the fans in the front, bringing a lot of energy. But frankly, the front-row seats aren't always the very best seats. So, in 'Wicked's' case, they adapt the idea and make sure that they're good orchestra seats."
Of course, "Wicked" leaves a wide swathe of disappointment among people who fail to snag tickets either when they first go on sale or at the daily lotteries wherever it touches down. This disappointment, like the show's devoted audience, is multigenerational.
"I remember hearing some friends my age," says Gabbard, "who had lined up to get the lottery seats in Denver and were disappointed that they hadn't - and these were 50-somethings! There are a lot of people who would have preferred to buy single tickets, and then this show sold out real quickly, so they just made a mental note that they would try the lottery. It's not like a student rush, where it's uniquely focused on young people. In this case, it's open to any theatre fan."
Persistence still pays off, just as it did on 41st Street in front of the funky Nederlander Theatre, where the lottery concept was born back in February 1996. After all, with 20 winning tickets available to the public at every "Wicked" performance, there will eventually be 320 winners before the box office tornado lifts off and leaves town.
So pray, persist, and click your ruby slippers three times. Or eat your greens. Good luck.
• Perry Tannenbaum of Tega Cay is the senior performing arts critic for Creative Loafing.
Tickets are sold through a lottery ...
Show up and register two hours before each show at Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., Charlotte. Winners are limited to two tickets each. The cost is $25 cash for each ticket.