'Twas the night before 'Wicked'

And along 2nd South,

The traffic wasn't moving.

But inside the house …

The dragon was hung on the stage-top with care,

Knowing two witches soon would be there.

When the curtain fell on the Portland production of "Wicked" on Sunday night, crews spent the next eight hours breaking down the set and packing it into 14 semitrailers — which pulled into Salt Lake City on Monday morning.

"Tuesday, we loaded all the set pieces, the flying pieces and lights. Then (today), we'll do the costumes and wigs," company manager Steve Quinn said.

The show begins its four-week Salt Lake run tonight.

"Capitol Theatre is beautiful, but the loading docks are not ideal," said Quinn, who came to Salt Lake City previously with Donny Osmond in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Les Miserables."

"We're forced to load off the street, and it's a lot of stuff. In modern theaters, they have two to four loading docks, and we load directly onto the stage. So it's challenging, but it's not the worst we've dealt with."

Commuters along 200 South were stopped periodically as the 21/2 day load-in for the massive musical took place.

"We travel with 18 crew people, and we use local folks in each city to help — and to help run the show," said Quinn, who noted the full production has about 75 crew and cast members and musicians.

The record-breaking musical, a story often described as a prequel of sorts to the "The Wizard of Oz," is about Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Quinn said the national touring show travels with "90 percent of the production values that you see on Broadway. It's a $14 million production — we spare no expense."

With more than 1,500 costume pieces and 100 wigs and "who knows how many set pieces," the trickiest part is finding a place for everything backstage, he said.

"Though the theaters vary, the biggest difference is what happens backstage. The show is pretty much the same from the front, but figuring out where to store things, like the flying pieces, is tricky."

Because of that, the tour works several months ahead. "Our stage manager goes out early, does a lay of the land so we know what to expect with each new venue."

"It's a tight fit here," Quinn added, "but with the size of the theater and with the size of our set pieces, it's going to look amazing."

But first, a bit more tweaking.

"The cast will be here in the afternoon to run some of the numbers, do a sound check and meet with their dressers to make sure everything is in place," Quinn said. "Then we'll all grab a bite to eat and then showtime."

With a few days off between Portland and Salt Lake engagements, "Some actors went somewhere for a few days," Quinn said. "Some, like Donna (Vivino), who plays Elphaba, wanted to come in and get settled.

"We've all been excited for a long time to come to Salt Lake," Quinn said, adding he's heard the buzz here through Internet stories and newspaper articles. "It gets us excited, as well, and this city has waited so long to see this show."

The frenzy over "Wicked" doesn't surprise Quinn.

"This city loves theater, and there is a great abundance of theater talent here," he said, mentioning the casting calls he was part of with "Les Miserables."

Since Quinn has been to Salt Lake City before, "I tell my cast to stay hydrated and to take brisk walks to adjust to the altitude. It's not horrible, but it's worth mentioning."

Quinn and the traveling crew have been pleased with the Capitol Theatre load-in. "It's gone very smoothly. The local crews have done this so many times for a lot of years, so it's been great."

And they'll be ready.

"When the curtain goes up, the crowd will go crazy. And it's really exciting to be a part of that."

E-mail: ehansen@desnews.com