When a piece of culture is panned by the mainstream media, nobody would be surprised if the public took the experts’ opinion to heart and stayed away in their droves.
But word of mouth and social media are potent forces, suggesting that the traditional media aren’t always the kingmakers they would perhaps aspire to be.
Case in point is the musical, Wicked, which today celebrates five years in London’s West End theatre district – with UK box office takings totalling £145m.
Despite its lukewarm, or downright hostile, reviews back in 2006, the show continues merrily down the yellow brick road. As well as examining the range of possible reasons for what the Guardian’s theatre critic, Michael Billington, calls “its mysterious popularity”, this piece cites social media as the source of the “extraordinary community” and “positive word of mouth” surrounding Wicked.
The Facebook page and Twitter feed supporting the UK production boast nearly 58,000 users between them, though they’re dwarfed by the Broadway show’s 625,000 Facebook friends. Currently, “fifth birthday facts” (e.g., the London crew having consumed 12,600 pints of tea) are posted on Facebook and shared further via Twitter much, it seems, to the delight of fans.
Not unlike the “sleeper hit” at the cinema that was The Shawshank Redemption, Wicked seems to have hit a nerve with the public and been sustained through the fervency of its fans and the collective cult obsession that social media can help perpetuate. Which, nowadays, leads neatly to mainstream media attention…
And for those, like me, who knew nothing about it until now, here’s the latest London show in all its wickedness.