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Posted at 5:29 PM ET, 03/ 7/2011

'Wicked' online wait for Kennedy Center tickets

By Dan Zak

A metaphorical house fell on the Kennedy Center's online portal Monday when pre-sale tickets for the 10-week run of the musical "Wicked" became available at 10 a.m. Some members were unable to purchase tickets at the appointed time -- despite selecting seats, entering their credit card information and clicking "purchase." They either encountered a JavaScript error or were kicked back into a virtual waiting room behind a fluctuating queue of potential buyers that was sometimes over 1,500 people long. Some gave up after 30 minutes; some spent hours pursuing.

"I'm so mad right now," says Landsdowne resident Kim Austin, who took off work in order to buy tickets online for her two daughters and daughter-in-law. "Now I have to explain to my 8-year-old, 'No, I'm sorry, I couldn't get us tickets because of their Web site performance.'"

"Historic demand" was to blame for the site's bottleneck, according to Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow, who urges ticket seekers to endure the swift-moving online queue and call 202-467-4600 if they encounter additional difficulty. About 16,000 tickets had been sold as of 5:45 p.m. Monday, which has broken the Center's online single-day sales record, though no specific performance was sold out at that time.

"Wicked" -- a jouncy, pyrotechnical "Wizard of Oz" prequel that has been running on Broadway since 2003 -- is wildly beloved and continually shatters box office records both in New York and on tour. At the beginning of January, it made $5.6 million in the span of one week between its Broadway, Chicago and Indianapolis shows, according to The Kennedy Center's summer run (June 15 to August 21) goes on sale to the general public Sunday.

Alexandria resident Melissa Wilson bought a $60 year-long membership just to get an early crack at "Wicked" tickets for her daughters, but she was booted from the portal despite several tries. She then held for 30 minutes on the ticketing phone line and says the ticketing representative hung up on her when she asked for redress.

"I have done what their marketing wanted me to do," Wilson says. "I bought my membership, I got there at 10 o'clock, and I'm just asking for it to be made right."

Unable to penetrate phone lines, some patrons took to the Kennedy Center's Facebook page like a flock of flying monkeys. The ticket situation was a "debacle," they said. A "mess." There was hysterical punctuation and AGGRIEVED CAPITALIZATION. One woman typed that her credit card had been charged $1,000 without confirmation that she'd secured tickets. Others whined about tickets being available on StubHub, an online ticket marketplace, even though they'd paid for the privilege of pre-sale access. In actuality, "Wicked" tickets have been available on StubHub since September -- likely snatched up by individual scalpers and ticket brokerage businesses when seats became available for Kennedy Center subscribers months ago, according to Glenn Lehrman, head of communications for StubHub.

Regardless, will this snafu prompt the Kennedy Center to beef up or alter its ticketing portal in the future?

"I can't speak to that," Dow says. "But we do learn our lessons."

By Dan Zak  | March 7, 2011; 5:29 PM ET
Categories:  Kennedy Center  
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Great article, Dan. Something needs to be done about the ticket brokers. This was my second experience in two weeks where the on-line rush to buy tickets during a presale made it almost impossible to get tickets, yet the ticket brokers managed to have hundreds of seats. I refuse to pay the inflated prices, so I guess I will be attending fewer concerts and shows until someone comes up with a fix for this.

Posted by: viennamom22 | March 7, 2011 7:36 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure the site will eventually be back up but I'm trying to discourage my friends from patronizing this show. Why give the Kennedy Center membership dues and purchase expensive tickets for this level of incompetence and disrespect. Instead we're working to arrange a trip up together to see the real thing on Broadway (only 4 hours away.) At least I'll save membership dues next year.

Posted by: gdfields | March 7, 2011 8:58 PM | Report abuse

New York is four hours away by car, bus, train, or plane. If you can take a day off to wait in line for tickets, you can take a day off to enjoy a show and quick NYC getaway. It's not like you live in Tulsa, OK.

Posted by: Marimom | March 8, 2011 12:06 AM | Report abuse

I must have gotten lucky and had no real problems once I actually got into the queue, which took about 10 minutes of trying (I started at about 10:15). The wait to buy tickets was much longer, with nearly 2400 ahead of me, but once I got to the head of the line, I had my tickets within 15 minutes, including e-mail and printing time.

Posted by: belladonna0425 | March 8, 2011 1:44 AM | Report abuse

My brother told me about this play and how it was to get tickets. Wow. Now I reeeaaallly want to see it. June 15th to August 21st, huh?

Posted by: forgetthis | March 8, 2011 8:43 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: srteee | March 8, 2011 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I got tickets yesterday. Of course there was a lot of waiting and refreshing but I just had to stay patient! =)

Posted by: jennifermbodie | March 8, 2011 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Great show if you're a 14 year old girl. Otherwise, eh.

Posted by: jslaff | March 8, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Any male who likes musicals is 110% gay, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by: kenk33 | March 8, 2011 3:25 PM | Report abuse

kenk33 wrote:
"Any male who likes musicals is 110% gay, not that there's anything wrong with that."

Thanks for the reminder that you don't have to go very far outside DC to be in Dogpatch, USA

Posted by: fluxgirl | March 8, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Radio presale going on right now fro Wicked. You don't need to be a Kennedy Center member or wait until 3/13 at noon to get your tickets NOW.

Posted by: TheWirk | March 10, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

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