I saw the 2nd National Touring Company of Wicked on August 16th, at 8pm in Toledo Ohio. This was the first time since my 5th time at the show that I had not seen ANY understudies in any of the 8 principal roles, and Becca Khloa was the only swing on. I love seeing understudies a lot, and I have seen many, but this was very different and kind of cool! :)
The show remains the solid and inspiring show that it is, with an incredibly uplifting and positive message, with catchy, inspiring music, and a great message. I had only seen the 2nd National Touring company one other time, back in September of 2011 with Christine Dwyer and Natalie Daradich, and I remember loving this company. Well they are still incredible! There was a minor technical error in between "One Short Day" and The Wizard's chamber scene. The Wizard's head did not come out on time, so the stage was filled with the normal flashing lights and the big Wizard voice, but it did not come out from behind the cogs at the back of the stage until the line "....the great and terrible." It went generally unnoticed and it wasn't a bad place for it to end up coming out. Also, for those who have not seen the 2nd Tour, the only differences between it and the Broadway/1st Tour is:
a) Basically no vines and way fewer cogs on the sides of the stage, though it stays true to the whole "clock" design. It simply looks different.
b) Fiyero and Glinda (as well as the citizens of the Emerald City) do not stand on the Bridge, because the bridge is not real.
c) Madame Morrible does not make an appearance in "Defying Gravity." Her voice simply comes on over the theatre.
d) Rather than it coming up on a podium downstage center, Chistery gives Elphaba the Grimmerie in "No Good Deed" and she holds it in one hand and casts the spell in the other, and when she is done, she gives it back.
e) Boq's platform in "Witch Hunters" is much shorter than B'Way and 1NT.
So all in all, very very small differences that would not generally be noticed by many people, and it is an incredibly impressive tour. The orchestra in particular were fantastic.
The ensemble is very strong. What I noticed this time was that the ensemble on Tour and on Broadway sing the music very differently, with slightly different dynamics and different cut offs in different places. Again, this is something that only someone who has seen all of the companies would really notice. On Broadway, the ensemble will often start a chord very quietly and quickly get louder, whereas on tour that does not happen. I really thought that this ensemble was fantastic and inspired. Many of them have been a part of the show for a while and they keep it very fresh. It was very impressive.
As for the principals, John Hillner is a great Dr. Dillamond, he has a really nice voice and plays Dillamond very gently, more gently than many of the others I have seen, only ever breaking that when the "Animals Should Be Seen and Not Heard" appears on his chalkboard. The Act 2 scene with Elphaba is always heartbreaking to see, because while Dillamond may be a very small character, he is crucial to the story and Elphaba's inspiration to take a stand and when you see him silenced, it's haunting in a way. Alex Wyse was excellent as Boq. Not quite to the level of F. Michael Haynie, but he has a fantastic voice and I found him very charming in the role. He and Jenny played off each other well and as always, he made me feel bad for Boq, even though he blames Elphaba for what happened. But that is Nessarose's doing. Jenny Fellner is a wonderful Nessarose. She has gotten much better in the role. I saw her in 2010, then 2012 and now again this year and each time she has gotten so much better. I love her voice and she is a fantastic actress. Again, she doesn't have the voice of someone like Carla Stickler who remains my favorite, but she does have a very nice sound and is very dramatic in that scene which I love. Kathy Fitzgerald remains a very funny Madame Morrible and I thought she did a fantastic job. She did a great job with Jennifer DiNoia and I loved her dialogue in the Dancing Through Life, she is just subtle enough but just obvious enough if that makes sense, and she transformed very well for Act 2. Her face had the worst look on it when Glinda put two and two together and her little speech to her was very well done. She is also one of the kindest human beings I have met! Walker Jones was a fantastic Wizard! Both of his songs were very fun to watch and listen to, he has such a nice voice and is a very quirky and different Wizard. I was actually thinking during his performance "Oh, the Wizard may have gotten picked on in school just like Elphaba." He is a passionate individual, and his passion is what led him to Oz, and that's when things go wrong. I think Walker brought out that quality in this character, and the Wizard's passion is revealed whenever he is conversing with Elphaba. I think the Wizard likes being challenged in a way which is why he is glad to see her in Act 2. David Nathan Perlow was a fantastic Fiyero. He has a really amazing voice and he sounds just as awesome a job as he did in 2011, maybe even better! I really really like his voice, I believe I said that last time too, but it's just very smooth and works perfectly for the character, as does his speaking voice. I liked him and Jenny a lot in "As Long As You're Mine" in particular. He made it very plain that he thinks about Elphaba a lot even though they barely got to know each other, so that when they took off together in Act 2, it was more of a romance that "never quite was" before, as opposed to a completely new thing. I don't know how to explain that one in depth but it was very cool to watch.
Hayley Podschun was a fantastic Glinda! She has an absolutely gorgeous soprano, it just sounded glorious singing the Opening and Finale in particular. She acted the "Dear Old Shiz" scene really well and really differently than every other Glinda I have seen, it was much more "oh...wow. That's different." She still got many laughs but didn't seem to be going for said laughs, which I appreciated. She was great in "WITF" and she and David played really well off each other in Dancing Through Life! :) Her Popular was very funny, though not as quirky or laugh out loud funny as Alli Mauzey (who I saw 3 times earlier this year) or Katie's, but it was very enjoyably funny and more subtle. I loved her in Defying Gravity as well, even though that is Elphaba's song to own. Her body language was great and her goodbye to Elphaba was heartfelt and sincere. Her Glinda knew that after Elphaba left, she would not see her again for a very long time, and lots would change before she did. She was perfect in Act 2. Her Thank Goodness was one of my favorites that I have ever heard. She added a little riff or two here and there which added to the song, but she looked like she was holding back tears the whole time which was so powerful for the moment, and her belt was very concentrated. Her scene with Elphaba and Fiyero was very well acted and her heartbreak was apparent, and I loved that she yelled at them as they left as opposed to just a quick shout. For Good was very moving, and one of the best sung For Goods I have heard. And of course her Finale was just beautifully sung. I absolutely love her voice.
Jennifer DiNoia has wildly improved as Elphaba, and she was pretty amazing the first time I saw her. She has gone from being a standby to being a lead. In every sense of the transition. The role is now hers, and she did things with it that are her own, including little riffs in Defying Gravity that have never been done by any other actress, such as a little riff on "So if you care to find me" and "take a message back from me." The last time I saw her she was very strong but had a bit of trouble with some of the highest notes of "The Wizard and I" and this time that did not happen at all, and she totally owned every aspect of the singing. Her voice is very high and clear, and when you listen to her on youtube, it captures about .0001% of what you see from her live. She is mindblowing! Gorgeous voice, and what I love about Jenny is that she has truly worked her way up to this point (not that others have not) but she started off as a Swing (covering every female ensemble role) u/s Elphaba and Nessarose in Chicago in 2005, moved to ensemble u/s Elphaba and Nessarose, to Standby for Elphaba in Chicago, to Standby for Elphaba on Broadway, to Standby/Alternate Elphaba in Australia, to Alternate Elphaba on the Asian Tour, and now she is lead on the 2nd National Tour. I feel like she brought a lot of that to her portrayal of the role. She played her as a very "head down, work hard, eventually I'll get there" type. Defying Gravity, Wiz and I, and No Good Deed were all flawless and I really enjoyed "I'm Not That Girl" too. She is fantastic in the role and NOT to be missed!
I cannot wait till next time!
Some Stage Door Pictures!