Monday, January 20, 2014

Wicked First National Tour Review! Pittsburgh!

The Benedum Center!
This weekend I saw the First National Tour of Wicked in Pittsburgh! I had not seen the Emerald City tour of Wicked since May 7th, 2011 with Mariand Torres and Amanda Jane Cooper, and since then all of the principles have been replaced (some of them several times) and a good portion of the ensemble had also left.  It was cool going into the show not having seen any of the principals (except Tom Flynn) in the show before, and I was not disappointed by any of them.  There were cast members that I had heard mixed things about from other people and was unsure of what to expect, but the First National Tour is in very good hands.  There were NO understudies on this weekend, which is the first time that this has happened to me.  I would have loved to get to see Laurel Harris in addition to Alison Luff, but hopefully I’ll see her on tour later down the yellow brick road! :)  Anyway, there has always been someone on in some role that was an understudy, but not this time around. 



The orchestra for this company, conducted by Andrew Graham, was on FIRE.  So fresh and it sounded very well oiled.  I always love it when the orchestra sounds that way because it really enhances the show in every way.  So loud and powerful.  I don't play anything besides piano, so I am really bad at identifying specific instruments, but the guitar sounded amazing, adding little embellishments here and there, as well as other instruments adding fancy trills and things here and there.  It kept it exciting and interesting.

The ensemble is incredible.  Very motivated, and I enjoyed some of the little adlibs that they threw in here and there like when Glinda is asked about her past with Elphaba in the opening, and when Elphaba enters the OzDust Ballroom.  Nikki Bohne, Shayla Beck, Rick Desloge Dina Bennett and Kyle Brown really stood out to me in particular, especially Nikki’s facial expressions and her scenes as Pfanee, Shayla, Dina and Rick’s voices were all phenomenal and loud and Kyle’s dancing was perfect!  The ensemble is so beyond crucial to a happy performance, and this one absolutely did not disappoint.

Teal Wicks and Tom Flynn
Tom Flynn is still very good in the role of Dr. Dillamond.  While his role is crucial to the plot, it is the hardest to make interesting in my opinion, and I always enjoy Tom.  He is very funny in the role and I liked his scene with Elphaba in Act 2.  The audience didn’t seem to understand the ‘scapegoat’ joke at all though, which I think is one of the best lines in the show, but alas it’s fine.

Jaime Rosenstein as
Jaime Rosenstein did a nice job with Nessarose.  She played the role very mean the whole way through, which is definitely a fine way to interpret the character, however I like to like Nessarose in the beginning, and I usually feel some sort of sympathy for her in Act 2, however I felt no sympathy for her at any point in the show.  On paper, I think Nessarose is supposed to be a sweet girl who is corrupted by a spoiled childhood, and being bound to a wheelchair her whole life and feeling different made her possessive of Boq and caused her to cling on to everything she could.  I liked her singing voice the most of everything she did, she has a lot of power behind her voice! Her Nessarose was very geeky, the way she talked and moved really made me believe that she was Elphaba's sister.  It made great sense.  She did have a tendency to overact occasionally, but it didn’t distract me from the show or character.  I enjoyed her!

Jesse JP Johnson
Jesse JP Johnson is my new favorite Boq, absolutely the best sung Boq I have ever seen.  His voice was so effortless and beautifully supported and I found myself thinking of Boq as less of an underdog and more of a guy who just had a little bit of a tendency to crush too hard.  He was so charming.  March of the Witch Hunters (which is ordinarily not a number that stands out to me) completely stood out to me this time because of Jesse.  Again, what a voice!  He was excellent and I won’t ever be forgetting those performances.  I actually think he would make a great Fiyero someday, and would like to see that happen.

John Davidson as The Wizard
I enjoyed John Davidson as the Wizard. He too overacted in places, he has a lot of energy, however I thought he was very charming in the role.  I liked The Wizard because of him, and with Alison Fraser's stellar performance as Madame Morrible, it was clear that he was just a stand up guy. I didn’t like him as much as I like Walker Jones who I think is fantastic, but he did very well.  His ‘Wonderful’ was extremely well acted, and I enjoyed his scene at the end of Act 2 with Alison Fraser.

Alison Fraser was an incredibly dynamic and original Madame Morrible, now taking the title for my favorite.  I have seen many fantastically talented ladies play the role of Madame Morrible, and they have all been great but Alison takes the cake.  She did things with the role that I have never seen before.  I loved her first scene with Elphaba, Glinda and Nessarose.  When Elphaba cast her spell and was trying to explain herself, Alison summoned Alison Luff over to her to explain, as though they were having a very seriously intriguing conversation.  After the classroom scene where Dr. Dillamond’s board is vandalized, Alison had her interaction with Elphaba and then said “I’m sure Dr. Dillamond sees my point.” And on her way out, she stared back at him as though he were a bug that needed to be squashed very quickly.  That added a whole new dynamic to the scene, because just a few scenes later he is fired and it makes you think that Madame Morrible had everything to do with it.  She didn’t like the fact that Elphaba was becoming concerned about the animals and felt the need to stamp out anything that could distract her from becoming what Madame Morrible wanted to deliver to the Wizard.  As Elphaba is leaving for the Emerald City, Alison gave her a look that was a mix of jealousy and foreshadowing as she exited the stage, and she made some great choices in the chamber scene with the Wizard.  When she says “The Wizard is a very generous man.  If you do something for him, he’ll do much for you!” She gestured to her rings and new outfit, and her speech in Defying Gravity was incredibly menacing.  Her act two was phenomenal as well, she made some great acting choices during “Thank Goodness.”  Every time Glinda started to question whether or not she was really happy, Alison gave her a menacing look and Glinda would straighten up and smile again and it just repeated.  It really showed what a political game Glinda was caught in.  Loved her final scene as well.

Curt Hansen as Fiyero
Curt Hansen was fantastic as Fiyero, and I have found a new favorite in him. I have been a fan of his for a few years now, but he was perfect in this role.  He has the perfect look and the perfect voice, speaking and singing.  His speaking voice is raspy and a little nasal, and I thought that it made him that much more of the 'cool guy' type, but when he sang, it was loud, supported and effortless.  He did lots of really cool and unique riffs, such as “and always keeping cool” in Dancing Through Life (not that usual change that a lot of Fiyeros make).  I LOVED the way he sang that song, it was fresh and interesting to listen to, and my eye followed him around the stage the entire time because his face and his body moved and adjusted verrrry well.  He seemed very at ease.  I loved his lion cub scene with Alison, and the scene following with Gina and Alison.  He was very funny and I watched him transform.  He sounded incredible in “As Long As You’re Mine” as well, his voice and Alison’s harmonized and complimented each other very well, and the chemistry between them was tangible.  He also did the Scarecrow stumble that David did at the end of the show.  I really really liked him in this role, and I hope he does it again after he leaves the tour.

Gina Beck as Glinda
Gina Beck was a delight as Glinda.  Right off the bat she was beltier than most women who play the role, and while it took away a bit of the contrast between Elphaba and Glinda vocally, it did add a whole new layer to Glinda, making her seem like a much stronger person immediately.  She has a gorgeous soprano (though Hayley Podschun’s is slightly more effortless in my opinion) and a lovely lower sound.  I loved some of the choices she made in No One Mourns the Wicked.  She looked genuinely heartbroken to see so many people celebrating her friend’s death, and yet she had to go along with it.  I loved her slightly drier take on Glinda, having come from London.  She didn’t go for laughs, yet she got them just as easily.  What Is This Feeling was the best I have seen it in a long time, and Popular was excellent and made me chuckle several times even if it was a bit tame.  I loved her in the later Act 1 scenes, especially Defying Gravity.  Her face really showed Glinda’s inner conflict and she eventually made her choice, though it didn’t look easy.  Her speaking voice is also very quiet and light so it was cool to see her stretching her voice when she yelled at Elphaba to stop with the levitation spell.  Her Act 2 however was the best Second Act I have ever seen from a Glinda.  The growth was absolutely astonishing.  I have never been so blown away during Thank Goodness.  The roller coaster of emotion that came from her was spectacular, and it was in that
Gina Beck as Glinda
moment that she figured so much out.  She sounded phenomenal as well, utilizing both her belt and head voice and nailing both.  I loved her in the cornfield scene with Alison, especially after the slap.  Her reaction was so funny.  She and Alison sang “For Good” the best I have ever heard it done.  Gina was crying, actually crying which totally made the song more resonant, and I loved that she touched Alison’s hat on the final “because I knew you.”  It got even more emotional after that if possible, because her reaction to finding Alison’s hat was absolutely heartbreaking.  She cried and it made me almost want to cry for her, haha!  Her finale was gorgeous as were the harmonies with Alison.

Alison Luff as Elphaba
Alison Luff was a phenomenal Elphaba.  Her voice was strong, loud and pure.  If I had to compare her to any other Elphaba I have seen, I would compare her to Christine Dwyer or Vicki Noon. She played Elphaba very angrily in the beginning, which is a choice that some Elphabas make.  It works, but I would have liked to see the soft and vulnerable side of Elphaba a little longer in the first scene.  She was great with Jaime and Alison Fraser, and I thought that her “The Wizard and I” was excellent. She has excellent vocal control though sometimes it sounds like she is holding back a bit.  The end of that number for her was very strong and I liked how pure and hopeful she sounded.  She had an excellent imitation of Gina in What Is This Feeling, and again her voice is just very nice to listen to.  She didn’t feel the need to do a whole bunch of crazy stuff.  I loved watching her face as well, she really emotes very clearly.  Her interactions with Dr. Dillamond were very heartfelt, more heartfelt than most I have seen, and her reaction to his firing was excellent.  She was so delightfully awkward in OzDust, and I LOVE the look she gave Gina when she walked in with the hat and everyone laughed at her.  She was hurt more than angry, and then when Gina asked her if she could ‘cut in’ and everyone laughed, her face was absolutely horror struck and she looked so hurt.  I felt really awful for her in that moment.  Popular was great, her imitations of Gina were awesome and made the audience laugh.  I’m Not That Girl was one of her best moments onstage, extremely sincere and vulnerable, and we all got to hear a side of Alison’s voice that hadn’t really been exposed yet.  She ended it on the higher note rather than the way it is written, but I liked it just as well.  Her scene in the Wizard’s chamber was extremely well acted, and
Alison Luff as Elphaba
when John confirmed that he didnt have powers, her face was full of shock and while he was singing to her, I watched her and you could see her internal gears working trying to figure out what to do.  Defying Gravity was absolutely incredible of course and with a voice like hers, I expected nothing less.  It was loud and inspiring.  Her big notes while she was in the air were loud and clear, and I had goosebumps the whole time.  Act 2 was also great, I felt like she had grown and changed which is the point!  Again, much like with Donna, I saw a lot of strong acting, and then she gets her killer song with No Good Deed.  Her scene with Curt, Gina and John was very well acted, and As Long As You’re Mine was just as it should be.  The two of them were all over each other, moving together and their voices collided extremely well.  The cornfield scene with Gina was great, though Gina stole the scene.  No Good Deed was amazing.  She didn’t riff much, she sang it pretty straight, but it was powerfully done, and I got goosebumps during the big “Fiyero!” and then again at the end.  Her last scenes (right before For Good, For Good, Melting and the Finale) were all stellar, her acting in particular.  Her and Gina’s harmonies during the Finale were completely haunting.  She was excellent and I really loved seeing her.

Lots of Stage Door pictures!

No comments: