The last time I wrote about Wicked, we were close to calling it our last time, given the disappointing performances of the two leads.
Two people whom I don’t know commented on my blog (one is rare enough), and one, Vickie, pointed out that the Elphaba lead was going to change to Stephanie J. Block. I did a quick search, and sure enough, on October 9th, 2007, both Elphaba and Glinda were to be replaced. Glinda would be played by Annaleigh Ashford.
We were scheduled to return to NY late on the 11th, so I searched for tickets starting the following week. Sure enough, there were two tickets for the 16th at 7pm. I don’t know what made me hesitate, but I figured I should give us a little wiggle room in case we ended up staying at Zope a little longer. So, when I found two tickets available for the following Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007, I snagged them.
I considered writing a long blog entry yesterday about using an American Express card with Rewards Points on it for this purchase, but I changed my mind. The bottom line is that we got one of the tickets for free, which was way cool! Awesome tickets: fifth row, dead center.
So serendipity number one, a stranger comments on my blog, and I discover that we might be able to wash away the memory of the last two leads in one gulp, without waiting too long. Serendipity number two, that amazing tickets are available for the night we prefer (Tuesday’s are 7pm, instead of 8pm, and we’re old folk), and we end up getting one of them for free.
We got there plenty early, and relaxed and read the playbill. The Gershwin Theater is one of the best, so it’s not uncomfortable to sit in their seats for an extended period.
In this post, I mentioned that our long-lost friends were going to see Wicked on Saturday. I also mentioned that we were likely to see them again for brunch on Sunday, which we did. They told us that they loved Wicked, but that Elphaba was played by an understudy in the matinee. They loved her, but we both instantly got a severe chill (recalling that our worst experience was with an Elphaba understudy!). We were hopeful that by Tuesday night, whatever caused Stephanie J. Block to miss Saturday, would be taken care of.
Then on Sunday, Local One (the stagehands union) authorized a strike against the theater owners. Oh oh… I was feeling unlucky that we hadn’t grabbed the tickets for the 16th, avoided the strike, and gotten to see Stephanie (assuming she wasn’t sub’ed for then as well).
Serendipity number three, the strike vote turned out to be authorization only. They intend to strike during the peak holiday season, if they don’t reach a compromise before that.
When we walked into the theater yesterday, Lois jokingly asked the usher whether there were any understudies that night. He said: “All of them”, and didn’t appear to be joking at all! In fact, when he handed us the playbill, the insert called out four understudies! Elphaba, Fiyero, Boq and Chistery. Ugh, another Elphaba understudy. While our friends loved her, we also know that a majority of the audience loved the one we know was horrible. When you don’t have a reference, it’s hard to judge…
On the pleasant surprise front, the original Madame Morrible has returned for another round, Carole Shelley. We really liked Carol Kane a lot (we saw her four times), and Jayne Houdyshell who replaced her (who we saw twice). That said, Carole Shelley plays the role much darker, and sings much better than either of them, so it was a real treat to see the person we’ve listened to on the CD so many times.
Glinda is the first solo voice that you hear right after the introduction. The very first song that she sings has so many high notes that only a true soprano can hit them unwaveringly and cleanly. That’s how we knew that the last Glinda would be disappointing, immediately. Annaleigh Ashford was instantly impressive. For the remainder of the show, she didn’t disappoint in a single note, or her acting either. We loved Kate Reinders in the role, but Annaleigh is at least as good. Her voice is stupendous, and she didn’t fool around with the songs in the least! Annaleigh’s face shares some features with Kristin Chenoweth, and they both have a great sense of comedic timing.
Elphaba doesn’t appear until the second song, and doesn’t sing until the third. She was played by Caissie Levy. Without the green makeup/body suit, she reminds me of a blond Melina Kanakaredes. She’s very attractive. 😉
So, can she sing? Yes, and no. She started her first solo with a tad more styling than I would have cared for, but she didn’t overdo it. She did a good job in general, but the one complaint is that her voice (on occasion) tends to be a bit thin. Her acting was excellent, and she had good chemistry with Annaleigh and the others.
As the show went on, and she had to do more physical work (running around on the stage, etc.), her voice got a little more powerful, as she had to push harder. All-in-all, while she’s no superstar (in this specific role!), she dropped the styling after the first song (with one tiny exception), and she hit every single note (so she’s in general a talented singer). In other words, I enjoyed her performance, and was pleasantly relieved given our previous experience with an understudy in this role. I can now accept our friends’ future endorsements as well. 😉
Lois was slightly more critical of Caissie, notably on the thinness of her voice, and that she looked a little too innocent on stage (in other words, she seems like a very sweet person).
The Fiyero understudy was excellent (though we saw the main person last time, and he was excellent as well), and the Boq understudy was excellent too, so no disappointments there at all!
It was another magical night seeing Wicked, and we’re both very glad we did it again. We’re unlikely to go again, until we can finally get our friends from Richmond up to see it, which we hope happens while Annaleigh is still in it, and perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to catch Stephanie J. Block (assuming she’s as good as some reviews claim).
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