Annaleigh Ashford

Wicked Again

Send to Kindle

Yes, last night, we were Wicked again (oh, I mean we saw Wicked again). 😉

It was our eighth time (yes, we love it that much). We were taken by our wonderful goddaughter and her wonderful husband, dinner included (more on that after a quick review of the show). Thanks!

There was a brief time when Wicked was the live performance that we had seen more than any other. That’s long past, as we’re in double digits for Girlyman and the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub, so, I think that Laura and Chris felt that they needed to help us jumpstart the official catch-up race.

The last time we saw Wicked, here’s what I wrote. As you can see, I can be pretty picky about the leads (Glinda and Elphaba). Even when I’m disappointed in one or the other, I still love the show overall, but I definitely go each time with a little nervousness.

A friend of ours went a few months ago alone, and raved about the two leads. She’s a huge Wicked fan, but only from the CD, having never seen the show. So, I was very encouraged, but I was also afraid that she didn’t have a frame of reference. After hearing her rave, I looked up the leads on YouTube, and I too was impressed (most of the YouTube videos for the people I was disappointed in clearly pointed out their inability to perform the role as intended!).

The same women were in the show last night, so my expectations were high.

Playing the part of Glinda was Erin Mackey. Dee Roscioli played Elphaba. OK, you can stop holding your breath now, both of these ladies are spectacular, in every respect. Amazing voices, terrific acting, perfect comedic timing, etc.

Lois felt that Dee was the best Elphaba we’ve seen live (we never saw Idina). I wouldn’t argue hard, but if she wasn’t the best, she was a coin flip away from Eden Espinosa.

I was completely blown away by Erin Mackey. Her range was unbelievable, hitting the highest highs effortlessly (at least it appeared effortless), holding those notes as long as she liked. Her comedic timing and acting was flawless.

With all that, I declare her tied as the best Glinda we’ve seen, since I can’t find a single flaw in any of the four performances we saw Kate Reinders in, nor the two times we saw Annaleigh Ashford. That means we’ve had better luck with the Glinda role, as seven of eight performances were flawless. Either the Elphaba role is much harder, or they don’t cast as carefully for Elphaba…

Anyway, last night was another magical performance, and as long as these two are in the starring roles, we’ll be delighted to go back again with any of our friends who are curious as to what drives us mad about this show!

Oh, I should mentioned that our tickets were fourth row, dead center orchestra. Holy cow, you could see beads of sweat on their foreheads if you cared to look that carefully. 😉

Wicked Cast

Wicked Cast

Before the show, we met Laura and Chris at a restaurant that they chose, that none of us had been to before. It’s a chain called Ted’s Montana Grill that just recently opened it’s first location in NYC.

I hadn’t done any research (other than checking out the menu online) before showing up there. We got there a minute before Laura, and were seated at a table for four. Seated opposite Lois, with his back to her, was a distinguished looking gentleman.

A minute later, he stood up, and Lois, involuntarily, said “You’re Ted Turner!” (yes, out loud). He said “Yes, thanks for stopping by Ted’s!”. Ah, so that’s the Ted in Ted’s Montana Grill! 🙂

Here’s what he looked like to us when we first sat down:

Ted Turner

Ted Turner

We had an excellent meal there (I had the New Mexico Burger, highly recommended!). The only complaint in our group was that some of the dishes were salted a little too heavily.

At the end of our meal, Ted came by and asked what we thought of it, and he got four thumbs up. 🙂

They are trying to be very green as well, which is laudable, and they don’t sacrifice any of the experience you might otherwise expect in order to achieve that. Again, kudos to Ted and the entire organization there.

After the show, the four of us strolled back to the apartment, amongst the chaos that is NYC during the UN General Assembly week. It was a perfect evening, from the minute we sat down in the restaurant, until the minute we set foot back in the apartment.

Thanks again to Laura and Chris for conceiving and executing (and treating) a night that we will never forget! 🙂

Sneaky Wicked Surprise

Send to Kindle

Our Richmond friends have had a very busy year, and it’s hardly over. In addition to graduating both of the kids (already reported) they have an upcoming wedding to produce.

Immediately after the wedding, the new couple is moving up to NYC (well, immediately after the honeymoon). 😉

That should be enough to keep anyone busy, but not our friends! 😉

Before the wedding date was set, they had a big family trip planned. It’s possible that this will be the last annual family trip where they can all be together, given where the kids are headed (geographically and career-wise). So, they will be spending 10 days in Thailand and Singapore.

Their flight to Singapore is from JFK, so they came up early to spend some time in NYC with us. Once we were sure what their flight info was, I decided to be sneaky and pull off a surprise. As reported a number of times in these pages, we had an aborted attempt to take them (the parents) to see Wicked with us.

I also reported that we weren’t likely to go again, unless they could make it too. You can read the three reasons that would get us to go again at the bottom of this post. Given that there were going to be three other guests, two of whom had seen the show (one of them, twice), coupled with the fact that I really wanted to get great seats for the parents (and it would be tough to get seven seats together at this late date), we decided to shoot for just two tickets.

I checked every day for a week, including places like StubHub, and finally, after no good choices for days, snagged two great seats toward the front of the orchestra. We said nothing until our guests arrived. After having a nice lunch together, we sent the parents on their way to enjoy the show. There is little doubt that they were surprised, but we were still nervous as to whether they would enjoy it.

While they were at the show, the rest of us went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It was mindless fun, with the key word being mindless. Seriously, one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen, but if you’ve enjoyed any of them before, you’ll probably want to see this one too, just for completeness sake. It still amazes me when the talent associated with making this kind of movie can spend this much time and money, and create something so unbelievably stupid.

We all met back at the apartment, and the parents got home shortly after we did, and they said that they loved the show. Whew! 🙂

We asked them to bring back a Playbill, so we could know who they saw. Elphaba was played by Stephanie J. Block. I reviewed the performance that we saw her in the post linked above. She was good, but not great in any way. Glinda was played by Kendra Kassebaum. We had seen her before too, and I just assumed (incorrectly) that we saw her with Stephanie J. Block. So, I raved about her to our friends, telling them that they saw someone really special.

Unfortunately, it gnawed at me for a bit, and this morning, I just checked my own blog, and I realized that it was Annaleigh Ashford who we saw twice, once with Stephanie, who was brilliant in the role. Kendra Kassebaum was not so good, as I reported in this post.

Oh well, now there are three possibilities:

  1. Our friends were being polite, and didn’t think highly of her
  2. They don’t have a frame of reference, and thoroughly enjoyed her performance
  3. She got better 😉

I still find the show awesome, even when the leads are clearly inferior to the great ones, so I can easily believe that our friends loved it as well.

In a small word irony, on the same weekend that our VA friends came to NYC on their way to Thailand, on Friday, I got an email from our friends who live in Thailand that they were passing through NYC on their way to a trade show. Reasonably amazing that they would all be in the city at the same time.

A Wicked Surprise

Send to Kindle

For the past few weeks, Lois and I have mentioned to each other that we were itching to see Wicked again. This was probably more true for me, but I think she wouldn’t have minded too much. That said, we did nothing about that itch. I didn’t even check for ticket availability online, even just for fun.

Over the weekend, good friends of ours called to say that they were finally ready to take the Wicked plunge (we had been telling them for a while what lunatics we are with regard to this show). They asked us what might work in our crazy schedule. We offered up the upcoming Wednesday (last night) as the only day we could do it in the next month or so. They said that amazingly enough, that night worked for them too.

So, while we were still on the phone, I hopped on to Ticketmaster to see if there were any seats available. No regular seats, but they had premium seats (fifth or sixth row, center orchestra) available. I offered to grab them right then. They said that they were very friendly with a ticket broker, and they wanted the opportunity to contact him first.

They called back 30 minutes later and told us that they could get the tickets cheaper than the premium seat price, so we locked in the date.

We met for dinner at a restaurant we had never been to (or heard of), one block away from the theater, called Vice Versa. Beautiful place, extremely nice staff. The tables are crowded together, but offset like an interesting jigsaw puzzle, so there’s still a sense of privacy, even though there are lots of people right around you.

The food was superb, and for mid-town, theater district, reasonably priced (not cheap, but cheaper than most restaurants of this caliber). I feel the need to highlight the $10 lentil and chickpea soup that I had. Very generous portion, and wonderfully delicious. Everyone enjoyed their meal thoroughly.

We tried to split the bill. We tried hard. At one point, I even thought we succeeded, since the other couple took my credit card. But, when the waiter came with the bill, the husband only gave his card, returned mine to me, and promised that we’ll split it “next time”. Oh well, we suffered with a great meal that didn’t cost us anything. Thanks guys, we loved the place and the food, and you’re not getting away with treating next time! 🙂

The tickets that they got were simply incredible. Third row, dead center orchestra. Wow. I have to get me a friend who is a ticket broker too. 😉 We paid less than the cost of premium seats (which is exactly what this row is considered), so I’m a little suspicious that our friends underwrote part of our ticket price, but I’m hoping that wasn’t the case!

For those who don’t regularly read this blog, this was our seventh time seeing Wicked, and I’ve written about it many times. The most recent writeup was here, which summarizes our general feelings about Wicked as a show, and specific cast members.

In that show, we saw Annaleigh Ashford for the first time. She was awesome. For regular readers, you know I can be particularly tough/harsh on the two lead roles. We missed Stephanie J. Block that night, as she off getting married to the then Fiyero (Sebastian Arcelus).

So, when we walked into the theater last night, both Lois and I were anxious to rip into the playbill to see if there were any critical understudies filling in. There were two: Jan Neuberger was playing Madame Morrible and Briana Yacavone was playing the Midwife. The Midwife is on stage for a few minutes, so I wasn’t nervous. Madame Morrible has a large role, so there was a twinge, but as long as the two leads are good, it would be hard to ruin the magic. It turns out that Jan did a wonderful job as Madame Morrible, so no worries there.

After their marriage, Sebastian Arcelus left the Broadway cast fairly quickly. Luckily for us, we had seen him once (before Stephanie joined the cast), and he was terrific. The understudy who covered for him while he was away getting married was wonderful too. We’ve been very happy with every Fiyero we’ve seen.

Last night was a new one, David Burham. He’s as cute as they come, looks the role and plays the spoken parts well. He isn’t as good as the others at the dancing parts (not that he’s bad), and he’s inconsistent (though never bad) in the singing parts. He was OK (nothing special) in his opening (signature!) number (Dancing Through Life), but was fantastic in the duet with Elphaba (As Long As You’re Mine). So, he has the voice, just not the consistency. We liked him though, so again, no problem.

On to the leads. Annaleigh was awesome, again. Aside from having a spectacular voice, to repeat my last post, her comedic timing is impeccable (that includes facial expressions, which can easily be seen from the third row). The only number that she didn’t shine in (this time, since she did it better last time) was the normally spine tingling For Good. She was flat in that number (not bad), and it’s possible that it was the interplay between her and Stephanie, but who knows what the real reason is.

Now the one that I was particularly nervous about, Stephanie J. Block. All-in-all, a good performance. She was notable in the acting parts of the role. She was more expressive than the previous Elphabas, and handled all of the speaking parts as well as one could hope for.

Vocally, nothing in her performance was disappointing (other than wanting every note to be perfect), but there was a vast difference between her and Idina Menzel or Eden Espinosa. Even Ana Gasteyer did a better job singing the role.

What was surprising to me though was that the hardest notes to hit, she hit flawlessly each time, and with wonderful controlled power. Specifically (but not exclusively) during the last few stanzas of Defying Gravity (perhaps the most challenging number for Elphaba), Stephanie completely nailed it. The same chills that run up and down your spine for the other great Elphabas appear for Stephanie here as well.

But, for the majority of the normal parts of the rest of the songs, she sings a little flatly. She hits all the notes, but with less power and clarity. So, she has all of the ingredients of being a great Elphaba, but it doesn’t all hang together (for me). I wasn’t disappointed, and most certainly didn’t feel like I have with the bad Elphabas we’ve seen, but she didn’t inspire like the great ones have.

As always, the crowd was nuts about the show. The applause were thunderous. The one (marginally) surprising thing was that while the crowd gave Annaleigh and Stephanie a very rousing standing ovation, they didn’t stand until those two came on the stage. In other words, they were very enthusiastic for the rest of the cast, but didn’t stand for them. At the majority of the shows we’ve been to before, the crowd typically stood up once someone like Madame Morrible came out, and stood from then on.

At this point, there are only a few things that will get us to the show again:

  1. Our Richmond friends finally setting a date to come see the show 😉
  2. Someone else that we’re close to begging us to go with them 😉
  3. The leads changing again, to someone that I have reason to believe might bring back the thrills and chills of seeing them perform the roles.

Other than that, we’re probably satiated at this point.

If you still haven’t seen Wicked, just go and do it already! 🙂

Wicked Serendipity

Send to Kindle

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).