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THEATER REVIEW: Wicked

by Chris Conley

THEATER REVIEW (WSAU)  If you're a working actor on Wicked's national tour, you are very, very good at your craft. There are two travelling Oz-troupes roaming the county. One landed in Appleton last week and has settled in for a three week run.

There have been some changes on the Emerald City Tour. (That's the behind-the-scenes name of Wicked's first national touring company. The Muchkinland Tour is the nickname for the second company, which is probably enjoying better weather in Austin, Texas this week.) There are always comings and goings on-tour. Some actors fulfill their one-year contract and leave. Others are asked to pack. Some get to fill slots with the Broadway company. And there are all the usual sicknesses and injuries that come with living, travelling, and performing in close quarters.

Still, it's been a time of more-change-than-usual for this touring company. John Davidson, who you've seen on TV in soap operas for years, has completed his run as the Wizard of Oz. He was the best known name in the company. His replacement, Tim Kazurinski, was excellent. There were three other supporting actor swap-outs when the show left Pittsburgh - although the two lead-witches are staying the same.

Amid those changes from a few weeks ago, two understudies were on stage at my performance Sunday afternoon at the Fox Valley Performing Arts Center. Gina Beck was out, and understudy Shanon Mari Mills was in as the good-witch Glinda. I imaged that Beck, from England, might have been under the weather from a true Midwestern winter. Who knows.  Nick Adams, the regular love-interest Fiyero, also sat-out, and understudy Timothy A Fitz-Gerald took his place. 

That's a huge behind-the-scenes production challenge, working in new cast members who've joined in the last few weeks and having understudies in two of the leading roles. One of the biggest hurdles is the "regular" Elphiba, Allison Luft, who has to navigate two fill-ins -- with one, the other, or both on-stage with her in almost every scene. Luft has a big voice and is comfortable through all of her paces. She's a true star who could easily fall into the same role in New York. The only complaint is that it's clear she wasn't used to singing with her understudy co-stars. Several of the duets in the first act were off. Later in act two, when Luft sung 'As Long As You're Mine' with Fitz-Gerald, they clearly got the hang of each other.

I'm happy to report Mills and Fitz-Gerald were both rock-solid performers. She was perfect in 'Popular' and he is a fine singer with very good timing.

Being cast in the national tour for a mega-Broadway hit is as good as it gets for people who perform on the road. They actually get to unpack for multi-week runs. (Pity the cast of American Idiot, which sometimes appears in two cities per week with occasional one and two show stops.) The Wicked national tours are selling out huge theaters and are making big money for their backers. The stakes are high. The performers are rock-solid, even when last minute changes are made. My daughters and I were flying high by the end of the show.

Chris Conley
2.17.14


PS - Although my favorite venues are old, lovingly-restored theaters -- a rave to very modern Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton. It is a spectacular showplace for musical theater, with outstanding acoustics and excellent sight lines.





Image: The Wicked marquee on the Ford/Oriental theater in Chicago via WikiCommons.com