Saturday, August 29, 2015

reviews - WICKED - National Tour: ASU/Gammage

Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis
Photo: Joan Marcus
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 4th.

 "One of the most enjoyable aspects of experiencing a large scale touring Broadway production at ASU Gammage in Tempe is the response of the audience. Point in question: Wicked...The score is epic, the stage required is huge, and the packed house is overwhelmingly vocally responsive...
tells the story of what happened in the Land of Oz, seen not from the point of view of a certain little girl from Kansas and her dog Toto but from the Wicked Witch of the West. Evidently, original author Frank L. Baum must have got it wrong; the famous green witch wasn’t necessarily bad, just misunderstood...this current production on our local stage actually works better than the last visit, and a lot of that has to do with its two leads....Carrie St. Louis wins you over the moment she floats down.  The performer injects Glinda with such a fresh sense of playful energy, not to mention a new burst of great comic timing, that after awhile if you’re among those who’ve seen the show before, you tend to forget that the role wasn’t always played that way...Same with Alyssa Fox as Elphaba.  Being perpetually green has its challenges when trying to get audiences on your side – facial expressions are not always as easy to determine, plus there was always the original concern that the character’s novelty factor might actually block the ability to fully connect – but that’s nowhere near the case here.  Employing everything from fluid body movement often used to good comic effect to an appropriate maniacal laugh when needed, not to mention a wonderful singing voice – she brings the house down with both the The Wizard and I and Defying Gravity...There’s also solid support from the rest of the colorful and high-energy cast, but something special happened with the opening week lineup, and of all times it happened on Press Night....Plus, there’s one more thing, and it’s great news.  It will alter the enjoyment of not only Wicked but all future ASU Gammage touring productions – the theatre’s sound system.  If anyone had a complaint regarding the auditorium it was always the lack of clarity.  Depending where you were seated, lyrics weren’t always heard and dialog was occasionally lost.  The new and well publicized ASU system is now in place and it’s good.  There’s a rich quality to the sound that now enables everyone in the house, no matter where you’re seated, to enjoy a superior clarity of audio previously absent.  It really does make all the difference." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"The Broadway musical Wicked is a phenomenon. About to celebrate its 12th anniversary on Broadway and still running in London, the show has launched two National Tours and there have been successful productions in numerous cities around the world...The national tour of the popular musical just opened at ASU/Gammage for a six week run, the third time the show has come to the Phoenix area, and this tour boasts a superb cast and creative elements that deliver an energetic and emotionally fulfilling experience.  Telling the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West and how she got to be that way and given that name, the musical is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire. While the main theme and characters of the musical are the same as the novel, there are many changes that book writer Winnie Holzman and composer Stephen Schwartz made to make the story and characters more accessible and as a result created a show that so many people fell in love with. The way that Holzman and Schwartz were also able to connect this version of the story to things we all know and love from the movie The Wizard of Oz also adds another layer to the storytelling that includes many fun surprises. Schwartz’ score is full of high energy and tuneful showstoppers. There are many twists and turns in the story, so no spoiler alerts for those who haven’t seen it, but the basic plot overview follows Elphaba and Galinda, from the time they meet at college to their later years when Elphaba has become the Wicked Witch of the West and Galinda has become Glinda the Good Witch of the North. But, to quote a line from the show, was Elphaba "born wicked, or did she have wickedness thrust upon her?" ...The current tour cast includes Alyssa Fox as Elphaba and Carrie St. Louis as Galinda, both of whom completely instill the characters with the drive and power that the original Broadway leads Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth did as well. They both embody their parts with ease, making them original, though St. Louis is a bit wackier than actresses I’ve seen in the part before, though she does have impeccable comic timing. They are also both very good singers, with St. Louis hitting some glorious high notes and Burns a powerhouse who belts out her big solos with a roar, including the showstopper "Defying Gravity" that she delivers with ease. The two form a great, believable partnership and make the characters their own....On opening night at Gammage, understudy and Phoenix native Beka Burnham was on for Liana Hunt as Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister. Burnham is a 2014 graduate from the Boston Conservatory who just celebrated her one year anniversary on the tour and the first time she saw Wicked was here on the Gammage stage. So it was nice to see a local girl in one of the main parts in the show and, even at such a young age, delivering an accomplished, nuanced portrayal. The production boasts... exceptional production aspects almost identical to Broadway with just a few small modifications in the physical aspect of the show to allow it to easily tour. This is the first time I’ve seen a tour of this show, having seen the musical numerous times on Broadway, so it’s nice to see that audiences outside of New York City get a production that is on par with the one on Broadway and that the cast is as good as ones I’ve seen in New York...."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"...Wicked, the splashy and lavishly elaborate popular musical at ASU Gammage is ...a thoroughly delightful telling of “The Wizard of Oz’s” pre-story.  As is the case with most Broadway musical tours that stop here, the original Broadway production and its stars influence each road production but this pristine new tour’s two leads come close to cloning the original Broadway stars, KristIn Chenoweth’s good witch, Glinda, and Idina Menzel’s award-winning Elphaba.  Alyssa Fox possesses Menzel’s big, rich voice but she doesn’t quite have the Broadway star’s dynamically shimmering personality.  Carrie St. Louis has Chenoweth’s glistening, soaring voice and the finely honed comic skills to bring audiences Glinda’s endless laughs.  Surrounding the two stars is a spot-on cast that recreates other roles with sparkling pizzazz.  And, unlike many downscaled Broadway road tours, the ASU Gammage stage is filled with lush, ever changing, and vibrantly colorful scenery that dazzles while the sumptuously sparkly New York costumes glisten with fancifully lavish delight...if joyous entertainment is desired, there’s nothing better than Wicked....The show boasts Stephen Schwartz’ catchy and melodic score while Winnie Holzman’s book, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, is loaded with merry frivolity that makes Wicked one of the most entertaining musicals ever created.  Joe Mantello’s breezy staging and Wayne Cilento’s swirling dances make the action fun to watch.  Even when Wicked gets more dramatic, there’s still a winsome charm to the story."
 --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"...with all due respect to composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz. (Wicked's) song list boasts two solid showstoppers and one comic masterpiece, but overall it hardly matches the tunefulness of Schwartz’s best work, Pippin....Yet even the forgettable tunes demonstrate Schwartz’s mastery of songwriting as storytelling. Wicked has a story to tell, and it has characters to care about, and that’s what really matters in the theater.... the touring production that opened this week at Gammage demonstrates everything that makes Wicked a musical worth revisiting.  Part of it is certainly the lavish spectacle,..
And do you want to talk about lighting design? ...the spotlight shafts creating a star around a flying Elphaba during the climactic “Defying Gravity” are magical indeed. But the heart of this show is the rivalry-turned-friendship between Elphaba, the green-skinned misfit...and Glinda, the deceptively ditzy blonde...played, respectively, by Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis, and even though neither can match the virtuosic belting of the original stars, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, their chemistry is spot on. St. Louis is especially endearing — and delightfully dorky — singing “Popular,” the best song of the show, in which Glinda attempts an unsuccessful makeover on her newly minted BFF....It might not have been obvious from the start. But it’s girl power that makes Wicked rise above." - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

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