Of all the green girls to date, Ana Gasteyer is the most authentic outsider. The former “Saturday Night Live” star certainly can’t pick notes out of thin air like Idina Menzel. Nor is she as perkily effervescent as Stephanie J. Block, Elphaba in the first national company. But Gasteyer’s verdant comic geekiness goes beyond the easily transformed — she has a far more awkward and complex physical presence than her predecessors. And while that makes the show seem a tad less slick and smooth, it lends the dedicated Chi version of “Wicked” a laudable authenticity that should be a good match for the no-nonsense Midwest.
Gasteyer’s understated co-star, Kate Reinders (late of “Good Vibrations”), adheres more to the usual blond character traits. But the duo exhibit a pleasingly intense emotional relationship. And this pairing of two stars with decent vocal chops (Gasteyer, a legit vocalist, greatly exceeds expectations in the singing arena) tops a generally solid new cast. The Chi incarnation offers one other particular treat: a deliciously crafted Nessarose from Heidi Kettenring that’s probably the best rendition of the crippled sister to date.
As Mme. Morrible, Chi thesp Rondi Reed does full-on panto, while Kristoffer Cusick’s Fiyero, Gene Weygandt’s Wizard and Telly Leun’s Boq are perfectly unremarkable. Other elements of the show are close duplicates of the original, with no discernable loss in quality.
Thanks to boffo sales, this new cast of “Wicked” is expected to remain in Chi for up to two years before morphing into the second national company. Markets that get this show rather than the first national likely will benefit from Gasteyer’s “SNL” name recognition; she got a very warm welcome in Chi. And her comic skills add a great deal to the proceedings. Or they will, at least, once she relaxes.
Overall, though, both touring companies have cast strengths and weaknesses, with neither emerging as stronger overall. That’s probably ideal for the producers, who are making so much money with this show on the road, they must even be surprising themselves.
Thanks to astonishingly powerful word of mouth, “Wicked” is the monster hinterland hit that no critics predicted. At the end of the day (whenever that may be), it will turn out to be far, far bigger than either “The Producers” or “Hairspray.” And it’s being exploited with masterful immediacy and scale.