“Wicked’s” Kristine Reese
Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked, a 2003 musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz, opens a 25-day run at the Marcus Center Wednesday, July 14.
Kristine Reese plays Nessarose, the wheelchair-bound sister of Elphaba (who grows up to be the Wicked Witch of the West and the play’s main character). Reese, a graduate of Cincinnati College – Conservatory of Music, made her Broadway debut in the revival of Les Miserables and performed with the National Tour of Mamma Mia! She has performed with over a dozen symphonic and pops orchestras.
Reese shared her Wicked thoughts and experiences with TCD’s Christina Lucchesi.
Christina Lucchesi: How did you come to play Nessarose?
Kristine Reese: There are two tours of the show. I was on the first as a swing, and I understudied Nessarose. I was a swing for about six or seven months, and then I auditioned for the new company. I got promoted to Nessa on the first tour and I did that for about two and half months before we went into rehearsals for this company. I’ve been with Wicked for almost three years, almost two years as Nessa.
CL: Others have portrayed Nessarose. Has the character evolved through these transitions?
KR: I originated the role in this company.
We had four weeks in New York and then we teched for two weeks. Even though you aren’t creating the role from scratch, you’re going to get a lot of time one-on-one with the various creative people involved. So in that sense, you’re going to get to put your own stamp on it, much more than if you just were a replacement. We did a lot of run-throughs, we got a lot of feedback, we talked a lot about process. And I think my interpretation of the character was unique to begin with. Had I not had that rehearsal time, maybe my interpretation would not have evolved quite as much. But certain things in the show that are tried and true. They stay in the show is because they work.
CL: How does your role contribute to Wicked’s themes of self-discovery and transformation?
Pretty much every main character changes between Act I and Act II. The transformation between the two acts is dramatic, in particular for my character. This has been a challenge as an actor. I don’t get as much time on stage for that journey to happen. I exit and the next time you see me, I’m very different. And that takes a lot more concentration. You have to have that conversation with yourself before you go on stage: “This is what happened to me and this is what they saw last time and now this is what they’re seeing.”
CL: What comes to mind as a peak Wicked experience, on stage of off?
KR: I think at the beginning I was really apologetic about the fact that I was a little bit different than the people who had come before me in this part. I wish hadn’t wasted so much energy worrying about that. It took me a while to get to that place where I was just living in it and I was just doing what was natural from an acting standpoint. That was a huge lesson for me as an actress. I’ve learned a lot of personal lessons just by doing the show eight times a week for almost three years. It’s about taking care of yourself and pacing yourself. I love the show, but it is a job and it can’t be your entire life.
CL: What was your first performance of Wicked like?
KR: I was in Cleveland. Twenty inches of snow fell the day I had my debut.
I was very excited, a little overwhelmed. Being a swing, I had to learn so many different parts. You don’t know which one you’ll do the first time. I found out about 10 in the morning, and I was so nervous. I walked over to the theater and of course it was snowing so I was completely covered in snow and freezing cold. This is not what you want for your first show!
I kind of don’t remember it. I remember it starting, and it was over, and everyone said I did really well. I had to go on for the evening show, too. I think I remember the second show more than the first. There’s so many elements of lighting and fog and costumes. You’re not numb, you remember it, it’s just so overwhelming and it happens so fast. But it was really exciting and the cast was so supportive and I love it. And my first time on as Nessarose was amazing. The people I did the show with were so kind and so supportive; it felt right. The first time I went on as an understudy in a principal role in this big huge show, it was so great.
CL: You’re in a wheelchair in this show. Does that change the way you work as an actress?
KR: A lot. You don’t have your body. You have your hands… and your neck and your head. In that sense, it’s gesturing and very much your voice. I’ve experimented a lot with how I say lines because I don’t have my body to help me express what I’m trying to say.
Also, there’s something about being in the wheelchair in rehearsals. Even though I’m playing the part of a girl in a wheelchair, you feel isolated a little bit because everyone’s over there dancing and working on a crowd scene and I’m kind of sitting here for eight hours a day for four weeks. I read an interview with, I think it was Jenna Leigh Green, who did the other tour. She originated the role four years ago on the other tour and she said the same thing. They were in rehearsals and you want to meet the people that you’re working with and talk to them but you’re sort of stuck on the other side of the room just waiting in this chair and then after a while it’s like oh, this is what she feels like, I guess. And then also, in the show, I have these really long breaks and I’m isolated in my dressing room and that’s another example. It comes with playing the part and it’s nice to have breaks, but at the same time you have to make a conscious effort to become a part of what’s happening offstage or in the group. I can imagine it’s really frustrating for someone who is in that position. It’s so much more difficult to interact with people.
CL: What’s your funniest on-stage moment?
KR: I’m not saying the wheelchair’s cursed, but it has a mind of its own. The wheel falls off or it gets locked up and pops a wheelie. Also, Glinda was in her bubble; she wears a really curly wig, a huge crown; and the wig fell off and into her hand. She said something like “oopsies” and put it back on…backwards…and the show stopped for thirty seconds. The audience clapped and the whole cast was laughing.
Special Ticket Information from the Marcus Center
Due to the unprecedented demand for tickets to Wicked, the Milwaukee engagement is likely to sell out. Here are the ways we suggest purchasing tickets for this engagement:
Tickets are available in person at the Marcus Center Box Office at 929 N. Water St.
Box office hours are Monday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 pm; Saturday noon to 9 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office, 414-273-7206. Phone lines are open Monday-Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays noon to 9 p.m.; and Sundays from noon until 5 p.m. Order online at www.MarcusCenter.org. Tickets can also be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787, Ticketmaster.com/Wicked and all Ticketmaster outlets.