The actresses playing Glinda and Elphaba will pair up for the first time for 'Wicked' in Fresno.

The Fresno BeeMarch 29, 2014 

Glinda, meet Elphaba.

The first encounter between the future Good Witch of the North and future Wicked Witch of the West takes place every performance of the musical "Wicked." The relationship between the bubbly Glinda and the introverted Elphaba is the core of this wildly popular show, which tells the "Wizard of Oz" story from another perspective.

Call it the universal appeal of sisterhood or the law of opposites attracting, but it's clear from the passion of fans that the success of "Wicked" — which returns to the Saroyan Theatre on Wednesday for its second long run in three years — rests on the Glinda-Elphaba dynamic.

Yet when you think about it, there are actually two kinds of meetings between these two big-voiced women. While the two characters are introduced every show, there's also a moment when the actresses who play them meet and perform together for the first time as well.

That's why it's so sweet to learn that Kara Lindsay, who plays Glinda, and Laurel Harris, who plays Elphaba, will pair up in the roles for the first time when the show opens in Fresno.

Harris, who has performed as the Elphaba understudy in the past but in Fresno kicks off a contract playing the role full time, can't contain her excitement.

"Some of my best friends are past Glindas," she says. "When you meet the woman you're about to share the next nine months or year of your life with, it's a special moment. It's the beginning of a friendship."

When I talked with both women in separate phone interviews a couple of weeks ago, the pair still hadn't actually met in person. That meeting would happen a few days later, in San Antonio. (Harris, who returns to the show after a three-year stint, was scheduled to join the tour there on March 18.)

Lindsay is brand new to "Wicked," so she joined the tour earlier in Austin.

"It's going to be my Glinda and 'Wicked' debut, all in one," she says. "I'm really excited."

The show, which criss-crosses the country in two national tours and maintains its impressive Broadway run, is an efficient machine. Management likes to start off new pairs of Glindas and Elphabas at the same time to help them develop the chemistry so essential to the show. (Also joining the show in a leading role in Fresno is Gene Weygandt as the Wizard, a role he has played on Broadway and on tour.)

For a newcomer like Lindsay, she got a chance in the weeks before her big debut to go through what's called a "put-in" rehearsal. The entire company gathered on an afternoon before an evening performance to run the show with her — but she was the only one who had to be in costume.

Otherwise she's been rehearsing one on one, plus watching the show every night.

Lindsay brings impressive Broadway experience to her "Wicked" debut. She originated the leading female role of Katharine in the Disney musical hit "Newsies," playing the part for nearly two years.

She's always wanted to be in "Wicked."

"I was absolutely obsessed with it in in college," Lindsay says. "It felt like a dream that was untouchable. It's such a huge show."

That didn't stop her from auditioning periodically for the show since 2007. Her initial efforts didn't get a bite. Then, this year, came the call from her agent, who said she'd gotten the role of Glinda on tour.

"I was truly over the moon," she says. "I was not expecting a yes. I'd been going in for so many years."

Harris, who played Elphaba every few weeks on average as a standby — moving up from her role in the ensemble to do so — hasn't needed as much rehearsal, of course. She already has the role down cold.

But it will be different to be a true leading lady.

"It feels like I made it to the top of the mountain," Harris says. "This has been a dream of mine. Because it's been a three-year journey, it means that much more."

Though a show such as "Wicked" is very much established, Harris says that one reason it still thrives is that the show's creators keep close tabs on productions to make sure the roles don't become stock characters.

"That's what keeps the show alive 10 years later," Harris says. "It's constantly changing depending on who's coming in. You still get leeway as an actor. An example is that my sense of humor really shines in this role. I'm a goofball on stage. I love to make people laugh."

Among the proudest laughers will be Harris' parents, fiancée and best friend, who plan to travel to Fresno to be in the audience for her. Lindsay's husband and sister-in-law will do the same.

For both women, the Saroyan Theatre performances mark the start of exciting new chapters in their lives.

Says Lindsay: "Fresno is going to be very special to me."

And it's always good to have the Good Witch of the North thinking kindly of your city.


THEATER PREVIEW

"Wicked," April 2-13, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St. (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com/wicked. $55-$130

'WICKED' LOTTERY

Two and one-half hours prior to each performance, people who present themselves at the Saroyan Theatre box office will have their names placed in a lottery drum. Thirty minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only. Limit of two tickets per person. Lottery participants must have a valid photo ID when submitting an entry form and, if chosen, when purchasing tickets.

 

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6373, dmunro@fresnobee.com and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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