The Akron Symphony Orchestra opened their 60th anniversary season Saturday night with WICKED DIVAS, starring Nicole Parker and Alli Mauzey. The former stars of Broadway's WICKED entertained the crowd with a collection of songs celebrating divas of stage, screen and everything in between.
It's obvious to see Parker and Mauzey are good friends. The pair starred together as Elphaba and Glinda in 2009 and became very close in that time. They have a fun rapport, constantly teasing and slinging good-natured jibes when they would pass each other entering or exiting the stage. I've seen several other WICKED DIVAS performances and while Parker and Mauzey didn't exactly have the same polished stage presence of the other divas, they held their own and engaged the audience.
Parker's background in comedy came to the forefront any time she interacted or bantered with the audience. As she introduced "Defying Gravity" she told of the time the mechanism that flies Elphaba into the air didn't work. In most "Plan B" instances, the actress disengages herself from the safety harness, runs downstage and continues the song. In her instance, she couldn't disengage herself from the harness no matter how hard she tried. Parker said she was eventually helped out by a "man in black" from backstage. Her demonstration of how the ensemble members lie down on the floor of the stage during the song to help give the illusion that Elphaba is actually flying (when she's obviously not) should also be noted. Even though she was wearing a gorgeous black fishtail evening dress, Parker managed to lower herself to within inches of the floor, which garnered more laughter from the audience.
Mauzey is a chatty ball of energy. Her performance of "Popular" had her bouncing back and forth across the stage in a short yellow dress that Glinda would probably wear (although she would insist it be pink instead). It also provided a glimpse into her characterization thanks to the addition of little moments of ad-libbing tossed in throughout the song.
Under the baton of music director and conductor Christopher Wilkins, the 82-piece Akron Symphony sounded full and lush. There seemed to be a few times they faltered but it was a tight performance overall. The percussion section was highlighted during "Conga" and concertmaster Sara Schaft played a lovely violin solo during "Over the Rainbow." Wilkins also showed off his knowledge of the musical WICKED by quoting a couple of lines and making several show references.
The only downfall of an otherwise enjoyable concert experience was a technical one. For a majority of the performance, the house lights were up. They weren't necessarily at a full level but they definitely were dark or even dim. You could full see everything going on in the audience around you. All of the fidgeting, all of the program reading and all of the moving to the music. It was highly annoying. Since the lighting level changed I would assume it was a conscious decision made by someone somewhere but let's hope it doesn't continue. Symphony concerts are meant to be enjoyed without the distracting of being drawn to watch the audience members around you instead of what's happening on stage in front of you. Luckily, Parker and Mauzey were entertaining enough to pull my focus back to them when it would start to wander.
For more information on the Akron Symphony and their upcoming concerts, please visit www.akronsymphony.org.