This week’s exclusive interview comes from Ms. Kristine Reese, who currently performs the role of Nessarose on the 2nd National Tour of “Wicked”. She started as a swing and understudy for Nessarose on the 1st National Tour before moving up to full-time Nessarose on the 1st National, then finally opened the 2nd National Tour in March 2009 as Nessarose. We thank Ms. Reese for allowing us to interview her and wish her the best in performances to come!
What was your first professional acting job, and how did you land it?
My first real professional experience was a short tour of Hello, Dolly! Starring Michele Lee from Knots Landing fame. I booked the job the day after I graduated. LeRoy Reams was directing it. He was a fellow CCM (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music) alum who saw me perform in a showcase, really needed someone who could sing soprano, and so..I was in!
What was your reaction when you got the phone call inviting you to join the show? How long after did you start rehearsals?
I was really excited! I thought maybe my agent was joking around when he told me. Not only because I was so excited to be doing the show but also because I basically had to start the next day!
How did you come to audition for “Wicked” and what was the audition process like?
I had been in for Wicked several times over the years for various roles. So, by the time I got to my last audition I was pretty familiar with the material. However, I had NEVER auditioned for Nessarose before and my very last audition for the swing position they asked me to cold read the governors mansion scene and sing Wicked Witch of the East. I had seen the show maybe once at that point and I didn’t even know the song. I guess I did something right because now I’m doing the role!
How long and how difficult was the initial rehearsal process for the show?
Normally you get about 2 weeks to learn the show and get put in to the show–for one track. I had to learn 6. So…there was no other way to do it than to just learn them all as quickly as possible. I honestly think you either have a swing brain, or you don’t. I just have a brain that can handle all that information, can observe the show and just file it away.
What was your first show like? How were you feeling throughout the show – nervous, excited, scared? What track were you in?
I found out at about 10:30 that I was going on for a 2 pm matinee. There was a blizzard, we were in Cleveland and the entire city was covered in several feet of snow. I was on for Meggie Cansler who was making her Glinda debut. Coincidentally, Merideth Kaye Clark also made her Elphaba debut that day. We were all pretty excited and we had all known each other previously so there was love all around. I was ready; I needed to be out there so I could see what it was all about. I was obviously very nervous but everything went fine!
As a swing, what was your favorite track to perform in the show?
My absolute favorite hands down is Pfanee. She gets to do everything; dance, sing, have cute funny lines and throw the bucket on the witch! I actually did that track far more than any other so I was very comfortable with it.
How was the initial rehearsal process for Nessarose, and what was your first performance like?
This is sort of a complicated question as I would say I had 3 rehearsal processes. One as an understudy, second when i took over on tour 1, and the third was rehearsal in NY for the tour 2. As an understudy, I had been on quite a bit and gotten a chance to play around with some things before I actually went into the role, but at that point, it still wasn’t all my own. When I took over in Minneapolis I got a chance to really work with the other principals I would be doing it with, get some direction and some permission to take liberties, vocally and acting wise. When we started rehearsals in NY for the Second National I really began to grow. I had all new chairs, an entirely different cast and 8 hours every day to sit in the chair and just really GET INTO IT. I made some really special discoveries in that process because I was able to try new things, see how it worked, get feedback and develop from that. As far as my first performance goes, I was just really looking forward to it. Everyone has always been so supportive that I have worked with and I have always had so much fun. I have done this role with 7 Elphabas now, pretty crazy!
What is your favorite song or scene to perform in the ensemble and as Nessarose, and why?
As a swing, Dancing Through Life.
As Nessarose, obviously Governors Mansion. That scene is intense- These girls that I have worked with…they are amazing. They get me through it. Marcie [Dodd] is brilliant and Donna [Vivino] is one of my closest friends(also brilliant) so to do that scene…that is IT for me.
Do you have any onstage bloopers or mishaps you’ve been involved in or witnessed you’d like to share?
How much time do we have?
Well, once I lost part of the wheel on my wheelchair in Dancing Through life, and Ted Ely and I were cracking up trying not to give it away but Ted just walked off stage, handed off the piece, and walked back on. I couldn’t get it together after that.
Also, probably my favorite blooper ever was Katie Rose Clarke’s bubble wig falling off. She just caught it in her hand, and plopped it on. Except, she put it on backwards. The whole audience erupted and she just lost it. We all did. It was brilliant.
I seriously have at least 25 stories. I can give you more.
How did your promotion to lead Nessarose come about?
I’m not sure to be honest! I had understudied for a while, and done quite a bit of rehearsals and performances for various people involved. In the fall I got called to New York for an audition to open the Second National. I found out quickly I would be doing the role on Tour 2 but was supposed to finish the year swinging. Turns out I was going to take over for Deedee [Magno Hall] as well so it was a happy surprise!
Could you ever see yourself playing one of the leading ladies in “Wicked”?
I have auditioned for all the witches at some point. To be honest, I have always seen myself as more of a Glinda. I have since come to realize that Nessarose is a little bit like Glinda in Act 1 and a little but like Elphaba in Act 2. I’m very happy to be where I am. Nessa is one crazy lady and I love her!
Are there any other dream roles you’d like to play one day?
My dream role would be any role back in New York so I can be with my fiance! I have been away so long! I don’t really have any “dream roles” just other roles I would love to do; Carrie in Carousel, Clara in Piazza, Belle. I want to do anything classic musical theatre.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
BALANCE YOUR LIFE. Do other things. This business is hard and crazy and stressful but there are other things to life. Family, friends, relationships and the Final Season of Lost.