Broadway Star Jessica Vosk• January 25, 2022• Noorda Center
Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe
Photographed by Emily Muñoz
Jessica Vosk is a singer and actress best known for starring in the role of Elphaba, the lead in Wicked both on Broadway and on the show’s national tour. She has also performed on Broadway in The Bridges of Madison County, Finding Neverland, and the 2015 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Vosk has also performed concerts in some of the most famous venues across the country including New York City’s famous Lincoln Center and sold out the iconic Carnegie Hall. So having Jessica Vosk here in Utah at the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Utah Valley University was a real honor.
I had the opportunity to chat with Jessica before her show. I’ll be including some of our conversation throughout this review. I found her to be charming, insightful, and inspirational both in our conversation and in her performance later that night.
Vosk told me that this was her first time here in Utah. “The Mountains are so gorgeous. The backdrop seems unreal. It’s beautiful! Beautiful! It feels surreal like a painting.” She also shared that she was excited for the opportunity to perform at The Noorda and to be on the UVU campus because not only did she get to give a “fierce 90-minute show. And then I get to teach the next day. It’s a blast.”.
Jessica Vosk has a unique journey to Broadway. She didn’t make her debut on the Great White way until she was 30. She graduated from college in finance and worked in that world for quite some time. So she has a unique perspective when it comes to a career in performing. “I think the older we get, the more ridged we get, ‘Ok so I’ve chosen this one thing and it has to be this’ whereas, it doesn’t. Life’s too short. And it’s certainly too short to sit around not doing something you love. Or not feel passionate about what it is you’re doing. So when kids ask me ‘How do I get that role? Or what is it I need to do to get from college to the audition room to the Broadway stage?’
Well, I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is, I took a complete left turn, went into finance, learned everything about business, and that’s why I’m here. So the stuff that I got from the world of corporate America and business has translated to actually building a business. To understanding that it’s actually Show Business and not Show Fun. It always feels like the end of the world when you’re a kid. But nobody knows what to do. You just have to show up. And that’s why I love doing these kinds of shows because I talk about that story.“
And she did tell much of that story to the audience later that night. I sat near some students who were completely fixated on every word Vosk had to say. Because here’s the thing, she’s really good. She’s an amazing storyteller and an exceptional vocalist. This isn’t a situation where you hear, “Oh she came from business, and now she’s on Broadway. Good for her.” It’s not like that at all. If you were to have told me that she graduated top of her class at Julliard I would have believed it. She is that extraordinary.
Vosk told me that when she decided to become a professional performer she went to a lot of open mic nights. I followed up by asking her if she meant for singing or for stand-up comedy. She meant singing open mic nights. But I’ll say again, if you would have told me that she did stand-up comedy open mic nights I would have believed it. Vosk was so funny! She told stories of being cast as a swing (essentially an understudy for every part in the musical) and how bad she was at that and what it was like being called up to perform. She told the story of having to replace the actress playing Golde Fiddler on the Roof after intermission. I enjoyed her storytelling every bit as much as I did her singing. And her singing was impressive.
The setlist of the show consisted of a mix of contemporary music and songs from musical theater. Vosk sang a few medlies in her set. One medley of songs with the theme of love, another with songs from shows she’s been in. Which drew Vosk her first standing ovation. Oh yes, she received multiple. She performed a beautiful cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. The term “you could have heard a pin drop” doesn’t do justice to how silent it was in there. I would say, you could hear a cotton ball hit the floor it was so silent. Everyone was so drawn into the performance.
It was impressive the way Vosk took us on a journey from the hilarious to the heartfelt in a matter of sentences. Nothing felt scripted though. In many ways, I felt like we were back in the green room chatting. Only now it was with a full Noorda Center.
The audience was quite respectful. And they were silent when they needed to be. But they didn’t hold back when it was their time to be heard. The crowd would sing along when invited and would laugh, sometimes hysterically, when appropriate, and of course, they would roar after every single song. And as mentioned, giving several well-earned standing ovations.
Some highlights for me, which PS was not easy to narrow down, were Jessica Vosk’s cover of “Gravity” by Sara Barielles, “I Want To Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” made famous by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. I don’t say this lightly. Vosk’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is one of the best renditions of that song that I have ever heard. I love that song, and I’ve heard it performed many times. But never like that.
I could see people wiping away tears. As the song went along I noticed people scooting up to the edge of their seats. They wanted to be ready to jump to their feet the moment the song was over. Every song that night was performed to perfection, and if there were any flubs it only added to the charm and personal connection of the evening.
If there is one thing I love, it’s true encores. We all understand that encores can be more ceremonial these days. Of course we want them to come back but it’s usually expected they do. Vosk even joked before singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that this was her encore to just pretend she left and came back. However, when she finished that song and waved goodbye, the audience was not ready for her to go. They cheered and cheered to the point where her musical director and pianist, Matt Perry gestured to the audience that he would go get her.
He was offstage for a moment and then reappeared with a genuinely surprised Jessica Vosk. They talked for a moment off mic and then she told the audience, “You really done did surprise me with the second one. Because that one I really wasn’t prepared for.” The audience laughed and cheered.
Jessica Vosk told a story of meeting the great Alison Krauss. Someone who became a mentor of hers. She followed the story by closing the show with the Krauss hit, “When You Say Nothing at All”. I think there’s something to be said about performing a song that has been covered to death and yet drawing all the emotions and beauty a song like that is meant to provide. I know I’m repeating myself again, but this quickly became one of my favorite covers of this song. I’ve seen Alison Krauss perform this song, and Jessica Vosk’s performance was right up there with Krauss’. A final standing ovation ended the night. Jessica Vosk has a true talent. Her voice is pristine, and her personality, gravitational. I hope she comes back to Utah very soon because I will see her every time she performs here.
I was fortunate enough to observe Jessica give a Master Class to students of the Utah Valley University theater department. When I say I just wanted to be a fly on the wall I’m not kidding. Take a look at the Instagram post from The Noorda about this Master Class. I’m the guy hiding far in the very back. So yeah, I was there to watch and did not want to get in the way.
Vosk completely transformed these students. A student would take the stage, and perform a song of their choosing. Then Jessica would work with them on ways to improve their performance whether it be stage presence, vocal control, or channeling their emotions properly. I was impressed with the talent of these students. Many of them gave very solid initial performances. But at the end of their time with Vosk, when they would perform the song again, it was always improved and stunning how different it was. I admired their willingness to take constructive criticism in attempts to get better. Each one of them did.
One student, in particular, strained every time he tried to hit the high note of his song. After a few adjustments with Jessica Vosk and he totally hit it. Not only did he hit it, but it seemed to be effortless this time. I noticed the other students applauding with joy for their fellow classmate. The support in that room was strong. Jessica was so positive and motivating in her teaching. There was never a critique that wasn’t done with care or with the intent to show the student that they could get to the place they wanted to go as an actor and singer.
The standout moment in the class was when Mckenna Ashby took the stage to perform “To My Angels” from the musical Super You. She shared her issue was not really connecting with the song and character. Jessica Vosk then broke the song down with Ashby to find ways to personalize and connect with the song. “She allowed me to be very vulnerable on stage”. Ashby said. Vosk asked Mckenna to invite someone on stage to sing to. Ashby invited her friend, Hailey Howell up to the stage.
Things got really emotional after that. Ashby clearly found a connection to the song and Howell was so good at letting her feel that. It was an intense and vulnerable moment that the class was allowed to be a part of. Ashby shared that she felt like she was able to become so vulnerable due to Jessica Vosk creating such a safe space for the students. “It wasn’t embarrassing because I kept thinking, ‘I’m in a workshop with someone amazing. She’s creating a safe space for us. I’m with my peers and we’re all working together through this program. I felt safe that I could do whatever I needed to.”
Mckenna Ashby also shared that this type of education was one she hopes will happen again. “It was an incredible experience with Jessica. If we get any more opportunities like this I would take it up. Because the information we get from this I’ll be using beyond college. I ate everything up that she was saying.”
It was a huge privilege for me to not only chat with Jessica Vosk but also to see her perform and teach. I think coming from a place where performing wasn’t her profession for so long that she truly performs with joy and gratitude that she has the well-earned opportunities she has now. I love that she shares these experiences and this knowledge with the next generation of performers.