Oct. 05--Hayley Podschun is back in town.
The one-time child performer who grew up in Overland Park is co-headlining the second national tour of "Wicked," the phenomenally popular musical prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," which opens Wednesday at Music Hall.
Things have worked out well for Podschun, who appeared in both the Broadway production and film of "Hairspray." But there was a moment when she was desperate to point her life in a different direction.
Podschun made her Broadway debut when she was all of 12 years old. As a member of the Von Trapp family in the 1998 revival of "The Sound of Music," the formidably talented former student at the Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice had made a crucial first step in a musical-theater career.
Being in the show was a heady experience. Originally hired as an understudy, she eventually stepped into the roles of two different Von Trapp kids and stayed with the show through its closing day in 1999.
That's when reality slapped her in the face.
"It closed two days before my birthday," Podschun said recently. "It really hit me, the reality of working in show business -- that you have a job one day and then the next day you don't. And I was watching all these adults taking everything out of their dressing rooms. They had to just clean them out."
It was a sad, traumatic moment -- so much so that for the next few years she considered any and all employment possibilities.
"For the next two years of my life I was researching jobs online," she said. "Here was a 13-year-old kid researching jobs she could do as an adult. ... Everything I was researching was stuff like 'personal assistant,' so maybe I could still be in the entertainment industry. I was so crazy."
Ultimately, she had to face facts: Singing, dancing and acting were skills she had acquired in the absence of any others.
"It wasn't until midway through high school that I was like, 'Well, I don't know what else to do because it's all I really know how to do and I'm not really good at anything else,' " she said.
Podschun graduated from Blue Valley North High School and after only a year of college in Boston she auditioned for the national tour of "Hairspray" and was hired. It was one of those "and I never looked back" moments.
Since then she has racked up some impressive Broadway credits: revivals in 2008 of "Sunday in the Park With George" and "Pal Joey" (directed by Joe Mantello), a 2011 revival of "Anything Goes" and last year, a new original musical, "Chaplin."
In "Wicked" Podschun plays Glinda, the good witch, opposite Jennifer DiNoia as Elphaba, the misunderstood outsider who becomes the wicked witch. Podschun said the nice thing about this tour, in which she was again directed by Mantello, is that the actors are not seen as more than interchangeable parts.
"Whenever they get a new Glinda or Elphaba, they really want you to bring yourself to the role," she said. "They don't want you to do anything you've seen before. They want you to bring your own personality. So I get to to use my little weird quirks, my own comedy. I don't have to be someone else. I get to be the weird self that I am at home with my friends. ... Her arc is really fun because she starts so innocent and wide-eyed and then things change and she grows to this lady."
"Wicked" will be at the Musical Hall for an extended run of 19 days, which Podschun said will give her a chance to explore what's new in Kansas City.
"This will be the longest I've been home since college," she said.
"My parents come to see me where my show's at because I get maybe one day off, if that. I'm kind of excited to see the city because I haven't been back in so long.
"The Power & Light District wasn't even built the last time I was home."
"Wicked" is at the Music Hall through Oct. 27. Call 800-745-3000 or go to theaterleague.com.
To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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