The symphony on a temperate summer night. Musicians in short sleeves, sending off lilting vibrations into the cooling air, the possibility of musical magic. Even better, a theme to lend a thread of focus. Thus, we have Wicked Divas, an immensely enjoyable treat featuring the National Symphony Orchestra led by a playful and energetic Steven Reineke and showcasing the soloists Stephanie J. Block and Julia Murney.
Our featured singers are both veterans of Broadway and of the musical Wicked, hence the connection. The unasked question that hung in the air and was variously bandied about was what really is a Diva? Compliment or pejorative? Or just a matter of attitude? As the evening flowed on we even gleaned insights from our golden-throated dames.
The evening opened with the NSO performing an orchestral revue from Gypsy and Carmen, Gypsy for wonderful melodies and Carmen highlighted for its haunting score of staccato violins. We are set up with this evocative tease, preparing our anxious audience for our featured talent.
Finally Block and Murney made their presence known as they entered and sashayed in shimmering evening attire. They shone as if the spotlight were the sun and they sunflowers, each glowing in their summer repartee. The next hour and a half was a tag team of artistic showcasing as they took us through Arias, Pop, and even Disco in presenting the music of the big D.
Selections from Chicago were performed together, the first real ‘bad girl’ musical. From there we witnessed their unique abilities in the songs they took on. Block, a stunning brunette with a megawatt smile, has the truer diva voice and classical range, and showed it in “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl, filling the house with sumptuous sound.
… treat yourself to a helping portion magic under the stars.
Murney’s first effort was from Ragtime. Her vocals were versatile and expressive as she told a tale of heartbreak through the generations. As she sang ‘We can never go back to before….” we had the start of a pattern. Block transfixed you with vocal power. Her rendition of “Think of Me” from Phantom provided classic big moments and effortless vibrato that lingered in the night air. Murney, in contrast, is a master of vocal expression and delivered a hilarious rendition of “Ring Them Bells” from Liza With a Z, vocalizing multiple characters in one of the highlights of the evening. We are learning that a Diva can be many things, especially with symphonic power.
Before intermission we are treated to “Conga,” an arrangement from Miami Sound Machine that was a head-scratching detour from the theme, but still a welcome rocking out, especially with an orchestral interpretation, featuring lead drummer Joe Connell.
It got even better after intermission. Arguably our reigning Pop diva, Diana Ross, was given due star treatment by our soloists. Then two more in the unofficial top five, as they performed the Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer hit “No More Tears” a playful song that built in power and intensity. And on it went, as these just too darn likeable gals poured it on to the delight of the crowd.
Near the end is an instrumental version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Heartfelt when sung, it holds up in a wholly different way instrumentally. Of course, that Oz connection created a tinge of anticipation. After almost 2 hours of musical magic comes the moment for the wickedmiesters. Yes, there are Wicked groupies…
Block and Murney invoked the witches Elphaba and Glenda in singing “Popular,” “Defying Gravity,” and the heartwarming “For Good.” It was enchanting.
Reineke, in his 2nd season as Principal Pops conductor of NSO, enjoyed his banter with the divas, providing a relaxed back and forth evening. The NSO historically performs several events at Wolf Trap in late July, so treat yourself to a helping portion magic under the stars.
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes with an intermission.
Wicked Divas was performed at Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts, Vienna, Virginia on Sunday, July 28th. For tickets or for other performances in the 2013 season, call 1.877.WOLFTRAP or click here.