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Review: ‘NSO Pops: Broadway Today with Darren Criss & Betsy Wolfe’ at The Kennedy Center

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While most of the week here in Washington, DC has been dreary and rainy, the weekend is off to a bright start as Darren Criss and Betsy Wolfe joined the National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Steven Reineke, for an evening of Broadway standards, both old and new.

NSO Pops Director Steven Reineke. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

NSO Pops Director Steven Reineke. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

These Broadway powerhouses paired perfectly with the orchestra as they brought down the house to thunderous applause multiple times.

Daren Crisis and Betsy Wolfe. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Darren Criss and Betsy Wolfe. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Darren Criss, best known for his role as Blaine Anderson on the award-winning series Glee, has also starred in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, earning universal acclaim.

Betsy Wolfe has starred in numerous shows on Broadway, including The Last Five Years, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Bullets over Broadway.   Steven Reineke brought his traditional flair and verve—and even a bit of dancing and singing—to his direction of the NSO Pops, as they played with excellence and enthusiasm.

Darren Criss owned the stage with his near-palpable charisma and his fantastic acting of the song. With his energetic opener, the fun “I Love Betsy” from Honeymoon in Vegas, by Jason Robert Brown, to the emotional intensity of “The Streets of Dublin” from A Man of No Importance, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, he showed off his legit Broadway chops, yet with his own pop twist.

Likewise, Betsy Wolfe’s clear, strong soprano made “Unusual Way” from Nine by Maury Yeston, even lovelier than usual. Her emotional rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark” was one of the highlights of the night, hitting the high notes with both strength and warmth.

After intermission, the stars really came alive. Wolfe’s cover of “Let it Go, from Frozen,” brought down the house, as she did not merely imitate Idina Menzel’s version, but truly made it her own.

Criss’ acoustic version of “I Dreamed a Dream,” from Les Misérables, was intimate and sad, even heart-wrenching in its sincerity. And in a first for the National Symphony Orchestra, they played a song from The Book of Mormon, as Criss (and even Reineke, for a little bit) sang the hilarious “You and Me (But Mostly Me).”

While both Criss and Wolfe were great on their own, they were even better together. Their version of “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors was upbeat and rowdy, while “Falling Slowly” from Once (with Criss playing guitar) was intimate and intense. It was easy to see that Criss is most comfortable with a guitar in his hands and singing in a more folk style. Their encore, “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent was fun and sassy—a perfect sendoff for the audience.

It is always a treat to hear Broadway songs performed with a full orchestra accompaniment, but the various orchestral suites from popular musicals (such as Ragtime and Chicago) that the NSO performed were lush and gorgeous. The light-heartedness and verve that Reineke brings to the orchestra really shone through.

The easy rapport between Criss, Wolfe, and Reineke, as well as the musical talent of all three and the fantastic orchestra made for a most entertaining evening. If tonight’s concert is any indication, with talented stars like Darren Criss and Betsy Wolfe, “Broadway Today” is in good hands.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

NSO Pops: Broadway Today with Darren Criss & Betsy Wolfe plays again tonight, Saturday, February 27th, 2016 at 8 PM in the Concert Hall at The Kennedy Center—2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 416-4600, or purchase them online.

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One Response to Review: ‘NSO Pops: Broadway Today with Darren Criss & Betsy Wolfe’ at The Kennedy Center

  1. Dave February 28, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    I went on Friday, and this performance exceeded my expectations. The singing was memorable – while Betsy Wolfe has awesome range and force, Darren Criss’ heartfelt rendering of “The Streets of Dublin” was my favorite takeaway. They both lit up the hall with their interpretations and Betsy’s wardrobe selections were stunning. The NSO was terrific as this writer pointed out. Betsy and Darren have a gift that i am glad that they shared this past Friday at the Kennedy Center.