It was a hot and steamy night at Wolf Trap last night. Part of this had to do with the weather, but most of it was due to the arrival of Broadway superstar Idina Menzel. As the evening began, NSO@Wolf Trap Festival Conductor Emil de Cou greeted thousands upon thousands of cheering attendees to announce the concert and to apologize to the disappointed overflow crowd still waiting at the gates in hopes of snagging tickets to the show.
The concert was conducted by NSO Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke, a bundle of enthusiastic energy who honed his skills as a conductor, composer, and arranger while serving as the associate conductor of the Cincinnati Pops under its late and much loved conductor Eric Kunzel. The first half of the program began with “Celebration Fanfare,” a work composed by the conductor, followed by a medley of show stopping favorites from Jule Styne’s Gypsy, and concluded with “I Hear a Symphony,” a Reineke arranged crowd pleasing sing-along medley of songs made famous by Diana Ross.
The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Idina Menzel. The crowd went entirely wild as Menzel began her performance off stage with “Over the Rainbow” and then bounded onstage barefoot to finish the opening arrangement with “The Wizard and I” from Wicked.
Menzel described herself aptly as a Long Island girl with a truck driver’s mouth, and to the amusement of many but the bewilderment of some, she proved it throughout the night with comments that left her conductor blushing various shades of red and dissolving in laughter and NSO musicians a visibly dazed. At one point, Menzel kidded with the orchestra that she just knew they all trained at Juilliard and that they had to be so proud to be working with her. In fact, Menzel was clearly thrilled to be performing with the NSO and her performance was delightfully magnificent.
Throughout the evening, Menzel proved her versatility and range as she easily maneuvered, not only through the songs she made famous starring in the Broadway musicals Rent and Wicked, but also showing her chops in a wide range of representing composers including Cole Porter, Joni Mitchell, and Bono.
With a nod to her alma mater NYU, and a story about a crush she once had on her professor, Menzel introduced the famous and jazzy Cole Porter tune “Love For Sale”, which she performed as an arrangement with the Sting hit “Roxanne.” This was followed by a soft moment on Joni Mitchell’s beautiful and insightful ballad “Both Sides Now,” followed by a very funny retelling of her experience singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors as part of a tribute to her idol Barbra Streisand. Then, in a change of pace, Menzel shared her self-penned song “It Was I” and then paid compliment to U2’s Bono by introducing his new song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
When Menzel, who originated the role of Maureen in Rent, brought two talented and very excited young performers out of the audience to sing “Take Me Or Leave Me” the crowd went crazy and the talented young ladies who were brave enough to take the stage with their idol earned a well-deserved ovation. Then, in one of the more heartfelt moments of the night, Menzel honored the show’s creator Jonathan Larson, who tragically died of an aneurysm the night before the now world famous rock opera opened in previews, with her touching and beautiful rendition of “No Day But Today.” It was a poignant highlight of the evening.
The audience simply could not get enough of Menzel, who despite performing in heat that literally had her make-up melting right off her face, seemed as if there was no place she would rather be. When she finished off the evening with “Defying Gravity” absolutely nobody argued that she does not.
Wolf Trap is a national treasure, and spending an evening there with the NSO is really hard to beat. There are many more fantastic concerts coming up this summer, so gather your friends and family and get thee there!
Wolf Trap is a national treasure, and spending an evening there with the NSO is really hard to beat. There are many more fantastic NSO@ Wolf Trap concerts coming up this summer, so gather your friends and family and come on over!
Wolf Trap’s Filene Center is located at 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, Virginia. Purchase tickets to upcoming concerts here.