Review: ‘Lea Michele & Darren Criss – the LM/DC Tour’ at the Kennedy Center

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Cue the dramatic backdrops because the lights of Broadway were sparkling this past Sunday at the Kennedy Center in DC. Crackling with infectious energy, the newly launched LM/DC Tour with Lea Michele and Darren Criss brought the house down—and audience to its feet—with Broadway showstoppers, Glee classics, and original jams.

Lea Michele and Darren Criss. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.
Lea Michele and Darren Criss. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

Perhaps best known to most for their performances as Rachel Berry and Blaine Anderson on the television series Glee (though Broadway fans will know her from Spring Awakening and him from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and Hedwig and the Angry Inch) Lea and Darren opened the show by going down Glee memory lane. Starting with a high-spirited performance of “Broadway Baby” that was worthy of a dance party, followed by a lush version of “Suddenly Seymour,” these beginning duets allowed them to showcase their skills as individual, yet complementary, musicians.

Kicking off the solo sets, Lea wove songs from her two albums with Glee staples and a few stripped-down pop hits that showed off her once-in-a-generation vocal power, range, and adaptability. From her 2014 album Louder, she chose “Cannonball” and “Battlefield” before electrifying the room with powerhouse renditions of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “Maybe This Time” that would have made Barbra and Liza proud. But it was her covers of “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga and “Glitter in the Air” by P!nk that were the most startlingly resonant. Sharing personal details about her relationships and her struggles with stage fright, these songs unlocked a vulnerability in her performance that was intimate and infinitely relatable. This vulnerability continued into the selections from her 2017 album, Places, first with “Run to You” and then a duet version of “Getaway Car” with Darren. For me, being able to juxtapose the evolving tenor of Lea’s two albums with the connection she forged with the audience during the covers was intensely moving.

Moving from Lea’s glossy poise to Darren’s sauntering inspiration, the evening shifted into a spectacular display of Darren’s musicianship and raw talent. Bouncing from a cover of “Cough Syrup” originally by Young the Giant to a soulfully rocking arrangement of “Hopelessly Devoted” from Grease, Darren more than proved that he thrives with one foot in each of the Broadway and indie-pop worlds. With an unfiltered energy and passion for music, Darren’s intuitive ability to connect with those around him through song (often his) was awe-inspiring. “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables on acoustic guitar moved like a cautionary, heartbreaking folk song and the mash-up of “Brotherhood of Man” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and clips from Hedwig and the Angry Inch showcased Darren’s innate ability to recast songs in order to uncover new meanings and perspectives.

But for this Washingtonian—living in a city rich with musical legacy and tradition—the most touching addition was Darren’s arrangement of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” with lyrics by Bob Russell and music by D.C.’s own Duke Ellington. Regardless of whether Darren’s introductory quip about learning the piece “40 minutes ago” was true, he unlocked the improvisational intensity at the heart of Duke’s music by adding several fantastic riffs to make it his own.

Lea Michele and Darren Criss. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.
Lea Michele and Darren Criss. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

Also featuring original works from his EPs Homework and Lost Boys Life, the songs “Going Nowhere” and “Foolish Thing” in particular showcased Darren’s singer-songwriter skills at creating toe-tapping hooks and delightfully creative lyrics. For the StarKid fans out there, he even closed his set with the most soaring version of “The Coolest Girl” that I have ever heard. Featuring Lea on vocals and with Darren accompanying, they once again created a sound that was more than just the sum of its parts.

Much like the brother-sister relationship they speak fondly of throughout the evening, they bring out different sides and strengths of each other’s performances through ribbing, egging on, and friendly intimidation. Darren’s spontaneous, soulful improvisations spur Lea to step out of her musical comfort zone, while Lea’s smooth star power pulls out spine-tinglingly silky lines from Darren. Nowhere was that more evident than in their duet of “This Time,” written by Darren for Lea’s character on the last episode of Glee. Clearly a defining time for them both, it was stirring to see the emotional reflection and connection they found, and how they continue to support and grow in that connection long after the Glee has ended.

And like their time on that formative show, the evening too came to an end with perhaps the most fitting and contrasting close; an unplugged, acoustic version of “To Make You Feel My Love” that was so achingly still and potent, you could hear your heartbeat. Much like the small smile Lea gave looking down as her engagement ring, the LM/DC Tour ended with as much passion as it started with but packed in a whisper. A dazzling evening of laughs, chills, and spellbindingly good music, Lea Michele and Darren Criss in concert are a musical celebration to believe in.

Running Time: 2 hours, with no intermission.

Lea Michele & Darren Criss (LM/DC Tour) played for one night only on June 3, 2018, at The Kennedy Center – 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC. For information on future performances at The Kennedy Center: call (202) 467-4600/(800) 444-1324, or go to the Kennedy Center’s calendar of events.

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Em Skow
Ever since the age of flashlights and playbills under the bed sheet, Em Skow has been transfixed by the arts and sought to submerse herself in them in any way she could. She started singing in choirs in elementary school, added theater productions in middle and high school, picked up a creative writing Bachelor's degree and a photography passions in college, and, now a good handful of years later is keeping each as a part of her professional life here in D.C. By day, she's an editor, by night, she's a PR and Comm masters student, soprano in the 18th Street Singers, and theater reviewer for the one and only DCMetroTheaterArts. All in all, a self-professed theater, choral, arts nerd, and she likes it that way.

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