Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oil and water

Last night I had the privilege to hear a surprisingly mediocre version of "Tonight" by none other than stars of stage and television Kristin Chenoweth and Raúl Esparza—and backed by the New York Philharmonic at that. You'd think, Okay, they are not the ideal interpreters for this particular song but they're pros, they can pull it off, plus the Phil will make it all sound great. And yet it was a three-minute puzzlement. Chenoweth, fresh from Bernstein's demanding "Glitter and Be Gay," didn't seem quite back on her feet and felt out of breath, while Esparza felt out of sync. Add an utter lack of chemistry that was only underlined by the final, pandering kiss and there you have it: a demonstration of egos smothering a song.

The number was part of a program titled Broadway's Greatest Showstoppers and put together by Marvin Hamlisch, who also conducted. Hamlisch did a lot of talking at the beginning but stopped midway, much to my relief: there's only so much cornball even I can take ("I remember in the 5th grade, P.S. 9…"). The Phil's musicians sat there, some of them probably thinking "I played in North Korea and I'm back for this?"

Some of Hamlisch's choice were pretty odd considering he had the frickin' Phil at his disposal. How hard would it be to choose numbers that are not only famous but also have arrangements that make full use the orchestra? "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables? Don't think so. "Vanilla Ice Cream" from She Loves Me? Cute but slight.

In addition, this may be nitpicky but can a medley (of My Fair Lady) be a showstopper since, well, it's a medley and so isn't in any actual show? Can an overture (of A Chorus Line) count as a showstopper since by definition the show hasn't quite gotten under way yet? Not to mention that the overture in question was by none other by Hamlisch himself, who got to play his own music with a really expensive toy. All right, that particular overture was actually cut from the show so it was fun to hear, and I realize the overtures for, oh, Gypsy or South Pacific, are being played the way they should be on Broadway right now, but still, something like "Carousel Waltz" could have been added to balance the self-satisfaction inherent in Hamlisch Plays Hamlisch.


maitresse said...

I so don't get the appeal of Kristin Chenoweth. She has a decent soprano but it's nothing special.

BTW, francophilia, correct identification of jeanette winterson's style, and musical theatre on the same blog, I am impressed!

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I think you have to see Chenoweth in the context of an actual show to get her appeal. It's not just the voice—she really has impeccable comic timing and actually "plays well with others." Yeah, I have to admit I'm a fan.

Thanks for the nice note. We aim to please here at Dilettante HQ.

maitresse said...

She is a pretty decent comic, it's true-- I saw her in "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" and in "Wicked" (not to mention on West Wing, where she stuck out like a sore thumb) and liked her work a lot. But I feel like she's too rubbery and squeaky for "West Side Story"! no?

you're welcome, and thanks for the link!

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

In that particular case, both Chenoweth and Esparza came across as too old and experienced; hearing them do "Tonight" was like watching two Catskills pros trying to run rings around each other.