For someone committed to attend about 220 cultural events per year; anticipating finales becomes a dogma. However, there are the rare theatrical occasions where this scribe has even re-attended; or concerts so perfect that we dread the obligatory encore. Last evening’s Hamilton Philharmonic’s ‘Pops’ presentation – “Wicked Divas” was such an event!
A ‘Hat Trick’ plus one; it had two dynamite guest performers, a personable & talented surrogate conductor and an orchestra that was not only technically faultless but cohesive & enthusiastic. The duo was Nicole Parker and Emily Rozek both of whom had performed in the Broadway mega-musical by Swartz & Holzman about the pre-Wizard days. Parker played ‘Elphaba’ with Rozek as ‘Glinda’, the two witches-in-training. Both ladies are amazing singers with flawless voices throughout the soprano range, and with such style and personality that even out of context; their arias were a delight. Fortunately, both introduced their offerings with anecdotal and usually self-denigrating backgrounds that did put perspective on the foundation to Wicked’s plot. Rozek’s unsubtle beauty-salon tutelage piece – “Popular” with its side-splitting lyrics was embellished by the facial expressions and body language she contributed for emphasis. Parker told us about a previous prat-falling incident when her special effects equipment screwed up her performing the ‘Defying Gravity’ number. It made me recall a brief moment of anxiety when Stratford’s Peter Pan’s [Michael Therriault] flying had a brief delay on take-off! Her rendering of the ‘Diva’s Lament’ from Spamalot was a hoot.
Rozel’s interpretation of ‘All That Jazz’ from Chicago was one of the solo standouts…a tie with Parker’s rendition of the ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ which wasn’t the draggy version popularized by Streisand [think peeeeeeepul….peeeeepul who neeeeed peeeeepul!]. A change of pace was provided by a violin solo version by the amazingly expressionless Helen Hong; concert master for the evening.
The orchestra was conducted by Matthew Kraemer of the Buffalo Philharmonic. Demonstrating unanimity with his musicians as well as an obvious ease and connection with the audience, it was like having an old friend back for a visit. Truth is, this is his first concert with the H.P.O. and yet their performance under his baton surprisingly vivacious and exceptionally warm. The winds and brass during the Carmen selections were so impressive as to glean applause during and between the various pieces. The orchestra’s interpretation of the ‘Danced All night’ number from My Fair Lady was given an effective rondo treatment between Rozek and the HPO that was creative, different and unique. I loved it! The trumpet & percussion solos during Garcia’s composition – ‘Conga’ also earned spontaneous audience appreciation.
The encore selection was ‘the duet ‘I Will Never Leave You’ from “Side Show”. One of the lyric lines from the work is “We were meant to share each moment…” surely this is the definition of what a musical concert is all about!