BWW Reviews: Broadway's Murney, Mauzey Headline WICKED DIVAS Concert
No other feeling compares to the rousing excitement triggered by hearing a live, huge orchestra blasting out a Broadway overture. The hurried swells of the strings. The heralding of the horns. The thundering boom of the drums.
Appropriately enough, that is exactly how things kick off during the Season Opening Pops Concert of Orange County's Pacific Symphony, under the valiant direction of conductor Richard Kaufman. The concert, titled "WICKED DIVAS," continues nightly performances at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall through November 17.
Starting with the grand overture from the musical GYPSY, then following up with selections from Bizet's CARMEN, Kander and Ebb's CHICAGO, and Flaherty and Ahren's RAGTIME, Pacific Symphony's show unravels itself as a musical celebration of so-called "divas" in the world of Pop, Opera, and, of course, Broadway. To that end, the Symphony has invited a couple of seasoned dames (dare we say, divas) from the Great White Way—pixie-voiced OC native Alli Mauzey and brilliant musical comedienne Julia Murney—to add power vocals to several of the night's big numbers.
The pair's appearance is, certainly, no mere twist(er) of fate: both talented ladies hammer home the concert's theme and title, considering that each has previously appeared in the hit Broadway musical WICKED (get it? They're "Wicked Divas" LOL) both in New York and in the national tour. They later themselves admit—during one of their many amusing breaks for banter—that the Costa Mesa concert itself is a reunion for them, since Mauzey has, at one time, played Glinda, the Good Witch opposite Murney's Elphaba, the green-hued, gravity defying Wicked Witch of the West. (And as expected, without even uttering—or singing—a single word when the two emerge on stage, those familiar with the Stephen Schwartz-composed musical will know right away which one played who).
There is no doubt that the two guest artists' affiliation with the show is the initial draw of this concert. But, luckily for the patrons in attendance on Opening Night, the show isn't just a way for the Symphony to capitalize on arguably the biggest Broadway hit of this century, but rather it also acts as a framing device for an enjoyable—if a bit curiously mixed—concert selection that questions the whole idea of what a "diva" is in the timeline of history. Don't worry, though, the show doesn't get mired in heavy-thinking.
Yes, though the concert's set list is slightly odd in their juxtaposition (the first act ends with the Symphony playing out with Gloria Estefan's "Conga" because, uh, Estefan is a... female?), the program certainly allows the superb singing guests to shine beyond their expected musical theater prowess. To our delight, both ladies are blessed with beauty, talent, and a heaping dose of bawdiness and chutzpah. The two women not only wow in individual solos, but also together in their winsome duets. And the added wonderful surprise? The two divalicious gals are hella funny.
Mauzey, whose beguiling vibrato makes her sound like a Disney Princess trained in Classical music, really shines during "I Could Have Danced All Night" (from MY FAIR LADY, natch) and, later, with "Think of Me" from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. She even successfully tackles Céline Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic—complete with an amusing ending fist-pound-to-the-chest move. In between demos of her amazing pipes, she interjects briefly about being from the OC originally and dying to get an In N' Out burger.
She channels quite a bit of a girly-girl flirt ("Every diva needs a costume change!"... or three), mixed with a sultry Pussycat Doll and a bit of Regina George from the movie Mean Girls—with the latter becoming more obvious later during her cute, super-charming take on "Popular" from WICKED. (Funny that just two weeks ago on this very same stage, WICKED's original Glinda, Kristen Chenoweth, sang the song as well).
Her partner in musical crime, Murney, on the other hand is more like Mean Girls' hilarious screenwriter/star Tina Fey—but with great singing chops. Having just arrived in Orange County from a long flight from NYC hours before showtime (squeezing in just enough time to catch the holiday tree-lighting ceremony at South Coast Plaza), this funny gal somehow powered through one big 11 o'clock number after another: first with a belty "Back to Before" from RAGTIME, followed later with a ballsy, manic, tour-de-force, knock-down, drag-out rendition of "Ring Them Bells" that would make the song's originator Liza Minnelli awfully proud.
More than anything, Murney's contributions to the concert cement her abilities as a wonderful actress. Her priceless facial expressions return in the second half during her very funny "The Diva's Lament" (from SPAMALOT) then caps off her solos with a strong take on "Defying Gravity," Elphaba's signature song from WICKED. The latter song also marks Murney's best anecdote of the night, in which she recalls an incident in which, during a performance of that song on Broadway, the contraption that allows her character to soar and "fly" above the stage malfunctions, forcing everyone in the cast to make, well, ill-conceived adjustments. Ha!
Of course, when the two ladies sing with each other, real magic happens—even in the slightly awkward song choices (which, okay, is just one: "No More Tears [Enough is Enough]," that Summer/Streisand disco classic which, again, was also performed on this very stage two weeks before by Chenoweth). Their opening duet on the Kander and Ebb classic "All That Jazz" (from CHICAGO) set the tone of their palpable chemistry early, giving the audience enough time to settle into the beauty of their ending duet on "For Good" (from WICKED). In all cases, Pacific Symphony aided in the gorgeous full-ness of the concert, providing the ladies with rich accompaniment.
To hear these terrific WICKED DIVAS is certainly a great pre-cursor to seeing the actual Broadway touring company making a return visit to the Center in February.