BWW Review: Lea Michele and Darren Criss Rock Kennedy Center
Featuring one of the most eclectic set lists I've encountered in recent years, Lea Michele and Darren Criss' - of Glee and Broadway fame - one-night-only concert at the Kennedy Center was nothing short of entertaining and delightful. One of fourteen stops on their first co-headlined national tour, the concert offered a little bit of something to like for every fan group - the Gleeks, the Broadway nerds, fans of their pop albums, and more. Broadway nerd that I am, I would have preferred a few more showtunes, but the duo achieved a rather nice balance all things considered - and each song was performed exceptionally well.
The pair had so much energy that even if you were dragged along to the concert, you'd likely come out appreciating their obvious unabashed excitement over entertaining a big crowd of admirers and singing with each other.
Let's talk about the highlights. Any show that starts off with a number by Stephen Sondheim is alright by me and Darren and Lea certainly delivered a charming rendition of "Broadway Baby" (from Follies) accompanied by their talented four-member band. Two other stellar musical theater duets followed, including Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's "Suddenly Seymour" (Little Shop of Horrors) and "Falling Slowly" (Once: The Musical). The stylistic contrast was striking and emphasized their versatility and chemistry as performers. A later duet on "Getaway Car" (from Lea Michele's second album Places) showcased their versatility even more as this song is firmly situated in the fun, contemporary pop zone.
The solo moments were equally vocally and artistically successful although the stage time seemed a bit uneven with Darren coming out ahead in terms of time. Sometimes too much of anything can be a bad thing. However, let's get to the good, shall we?
Lea Michele performed a series of songs she performed on Glee with the highlights being "Don't Rain on My Parade" (from Funny Girl), "Maybe this Time" (Cabaret), and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." Her rendition of "Maybe this Time" was particularly well sung and emotionally resonant and it was a pleasure to hear her knock "Don't Rain on My Parade" again (can we ever get that revival?). We were also treated to a few selections from her two solo albums, but of those I most appreciated "Battlefield." She's one of a smaller pool of musical theater talents that can deliver the classics along with contemporary pop. Her full and pleasing voice is well-suited for both.
Darren Criss' set featured songs from Glee, his EPs, and other writers he respects. While the songs were very different, they collectively showcased his enormous creativity. Whether he was accompanying himself on piano, guitar, or just standing behind a microphone, his creative talent and appreciation for music - of all kinds - was quite clear. I must say I was quite drawn to his performance style and how he seemed to enjoy every moment. He impressed on "Teenage Dream," but the hit for me was an arrangement of two songs you might not expect. Darren has performed in two very, very different Broadway shows - How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Hedwig and the Angry Inch - and he managed to seamlessly meld a selection from each (not to be spoiled here) into one number. It was really unique and interesting.
The concert came to a close with two very special duets. The former, "The Coolest Girl," - basically a female audition song for your sassy musical theater beltress - featured Lea Michele on lead vocals and she certainly delivered. Darren accompanied her on piano and provided backup vocals. This number, which Darren wrote after college, provides some strong evidence that he has the chops if he'd like to explore that type of writing further at this stage in his life. The last duet was equally memorable, but in an entirely different way. It won't be spoiled here, but the opportunity to hear the duo sing without the help of amplification in a massive hall was very special. It was particularly welcome at that point because the concert was a little too amplified for my taste and worked against the natural acoustics in the Concert Hall.
However, this is really just a tiny quibble. The concert was a fun and hugely entertaining opportunity for the young and old to hear these talented singers take on a variety of material. If nothing else, the concert attracted a different kind of audience into the Concert Hall, which is always a good thing.
Running Time: Over two hours with no intermission.
Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center