On this day in classical music: English composer Peter Warlock was born in London in 1894. Warlock was a nom de plume; he was born Philip Heseltine. During his student days, Warlock established a close friendship with his fellow countryman Frederick Delius. Warlock traveled frequently (Germany, Ireland, Wales, Hungary) but suffered from depression throughout his life. He composed a large body of art songs and choral works but his best known work is the six-movement “Capriol Suite” of 1926. Listen to Korea’s Uni String Ensemble perform the “Basse Danse,” “Pavane” and “Tordion” from “The Capriol Suite.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYiRpzv_aKE
On this day in the musical theatre: The biggest hit of the last decade opened on Broadway in 2003. Featuring a score by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman, “Wicked” starred Oklahoma favorite Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Idina Menzel as Elphaba. Based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” the Tony Award-winning musical was a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” It told how Elphaba (an acronym of author L. Frank Baum) became the Wicked Witch of the West. Menzel earned a Tony Award for her portrayal as the green witch and “Wicked” was awarded Tonys for scenic and costume design. Nine years later, it’s still playing to packed houses and will likely run for several years to come. Listen to Menzel and Chenoweth perform “Defying Gravity.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g4ekwTd6Ig
Musical musings: She’s flying! She’s actually flying! No, not that winged monkey who levitates over the audience. And not the slinky babe with green skin on the broom, though she definitely has her sky-scraping moments. No, the one I’m talking about is that improbably small woman in the white dress, the one who doesn’t even need that floating mechanical bubble she uses for transportation. That’s Kristin Chenoweth, who is currently giving jaw-dropping demonstrations of the science of show-biz aeronautics in “Wicked,” the Technicolorized sermon of a musical that opened last night at the Gershwin Theater. Playing Glinda the Good Witch in this equally arch and earnest show, a revisionist look at “The Wizard of Oz,” Ms. Chenoweth must put across jokes and sight gags that could make angels fall. Never for a second, though, does she threaten to crash to earth. Even lying down, Ms. Chenoweth — who performed similar magic in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” four years ago (and won a Tony) — remains airborne, proving that in the perilous skies of Broadway, nothing can top undiluted star power as aviation fuel.
Be grateful, very grateful, that Ms. Chenoweth, who spent a brief exile in the land of sitcoms, has returned to the stage with none of the routinized glibness associated with weekly television. She provides the essential helium in a bloated production that might otherwise spend close to three hours flapping its oversized wings without taking off.
Her voice shifting between operetta-ish trills and Broadway brass, her posture melting between prom-queen vampiness and martial arts moves, she evokes everyone from Jeanette MacDonald to Cameron Diaz, from Mary Martin to Madonna. And her precisely graded vocal and physical inflections turn even predictable one-liners into something so startling that you have to laugh.
Her vividness creates a balance problem, since “Wicked” is nominally Elphaba’s story. Surely the show’s creators didn’t mean for audiences to root so ardently for a terminally superficial party girl, even before her political rehabilitation. But, ah, when you have an actress who can so skillfully sell and send up her character, turning social vices into show-stopping virtues, how can you resist? What Ms. Chenoweth manages to do with the lyrics of a song of self-admiration called “Popular” is a master class in musical phrasing.
I was so blissed out whenever Glinda was onstage that I never felt I was wasting time at “Wicked.” I just kept smiling in anticipation of her return when she wasn’t around. The talented Ms. Menzel will no doubt dazzle audience members whose musical tastes run to soft-rock stations. But for aficionados of the American musical, it’s Ms. Chenoweth who’s the real thing, melding decades of performing traditions into something shiny and new. “Wicked” does not, alas, speak hopefully for the future of the Broadway musical. Ms. Chenoweth, on the other hand, definitely does. – Ben Brantley in The New York Times