Kennedy Center concert celebrates composer Stephen Schwartz


Jeremy Jordan (Courtesy of the Kennedy Center/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center)

At 65, composer Stephen Schwartz is indisputably the king of ol’ Broadway. Last week “Wicked,” nearly 10 years into its gravity-defying long run, was the ­most-attended show on the strip, and the Tony-nominated revival of Schwartz’s 1972 “Pippin” — which just announced that a national tour is in the works — was a sellout.

What better time for a celebratory birthday concert (even though Schwartz was born in March) at the Kennedy Center?

The National Symphony Orchestra Pops program “The Wizard and I: The Musical Journey of Stephen Schwartz” is full-bodied and immensely fun. The event’s four Broadway singers are nicely tuned in to Schwartz’s exuberant style, and the 60-voice Washington Chorus supplies heft and poignancy as the evening moves beyond triumphant anthems.

Naturally, there are plenty of those, including a medley from the Disney hits composer-lyricist Schwartz penned in the 1990s (some, like “Colors of the Wind,” with composer Alan Menken).

Jeremy Jordan, the dashing young star whose troubled ­singer-composer character hijacked NBC’s “Smash” this season, is winningly free with the soaring ballads “Lost in the Wilderness” and “Morning Glow.”

Stephen Schwartz (Joan Lauren/Joan Lauren)

Norm Lewis, suave and swinging, is exactly the man to croon the beguiling “Magic to Do” from “Pippin.” Led by conductor Steven Reineke, the orchestra is so propulsive and colorful that you can practically visualize a stage full of dancers.

Julia Murney and Jennifer Laura Thompson, gazing into each other’s eyes as the witches of “Wicked,” couldn’t be more sweet and true in “For Good,” and a long mashup of “Godspell” tunes puts the audience in high spirits.

Yet Reineke varies the night with an intriguing, subtly creepy orchestral suite from Schwartz’s recent opera “Seance on a Wet Afternoon,” and with the affecting choral song “Testimony” (stark, with solo piano accompaniment), featuring lyrics from the It Gets Better Project.

The program, which began Thursday and continues through Saturday in the Concert Hall, underlines how often Schwartz has composed for youthful characters while writing on a grand scale. The trap of bombast is largely sidestepped; instead, you recognize how the composer consistently finds the sweet spot for young (and young-at-heart) ears.

Schwartz himself makes an appearance, guiding the assembled forces through a song he wrote honoring Hans Christian Andersen. Thematically, it’s a fitting closing note.

The Wizard and I: The Musical Journey of Stephen Schwartz

NSO Pops. Through Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.
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