“Diva” is a word I’d personally like to eradicate from the lexicon. It’s often a dig wrapped in a compliment – a slap at a talented woman by implying that she’s difficult by default.
But it’s also a term commonly used to describe a leading female opera singer, or – in a campier sense – marquee-topping women in popular music.
For “Wicked Divas” night at SPAC last Thursday, two nights before the Philadelphia Orchestra ended its summer Saratoga run, the word “diva” was used broadly to tie together the most disparate of music – from the Broadway musicals of “Gypsy,” “Chicago,” “Ragtime” and, of course, “Wicked,” to the disco dance-floor hits of Diana Ross, Gloria Esteban and Donna Summer.
New York Pops conductor Steven Reineke – a dashing man with a playful flourish – had fun with the night’s theme. “The concept of this show is not only to play music from ‘Wicked,’ but to celebrate music about divas,” Reineke said before leading selections from the French opera “Carmen,” who he described as about “everyone’s favorite seductress.”
The hosts and vocalists for the evening were Broadway singers Erin Mackey (currently performing in “Sondheim on Sondheim”) and Julia Murney (who last appeared on Broadway as Elphaba in “Wicked”).
Mackey – with a beautiful but subtler voice – played a straighter, quieter role on her solos, from the heart-rending “Think of Me” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” to “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic.”
Murney, a brassy singer with a New Yorker’s penchant for acerbic sarcasm, hammed it up with the diva concept, earning sustained applause for her witty Liza Minnelli impression on “Ring Them Bells” and her comic take on the Monty Python-penned “Divas Lament” from “Spamalot.”
For the grand finale, Murney and Mackey teamed for a series of selections from “Wizard of Oz prequel” and Broadway favorite “Wicked” about the power of friendship.
Night’s funniest line: “What’s that sound? I’m from New York City. I don’t know what that is,” Murney exclaimed in an unscripted moment, referring to the loud chorus of crickets outside the amphitheater.
Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk