She’s a musical theatre juggernaut, she’s got one of the most unique voices in modern musical theatre, she’s… Popular! Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth made her way to our area this April and brought with her some old favorites and new turns on some unexpected songs.
For those who might be unfamiliar with Ms. Chenoweth’s work, her work in musical theatre has taken her around the world to some of the most famous stages in existence. Her first big break on Broadway was the revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” in the newly created role of Sally Brown, Charlie’s sister. She shined alongside other future Broadway heavy-weights Anthony Rapp, Roger Bart, and B.D, Wong, and received a Tony for her work in this charming musical. She split her time between theatre and TV until 2003 when she took on what was to become her career-defining role. She starred as Glinda, the Good Witch in the mega-hit Broadway musical “Wicked,” which told an alternate version of the events in the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, and the true story of what happened in Oz before Dorothy dropped in.
Chenoweth’s sparkling personality was on full display as she shared stories and laughs…
She is also known for her work on television, including the TV adaptations of popular musicals; she portrayed floozy Lily St. Regis in ABC’s 1999 adaptation of “Annie,” Marian the librarian in ABC’s version of “The Music Man” in 2003, and most recently Velma Von Tussle in NBC’s “Hairspray, Live!”. She briefly helmed her own self-titled sitcom and has guest-starred on countless shows like “Glee” and “Frasier.” She found accolades during her time on television, receiving multiple Screen Actors Guild nominations for her work on “The West Wing,” and an Emmy award win for her portrayal of Olive Snook on the tragically underappreciated “Pushing Daisies.” Chenoweth has released six studio albums, as well as multiple charting singles.
Chenoweth took the stage at the beautiful Strathmore Music Hall accompanied by nothing more than a grand piano. Her demeanor was as sassy and confident as she is known for, making the audiences’ excitement only grow. She greeted everyone warmly, letting them know that this was her 3rd time performing at Strathmore and that “this is the kind of hall that’s built for singing.”
She performed some beautiful standards, such as an emotional rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” which also started off her series of the after-song comment “wish I’d written it.” She also did this with the Henry Mancini tune, “The Sweetheart Tree,” which she said had been suggested to her by Mancini’s own daughter. Another favorite was “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from “My Fair Lady,” which fellow super-soprano Audra McDonald has called a “rite of passage for every soprano.” And of course, she performed her signature number, “Popular” from “Wicked,” and encouraged all of her fans to pull out their phones and take video, even doing a brief live-stream in the middle of the song.
Some unexpended delights were also on the set list. The first was when she said that she was going to sing the Eagles classic “Desperado,” which initially seemed like a strange choice. However, she connected it to her own life, and her version was deep and hauntingly beautiful. Another treat was her mash-up of Country-Western song “You Were Always on My Mind,” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.” She connected her love of more country-sounding songs to her upbringing in rural Oklahoma.
Even though the singing was truly top drawer, it wasn’t the only thing that made the show enjoyable. Chenoweth’s sparkling personality was on full display as she shared stories and laughs, and even some serious moments from an incredible career. Two highlights were the banter, and then songs, that she shared with her music director, Mary Mitchell Campbell. The two gushed about each other and made an incredible team. They did a lovely version of “I Know Him So Well” from Chess, but the highlight for this reviewer was their performance of “I’m Not a Diva,” from the unproduced musical adaptation of the film “Soapdish.” Their timing was perfect and the audience was rolling in the aisles.
The other highlight involved Ms. Chenoweth trying to get up on to the grand piano for a number. As many fans already know, she is very short, not even five feet tall. As a result, she had a step stool to help her get on the piano. Then, she got uncomfortable as she tried to adjust her short skirt and made eye-contact with a man in the crowd. As a gesture of goodwill, the man stood up, took off his glasses, and put them on the edge of the stage, so she would know that he couldn’t see anything.
The finale of the show was dynamite, as a talented group of young people from local organization Young Artists of America joined Kristin Chenoweth onstage for the final two numbers. When describing the earlier rehearsal with the group, Chenoweth said, “my hair extensions almost fell out, they were so good!” She talked about how one of the greatest privileges she has had in her career has been being able to inspire young people to follow their dreams and to hopefully build a kinder world. They first performed a Christian song, “Upon This Rock,” which connected with Chenoweth’s start as a gospel singer. The second was a gorgeous song full of feeling; a composition of music director Mary Mitchell Campbell in support of a charity she formed 14 years ago. The organization helps empower impoverished communities by using the arts, and a line for it states “when things seem dark, we see reasons for hope.” Several students got to perform solos and they truly shined alongside a pillar of the Broadway community.
Finally, Chenoweth ended with an encore that was steeped in raw talent. Acapella, with no microphone, she sang the classic standard, “Smile,” which offers a message of hope in the darkness. Her natural voice echoed ethereally throughout the room, sending chills up this reviewer’s spine. While Chenoweth’s engagement at Strathmore was for one night only, we hope she finds her way here again real soon.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Strathmore has another Broadway heavy-hitter coming soon if you missed Kristin Chenoweth; Alan C*****g, most known for his role as the Emcee in the revival of “Cabaret” on Broadway, brings his show “Legal Immigrant” to the Strathmore Music Hall on April, 24th 2019.
Kristin Chenoweth performed in concert on Monday, April 8, 2019, at the Strathmore Music Center. For more information, click here.