BWW Review: Tony-winning Superstar Kristin Chenoweth Triumphantly Returns to OC's Segerstrom Center
There are, arguably, only a few dozen or so popular artists today that have successfully carried over their earned fame from the Broadway stage into the mainstream.
Certainly included among these elite few is Tony Award-winning songstress extraordinaire Kristin Chenoweth. Yes, the petite spitfire soprano that once traveled by bubble eight times a week as Glinda in the smash hit musical WICKED has since been in lots of high-profile film and television projects, and has recorded cratefuls of studio albums to her name. Every so often, she has even gone back to the Great White Way to headline a show or two, much to the delight of her biggest musical theater fans.
Luckily for some of us who don't have the luxury or the time to simply catch every show she does in New York City, Chenoweth is a prolific touring artist, opting often to bring her sweet and sassy singing self to audiences around the world via enjoyable solo concerts that beautifully showcase her vocal chops and her charming persona for more people to experience live.
It's no wonder, then, that her (I believe) third time in appearance at Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Center for the Arts---which was a packed house that filled the Segerstrom Stage this past weekend on Saturday, February 3 for a one-night-only concert---was met with expected enthusiasm. And, boy, did she deliver!
Her new-to-Orange-County show, simply titled AN INTIMATE EVENING WITH Kristin Chenoweth, mixed material old and new from her diverse and personally-curated repertoire of Broadway, classic standards, hilarious cabaret, and Christian gospel music.
But whether this was your first or umpteenth time seeing her in concert, she still managed to easily enchant the audience with her bewitching, jaw-droppingly amazing voice and her gal-next-door openness---as if she's that one talented, perpetually chipper friend of yours putting on a classy AF show that they're probably filming for an upcoming PBS special. And yet, yes, it was intimate and special. Currently single, she was also boldly and unapologetically flirty, which in her unique way came off more endearing than anything else.
Not only is she just an amazing singer and yarn-teller, Chenoweth is also a great barometer of talent, choosing to surround herself with incredible musicians to back up her up. Leading a spectacular jazz combo, her main accompanist and music director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell is back behind the piano once again, offering herself not only as an accomplished musician but also as Ms. Chenoweth's frequent on-stage duet partner, backup storyteller, wing-gal, comedic foil, and best gal pal.
But, of course, Chenoweth's infamous singing is the real draw and like a regal queen of all she surveys, she rightfully owned the stage as soon as she stepped out. And, yes, as she has done often in her past concerts, she walks out with a super-sized to-go cup from her favorite So Cal. joint, In-N-Out which she sips from throughout the evening (a personal thank you, Ms. Chenoweth, for not coming out with a Chick-fil-A cup). It's her not-so-subtle reminder to all of us that even though she floats above us all in her heavenly perch of awesomeness, she's still, deep inside, one of us.
"I love coming to this theater!" she exclaims. "I just love that mall... and I love that I can go to my favorite place in all the world whenever I'm here!" (She holds up her In-N-Out cup to thunderous applause).
As usual, she mixes humorous personal observations and anecdotes from her life in between songs that had the audience in stitches.
Her funniest bit involved allegedly giving advice to a worried Mariah Carey, who she said called her seeking pointers on how to get over the PR nightmare that rocked Carey a year ago when she famously had that very disastrous live non-performance during New Year's Eve that quickly became a viral sensation. Nicely dispensed with just a splash of sassy shade, Ms. Chenoweth used the moment to tout the importance of live, non lip-sync singing, as well as to teach both aspiring and current singers in the audience to "take care" of their voices as they grow older, so they won't have to deal with a similar public faux pas.
And what song did she use to hammer home this bit of face-saving advice for Carey?
Why, "Popular," of course, from her hit show WICKED!
Chenoweth also spoke about her growing up in Oklahoma, her time on Broadway, and her current work in television (she just shot a promising new pilot Perfect Citizen co-starring ER's Noah Wyle who happened to be in attendance that night along with name-dropped celebs Michelle Visage from RuPaul's Drag Race and Frankie Grande)---which reminded people about her down-home country roots, her meteoric Tony-winning rise, and about her fun recent projects like Glee and the Hairspray Live telecast!
Musically, as one expected, she was just absolutely captivating.
She starts the show in typical high energy with "Should I Be Sweet?," her cute-sy whimsical opener that asked the audience whether she should be sweet or sexy in order to attract men (the audience voted 'sexy' judging from the applause), followed by a gorgeous rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well," a track featured in Chenoweth's latest album The Art of Elegance.
A funny story involving her parents opting to see HAMILTON instead of her Broadway concert "My Love Letter to Broadway" gave way to a tender tribute to her parents' 55 years of marriage in "50 Years," originally written by Broadway genius Jason Robert Brown. Even funnier is "I'm Not A Diva"---a track from the not-yet-produced musical adaptation of the film Soapdish---had Chenoweth mock-protesting the label as Campbell, in total deadpan, tried her best not to further irritate the pint-sized superstar by pointing out that, well, she may very well be one.
But it was Chenoweth's moving ballads that had the audience truly mesmerized. A beautiful mashup of Willie Nelson's "You Are Always On My Mind" and Stephen Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" (from the musical FOLLIES) was just exquisite. Her ravishing, emotionally-tinged "Bring Him Home" (from LES MISERABLES), a virtual master class in musical inflection and acting, had me tearing up (along with many around me).
For her rabid fanbase who know her best from WICKED, Chenoweth gladly offered up not only a repurposed (and still delightful) "Popular," but also a refreshed visit to the climactic duet "For Good," this time enlisting the help of Sara Wyle---the wife of her Perfect Citizen co-star Noah Wyle---to take on the Elphaba part in an apparent surprise, unrehearsed moment in the show (this duet recruitment tactic is a hold-over from her previous concerts, a tool that also happened to be utilized by her WICKED co-star Idina Menzel in her concerts). The results were quite lovely---and served as a checked-off item in Sara's bucket list. It certainly helped that Sara is herself a stage actress with musical theater experience!
The repertoire skewed slightly serious from that point, but still had the audience in rapt attention, if not more so. In a touching back-and-forth between Chenoweth and Campbell, the pair sang through a delicate "Heart of the Matter," a nicely rearranged Don Henley cover inspired by their experiences immediately after 9-11.
Chenoweth then harkened back to her pre-Broadway roots: first with country music, paying homage to her idol Dolly Parton in a sprightly "Little Sparrow."
Next, after declaring that despite criticism, she has always remained "an out-and-proud Christian,"---a statement she perhaps must feel she has to declare constantly because she does also subscribe to more liberal-leaning behavior such as being an outspoken ally to the LGBT community, which is often at odds with Christian dogma---this confession gave rise to a choir-backed "Jesus song" called "Upon This Rock," which she performed with full spiritual gusto surrounded by the enthusiastic ad-hoc choir she had assembled made up of local singers.
"Don't worry, you non-Christians out there," she announced, tongue firmly in cheek. "If you don't like this song, it'll be over in about 4 minutes." HA!
Chenoweth's final rousing song, again featuring the choir assembled for the concert, was a song penned by Campbell, inspired by her work within Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP) the foundation that she helped conceive which connects performing and visual artists with impoverished and underserved youth here and abroad. Entitled "Reasons for Hope" the song was an empowering and inspirational climax to the evening.
Naturally, the resoundingly enthusiastic audience, who showered Chenoweth and her fellow performers with lots of love and a well-earned extended standing ovation, expected at least one more song to end the evening.
She didn't disappoint: she once again walked out to even louder cheers. Putting the microphone away and far behind her, she stepped out to the edge of the stage, prefacing her next song by saying she wanted to sing the final encore in the only way she felt it deserved.
Un-amplified and completely wonderful, Chenoweth sang, without a mic, a stunning, note-perfect "Over the Rainbow" that had the audience in awe and in total submission. I mean, I bet even the patrons seated in the very last row up high in this 3,000-seat theater must've been enraptured by this magical moment. I couldn't have imagined a better way to conclude a concert featuring one of the most gifted, talented humans ever. Armed with effortless comic timing, superb musical acting, and a voice that can make grown men cry, Chenoweth is a treasure and remains to be so in these "intimate" concerts.
It is then, we all realize, that no matter what belief system one may believe in... to listen to Kristin Chenoweth live on stage is a blessing we all need in our life.
** Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ **
Photos courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
AN INTIMATE EVENING WITH Kristin Chenoweth was presented by Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Tickets to their remaining shows in their Broadway and Cabaret series can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am) located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.