BWW Review: Kristin Chenoweth Returns to the Minnesota Orchestra
"Popular" is not just the song that's forever tied to Kristin Chenoweth; it's a description of the woman herself. The full house clearly adored everything she said and every note she sang at her Jan. 19 show at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. She also had fun with the audience as she sang her hit Broadway tune of 15 years by inviting, no, commanding, everyone get out their cell phones and record or go live during this, the third stop on her current concert tour.
In her second show with the Minnesota Orchestra (the first was in March 2017 - review here), Kristin was having a lot of fun and bringing the audience along for the ride. It's fair to say it was not the typical orchestra concert. From the moment she made her entrance with a black parka covering her glittering silver, full-length gown (and, those shoes!) to flirting with the cello player Eric, getting the crowd to repeat "Super Duper Sipper" after her large convenience store beverage, the aforementioned video call and bits with her music director and pianist, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, this was a Kristin show with a concert on the side. But, oh, it was fun -- and she still can sing like nobody's business, and there's truly nothing she can not sing.
Beginning with a classic, "Que Será, Será," and then moving into "The Sweetheart Tree," by Henry Mancini, Chenoweth showed her command of the great American songbook style before moving into a modern composition, "Fifty Years Long," by Jason Robert Brown, with a modification to fit her parents, Jerry and Judy Chenoweth, by moving the tune from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma (her home state) with his approval. Brown's lyrics include a mention of "Duluth," which brought vocal recognition from the Minnesota crowd.
She welcomed her significant other, Josh Bryant, to the stage to play acoustic guitar with her on "Desperado," showing a softer, truly intimate side to her vocals as she sang, "You better let somebody love you before it's too late." At song's end, she kissed Bryant and told the crowd, "I didn't mention how well I know him -- I hope it lasts!"
Next, Chenoweth mixed up the styles again with ballads of "You're Always on my Mind," and then THE MUSIC MAN's "Till There Was You." She seemed in her element as she ended the latter with an effortless, high trill, and exclaimed, "Oh, that song! And that orchestra -- I'm so lucky!"
Like her 2017 concert, she thrilled the listeners and ended the first act with "The Prayer" from LES MISERABLES, with only a piano accompaniment, showing off her high, clear, opera-trained soprano.
Opening the second act with "Popular" and "For Good" from her Tony-nominated Glinda in WICKED, she said she'd be singing these songs till she dies, but "I'm lucky to do it." On the latter, a young audience member, Amelia, aged 12, had the thrill of her life when she was invited to duet with Chenoweth and finished a little shaky but smiling from ear to ear as the crowd gave her a standing O for her efforts. Another repeat in her setlist was her perennial "Taylor the Latte Boy," which she claims she must do each show or people will get mad at her.
A new tune written for her, "I"m Not a Diva," likely will become part of her regular repertoire, too. Campbell and the non-diva Diva had some fun performing that one together.
She got a little emotional after singing Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer," and added about the current situation on the southern border, "I'm not going to stand up here and be a political person, but I want those mammas and babies back together."
The end of the act included Don Henley's "The Heart of the Matter," as a duet with Campbell, and then eight University of Minnesota students came out to back her up on "Upon This Rock," a Christian "Jesus song" by the self-proclaimed Christian, LGBTQ-rights activist, and ended with "Reasons for Hope," a Campbell tune written for her nonprofit, ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty). Both songs included the Minnesota Orchestra members who had mostly sat quietly listening to many of the second act tunes as a smaller combination or just the piano played with the star. The entire stage was filled with soaring songs of inspiration and hope.
Chenoweth reappeared a moment later to encore "I Will Always Love You" in honor of "Miss Dolly Parton's birthday" in a quieter moment again with Campbell's piano backing her, ending a performance that was a bit more intimate and relaxed vocally, as she obviously prepared for a long run of shows that runs until at least July 1 in Asheville, N.C.
Her range in notes and song choice shows her versatility and fit this funny and soulful performer whose career is just as varied. Her next album is due in 2019, while possible future roles as Tammy Faye Bakker and in the musical version of DEATH BECOMES HER are on the horizon. Hopefully this "Popular" performer will also return to the Orchestra Hall stage for more good times in Minneapolis, as well.
Follow her next projects on Twitter (@kchenoweth) and her website: officialkristinchenoweth.com
Photo: Kristin Chenoweth, Courtesy of Minnesota Orchestra