BWW Review: Kristin Chenoweth with Minnesota Orchestra

"Let me just say I've had a love affair with this city for many years," began Kristin Chenoweth, Emmy- and Tony Award-winning star of stage and screen, as she debuted with the renowned Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis on Saturday, March 4. An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth was conducted by Kevin Stites and accompanied by Ben Toth on piano along with the orchestra.

Starting with affection for the city she's in is not a new approach, but Chenoweth did her homework and has the experience to back it up. She brought up her background with St. Paul native Charles Schulz (her 1999 Tony Award was for playing his Sally in YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN), her role in Minneapolis director Patrick Coyle's "Into Temptation," which was filmed in Minneapolis in the dead of winter*, much to her chagrin, and past experience at the Guthrie Theater. And she peppered her performance with stories of wandering the skyway system in search of her "favorite store of all time, Target," but never reaching it in the labyrinth of the elevated walkways where she ended up at the Macy's going-out-of-business sale and never made it to the other store.

Chenoweth is not just a singer in concert -- she performs every moment, creating a sense of a fully planned storyline throughout her show. Her chatty stories and intimate connection with the audience truly made the evening fly by, leaving many in the audience wanting for more.

Proclaiming she was schooled in this music as a college student but didn't really understand most of the lyrics until recently as a woman who is "40-ish", she began with a Hoagie Carmichael song and performed a couple of Judy Garland numbers. Many of the songs she chose for this performance were drawn from her childhood in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where she watched television shows such as "The Wizard of Oz" each year, as most of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s did. Her "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" soared and her renditions of Garland's "The Man That Got Away," and a number from "Thumb's Up," a Broadway Review, were not imitations but her own take on songs she cherished.

A fun "Taylor the Latte Boy," is the song she has "tried to get out of her show for 17 years," but claims people get mad at her if she doesn't perform it. A bit longer in the tooth, she claimed it should now be "Taylor the Vodka Guy," to fit her current needs.

Her "Moon River" was a special treat -- she told the rapt crowd that she never gets to perform it with a full orchestra as she turned and told them, "As an artist... so pleasing -- that SOUND!" Indeed it was a full sound and one of the memorable moments of the night.

Being the Broadway baby she is, she did do a few time-honored classics from her career, such as "Dance 10, Looks 3," from A CHORUS LINE, "Popular" from WICKED and "I Could've Danced All Night," from MY FAIR LADY, which made me long to see her play the spunky Eliza Doolittle. "I wish I'd written it," she said as the song ended; she said that about a number of the songs she performed expertly that night.

Perhaps one of the singularly most stunning moments of the night was her "The Prayer," from LES MISERABLES. You could have heard a pin drop in the vast Orchestra Hall, which was filled to capacity, as she hit the high notes with perfect clarity. Chenoweth's opera training and performing chops were on display as she made it look effortless.

She did this with every song, actually -- where most singers hold the mic close to their mouths, Chenoweth held it an arm's length away all night long showing her strong breath support and ability to project the rich sounds she makes with her tiny 4'11" petite body (though she was 5'1" in the sparkling three-inch heels she wore beneath her demure red gown with feather detail on the skirt throughout Act 1. In Act 2, she changed it up, wearing a gold lame shorts jumper with knee-high, fully sequined boots and her hair in a ponytail.).

Ending her show with eight University of Minnesota student singers backing her up on two numbers after discovering only one of the eight was a music major, much to her amazement as most of them were unique science majors, not artists and musical theatre students. "Neuro-science? I don't even know what to do with that!" she said to one of the students. Chenoweth said she gets as much as the students do from having them perform with her.

Her one encore was a touching rendition of "Smile." Exactly what she left the crowd of patrons heading out into the cool March air with. And when she declared she could come back and do this show here again, I imagine most of us would gladly join her for another intimate evening in the splendid Orchestra Hall.

*This author had the pleasure of being a background artist for a scene with Chenoweth in the film. When I introduced myself also as "Kristen," she said to me, "With an i or an e?" and I answered (sadly to her!) I was an "e" and she shook her head disapprovingly. It was a true joy to get to work with her on that film -- if you have not watched it, do! Chenoweth's Linda is a very different character than you have seen her play before and she was amazing in it; plus, you'll see many local scenes and the work of local talent on the production side.

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From This Author Kristen Hirsch Montag