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BWW Reviews: 'Nashville's Own' KRISTIN CHENOWETH Sings Her Way Into the Heart of All of Her Fans

Kristin Chenoweth was in Nashville last night, performing her critically acclaimed concert act just for me-oh, sure, there were another 2,000 or so people in the audience, as well, who thought she was singing just for them-but she and I both know the truth. She looked straight into my heart and sang every one of my favorite songs and, in the process, she touched my heart in a way only someone who really knows me can do. And I feel certain that each of the other 2,000 or so people at TPAC's Andrew Jackson Hall walked away with that same response.

Therein, you see, lies the very secret to Chenoweth's success: She has a beautiful voice, one that is superbly trained and yet so versatile that she can sing anything; she is so positively authentic that she instantly draws audiences into her charmed circle; and, finally, she has this thing about her that makes you fall completely in love with her. Combine all those elements and it's easy to see why she was rewarded with nine-count 'em, nine!-standing ovations, each one deserved and each proving that she gave Nashville audiences one of their best concert experiences ever.

She may not have been born in Tennessee (she's a Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, girl through-and-through), but she has the instant likability and thorough accessibility that makes her seem like one of our own. It helps, of course, that she has a connection to Music City-at 19, she was cast in Opryland USA's Way Out West, she gave a performance at TPAC's Fest De Ville gala a few years back that people still talk about, and she recently spent time here recording her latest album Some Lessons Learned-that earns her the sobriquet "Nashville's own…"

Henceforth, we will now refer to her as "Nashville and Broadway star, Tony and Emmy Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth," as if in some way hoping that the luster of her starpower will reflect upon the people in her newly adopted hometown, the place where she jokingly said she was able to wear her hair bigger than ever before, knowing it would be readily accepted by her legions of fans. With her trademark wit and remarkable stage presence (oh, good lord, if she could only bottle and sell that particular attribute!), she stepped onto the Jackson Hall stage, took control of the crowd (once she was able to get 'em all to sit down) and proceeded to give each and every member of the audience their own personal concert.  She showed off her easy way with a joke, performing the tongue-in-cheek "Goin' To the Dance With You" with the able assistance of her two handsome back-up singers, and she riveted her audience to their seats with a performance of "Maybe This Time" that makes you forget all other renditions of that particular Kander and Ebb showstopper.

During the penultimate performance of her 2012 national concert tour (she finishes up in Chicago tonight), her rapport with the audience was palpable, her delivery of her scripted patter genuine and somehow fresh despite the repetition of past shows, and her impact immediate.Revealing the woman behind the name-even in Nashville, people have followed her theatrical career from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown to Wicked to Promises, Promises (and even Steel Pier and The Apple Tree); we've set our DVRs to record her many television appearances on The West Wing, Pushing Daisies and GCB; and we've bought tickets to every one of her movies (even RV)-she is sincere and authentic, as down-to-earth as her Broken Arrow upbringing would suggest and as awesomely gifted as those Emmy and Tony Awards celebrate. Steadfastly Christian in an industry in which her sincere faith renders her unique, she never resorts to proselytizing or preaching. Instead, she embodies all of that which her beliefs stand for…she is a good Christian woman who loves and celebrates all those around her with equanimity and grace.

Let's face it: Kristin Chenoweth is a 4'11" tall bundle of dynamite (not unlike our own Miss Brenda Lee, perhaps the one Nashville legend to whom she can most accurately be compared, although certainly her idol Dolly Parton-who makes taped appearances during the concert-is an easy choice) who, commanding the stage atop her towering stilettos, proves herself the equal of any of the titans of the American musical theater you could pick. And despite her reluctance to claim her own place among the firmament of Nashville's torch and twang royalty, she belongs here just as certainly as even Brenda and Dolly. Make no mistake about it, those two superbly talented women paved the way for Kristin Chenoweth to stake her claim, and we cannot help but believe they welcome her with arms wide open.

Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander (who has also fashioned concert productions for Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler), Chenoweth's show moves fluidly and at the relaxed pace of a convivial outing among friends. To use a timeworn cliché, there is never a dull moment, but perhaps more importantly, each moment has the same dramatic import as the one before or after. We are given an intimate portrait of Chenoweth, both as a multi-faceted entertainer and as a flesh-and-blood woman. With Jay-Alexander's help, she strips the pretense of her justly earned stardom to show us who she really is-giving us an emotionally charged evening that is as likely to elicit tears as it is thunderous applause.

Beginning with an overture that is a compilation of Chenoweth's greatest hits, and which gives us a brief overview of her stellar career (and which results in the first of those nine-count 'em, nine!-standing ovations) that continues through two acts of one perfectly chosen song after another, made all the more impressive by the support of her amazing onstage orchestra led by music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell (with whom she has an easy, very natural, give-and-take) and the three exceptional triple threat actor/singer/dancers-Tyler Hanes (who also choreographs), Will Taylor and Chelsea Packard-who are her foils throughout the evening, she transports her audience to some other-worldly place where she performs her intimate song cycle privately and personally for you (well, actually, for me, but you get my drift…).

With the dexterity of a seasoned professional, Chenoweth works her way into your heart and remains a part of your soul forever. To say she sings like an angel pales in comparsion to what she really does, and to say she touches the heart is, in fact, an understatement. Through her selection of songs-which range from Wicked's "Popular" and "For Good" (sung in a perfectly thrilling duet with a 13-year-old Nashville girl named Ruby-the daughter of Nashville singer/songwriter Victoria Shaw-who knocked KC's glittery shoes off) to "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" from Phantom of the Opera and "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables-she very ably showcases her legit soprano, while moving back and forth from raucous musical comedy to poignant, heartfelt ballads.

While some of her selections are to be expected, like the Wicked pastiche and the selections from her recent Nashville-produced album, others are more surprising, such as the hilarious homage to Avenue Q (the musical that bested Wicked in the Tony sweepstakes) and Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are," which she performs with an ethereal beauty that is nothing less than stunning. Yet each song, whatever its musical roots, grants you the opportunity to learn more about Kristin Chenoweth and what inspires her and what keeps her working day-in and day-out (even despite the tracheal infection that delayed her Nashville performance by a week and a day). Perhaps that is the secret to her near-universal popularity (not to take anything away from Galinda's influence): She very clearly loves what she does-and so do we.

There comes one moment in her concert when she introduces a song by Stephen Foster, telling us that it was written in 1853 and first recorded in 1904, suggesting that perhaps she was born at the wrong time, then correcting herself by adding "I think I was meant to sing these songs at this very moment."  As her orchestra plays the intro to Foster's "Hard Times," my own eyes filled with tears, so full did my heart suddenly become. You see, "Hard Times" is my very favorite song of all time and, as she so effortlessly sang Foster's hymn of hope amid deep despair, she sang a song that still resonates and which, somehow, traces a line from one superior musician to another. It was such a lovely moment that even in retrospect I am moved beyond measure by the artistry of both Stephen Foster and Kristin Chenoweth.

The concert's other highlight, particularly for her Nashville audience who know what makes someone an exemplary singer or musician, was her encore performance of Dolly Parton's seminal hit (that came straight from the heart of Tennessee's favorite daughter) "I Will Always Love You." Sung with the same plaintive artistry of Parton's original performance, it was the ideal closing for her show, expressing Chenoweth's own beliefs with sincerity and a reverence for those who have influenced her.

But how could we have expected anything less from our evening together? After all, it was Nashville's own Kristin Chenoweth sending us home with love and joy in our hearts.

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From This Author - Jeffrey Ellis

Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 35 years. In 1989, Ellis and his partner l... (read more about this author)

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