How Kristin Chenoweth Embraced Tuptim, Marian, Rosabella, Flora, Johanna, Dolly and Other Dames
19 Feb 2013
Photo by Kevin Yatarola
For her American Songbook concert at the Allen Room in Manhattan, a show recorded for later broadcast, Kristin Chenoweth embraced some of the greatest characters and songs of the musical theatre. Playbill was there.
Kristin Chenoweth returned to Broadway, or at least where Broadway meets Columbus Circle, Feb. 15 with her new act, The Dames of Broadway... All of 'Em!!! Accompanied by Mary-Mitchell Campbell at the piano, this American Songbook concert gave musical theatre fans — packed into the Allen Room at Time Warner Center for two performances — Chenoweth in a sampler of no less than 16 musical comedy roles.
Chenoweth began her career in theatre before being wafted off to TV land, and The Dames of Broadway was an evening of roles she should have played, could have played, and in some cases did play (though not in New York). These included at least two that she confessed she still wants to play: Annie — the one with the rifle — and Dolly. In canvassing for potential producers, she cited the Shuberts ("they've closed every show I've ever done!") and made a dig at the team behind Rebecca ("get those boys out of jail!").
The evening, written and directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, started off in fine manner. The star came out in a blue cloth coat with a little blue valise, like Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis. She then unpacked her bag, removing her "props." (These included, most prominently, her Tony Award, which she set twirling on its pedestal on the piano. "I just love that thing," she beamed.) Explaining that when she came to town she was suited for both romantic leading ladies and their comedic best friend sidekicks, she started with a seven-minute slice of the waitress scene from Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella (culminating with "Somebody Somewhere") — playing both roles simultaneously.
"Mister Snow" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" set the pattern for the rest, ranging from Wonderful Town's Ruth Sherwood (with "One Hundred Easy Ways") to Funny Girl's Fanny Brice (with "Who Are You Now?"). At the same time, she tested her pipes with a bravura rendition of Sondheim's "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" from Sweeney Todd. Chenoweth offered a bit of esoterica with the extended pre-Broadway version of "My White Knight" from The Music Man, noting that Barbara Cook gave her the music and suggested she sing it.
The star hit her peak in the latter part of the program, starting with a bluesy rendition of "Moonshine Lullaby" accompanied by four tuxedoed boys. (They slinked on for the one number and some humorous patter before being dismissed with "hey, get off!") She then went into her finest number, Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones' "Old Maid" from 110 in the Shade. This was one of the few songs which Chenoweth acted in character —as opposed to performing as Kristin — and it was searing. The entire concert cried out for an orchestra, but made do with the adept Campbell (supplemented on half the songs by bass and drums).
Holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, two former lovers unpack the deep secrets and dark desires of their tangled relationship, passionately tearing each other apart. Led by director Daniel Aukin (Back Back Back at MTC, 4,000 Miles), Tony winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur at MTC, Born Yesterday) and Sam Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, The Way Way Back) bring an explosive intensity to Sam Shepard’s (Buried Child, True West) landmark myth of the new Wild West.