For Diehard Kristin Chenoweth Fans, City Center Concert Was the "Trill" of a Lifetime
By Kenneth Jones
On stage at New York City Center June 2, the Manhattan stop of her North American concert tour, actress-singer Kristin Chenoweth stood center stage and declared, "I'm home." The statement had multiple meanings, illustrated throughout a two-and-a-half-hour evening of show music, American standards and pop, country and spiritual songs.
Specifically, City Center was her home for a handful of memorable performances in the Encores! concert series, including Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's Music in the Air and Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, as well as the newly constructed period revue created for Encores!, Stairway to Paradise.
But more generally, New York City itself is where Chenoweth's heart seems most at home — and she wore her heart on her sleeve Saturday, clearly moved by her homecoming. Chenoweth knew that she was destined for the city even back when she was growing up in Broken Arrow, OK, where she listened to Broadway cast albums while the other kids liked Madonna. She won a Tony Award here (for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and was nominated for another (for playing Glinda in Wicked).
In honor of her first Broadway credit, 1997's Steel Pier, with a score by John Kander and Freb Ebb, she sang a rapacious "Maybe This Time," the grasping anthem from the film "Cabaret," early in the City Center concert (along with Kander and Ebb's breakout hit, "My Coloring Book").
Fans jumped to their feet throughout the concert by the 4-foot-11-inch star, who was joined on stage by singers Tyler Hanes (who also choreographed), Will Taylor and Chelsea Packard. On director Richard Jay-Alexander's watch, both acts flirted with Chenoweth's head voice (what was that piercing, thrilling note at the end of the Christian pop song "Upon This Rock"?) and her chest voice. Is there another American singer alive today that can sell the Leonard Bernstein coloratura classic "Glitter and Be Gay" and Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You"?
Fans of show music, especially the young ones who think musicals began with The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, have an important teacher in Chenoweth: While she does sing crystalline versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" from Phantom and Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer's "Bring Him Home" from Les Miz, she also reminds us — with a gorgeous rendition of "All the Things You Are" — that Jerome Kern, the musical father of modern musicals, was first in line. It doesn't get any better.
Theatre music naturally spices much of the concert, which is music-directed and arranged by Drama Desk Award winner Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Broadway's Company), aided by a dozen musicians and a clutch of credited theatre orchestrators. ("Hard Times Come Again No More" is not a show tune, of course, but Campbell and Andrew Lippa's arrangement of it is theatrical and transcendent; it builds to something that wails, pleas and laments. American Stephen Foster wrote the song in the 19th century, but it ends up feeling tribal, primal and timeless.)
If you've got tickets to a future stop on the tour (which concludes in Broken Arrow, OK, on June 24), the following information might spoil things — or entice you. At City Center, the concert included a visit by characters from Avenue Q, the show that beat Wicked for the Best Musical Tony; "Popular" from Wicked got a fresh spin (was that Dutch Chenoweth was singing?); "For Good" was a duet with a 15-year-old singer (a protégé of Chenoweth's) plucked from the audience (on tour, the star apparently duets with a random fan pulled from the crowd); "Fathers and Daughters," from Chenoweth's new album "Some Lessons Learned," was a highlight ballad; Bacharach and David were represented with "One Less Bell to Answer/A House Is Not a Home" (the latter heard in the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises starring Chenoweth); Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall got credit for a charming piece of choreography; and Dolly Parton (a hero of Chenoweth's) made a video appearance.
Emmy Award winner Chenoweth ("Pushing Daisies") did make a passing reference to the recent surprise cancellation of her ABC TV series "GCB." (Two of her series co-stars were in the house, and she introduced them: Miriam Shor and Leslie Bibb.) But Chenoweth didn't dwell on that setback. Why wallow when there are so many good songs still to be sung?
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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