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Review: Kristin Chenoweth disarming, dynamic

FOR THE REGISTER

Anyone not already a fan of Kristin Chenoweth would quickly become one at the solo show she brought to Segerstrom Concert Hall Monday night.

The performance was the first of a brief West Coast tour. It was the film, television and Broadway musical theater actor's first live show since she was sidelined for some three months after a serious accident in July on the set of the CBS-TV series "The Good Wife." Chenoweth sustained a skull fracture, two fractures to her nose and broken ribs.

You'd never know it from the bubbly energy of the 4'11" Chenoweth, a diminutive dynamo who bounded onto the stage in a gray sequin-spangled mini-dress and matching pumps to waves of thunderous applause.

Chenoweth delivered 15 selections and an encore in a 90-minute show entirely personal and intimate. She is playful on stage, often flirtatious.

The opening number, "Should I Be Sweet," encapsulates the dichotomy that is Kristin Chenoweth, at once showcasing her classical vocal training and her more pop- and Broadway-oriented style.

The singer shared her diametrical traits – a major big-city national star from tiny, rural Broken Arrow, Okla., who views herself as "conservative" and "a Christian" but also "liberal" on some issues; a performer equally at home with both secular and religious musical material; and a humble personality who repeatedly, self-deprecatingly wisecracks about her narcissism.

Early in her set was Kander & Ebb's "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret," taken at a langorous tempo before a jolt of defiance powers the rest of the number. Chenoweth poured ferocious passion into the song.

Less-familiar material came in the form of "Hard Times Come Again No More," an 1853 song by Stephen Foster made heartfelt, earnest and sweetly mournful by Chenoweth.

"Taylor," was a cute, contemporary confessional in which the persona of the singer relates her crush on a young man who works at Starbucks; and "Fathers and Daughters," about the unique bond that can develop between a girl and her dad was a low-key number that rings of truth.

No Chenoweth show would be complete – nor would fans be satisfied – without something from "Wicked." Naturally, we got "Popular," young Glinda's ode to the widespread appreciation she enjoyed in high school – but Chenoweth switched things up by singing much of it in French, Japanese and German, inspired by her having noted the song's massive international acclaim by singers on YouTube.

Following the selection was a second "Wicked" song, "For Good." House lights up, Chenoweth announced she needed a "duet partner" from the audience, selecting a 9-year-old girl seated near the stage who had raised her hand to volunteer.

After some banter to determine that the yougster knew the song well enough to perform it, Chenoweth asked her, "How bad do you wanna sing it with me?" Without missing a beat, the girl replied "You don't know how much!"

To most everyone's amazement, the young performer exhibited nearly flawless timing, rhythm and expression, which brought the audience to its feet with roars of approval – and genuine surprise from Chenoweth.

Celebrities who have inspired Chenoweth – Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Dolly Parton, Donna Summer and Whitney Houston – were well represented with the numbers "One Less Bell to Answer," "What Would Dolly Do?" (written by Chenoweth), "Enough is Enough (No More Tears)" and "I Will Always Love You."

That last number, the sole encore, paid tribute to both Houston, who covered it, and Parton, who wrote and performed it. Chenoweth not only uses a soft yet passionate approach to singing it, she also captures Parton's vocal style and inflections.

Chenoweth repeatedly praised her three youthful backup singers, each of whom joined her in duets, and Mary Mitchell Campbell, the singer's longtime musical director, on-stage pianist, and conductor of an 11-piece , Broadway pit-style orchestra of local musicians.

Whether singing or opening up to us about herself, Chenoweth is always wholly and completely disarming and genuine, with a social conscience expressed in remarks about the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and in the song "I Was Here." The evening's closing number, it said musically what Chenoweth exhorted us to do after performing it: "Life is short – too short. So enjoy it, because we only get it once."

Contact the writer: emarchesewriter@gmail.com


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