Saturday night saw Tony and Emmy winning, pint-sized, powerhouse singer Kristin Chenoweth sharing her unique brand of sass and vocal prowess with the Windy City. Backed by an eleven member band, Musical Director and good friend Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Broadway/TV star Kristin Chenoweth emerged on stage adorned in a black lace, long-sleeved, form fitting top, simple black trousers and stilettos. Sky high stilettos. The 4’11” pixie often joked about her affinity for gravity defying footwear. The Oklahoma native and trained opera singer’s songbook for the evening included Broadway and cinema classics, selections from her previous albums, a little gospel and a great deal of infectious joy. She opened her show with the ditty “Should I Be Sweet?” a song showcasing the virtues of being sexy or innocent. The competitive streak didn’t stop there. Sipping water from a Chicago Cubs mug, Chenoweth playfully pitted Gibson’s vs. Morton’s, two very famous Chicago Steakhouses, against one another to the giggles and applause of the all too familiar audience. She sent an onstage shout out to friend Gary Griffin, seated in the audience, who directed her in “The Apple Tree” and was her dinner companion the night before. Not to be out done, she next pulled out a large bucket of Garrett’s popcorn. “This is my happy place” she cooed. “I am an All American Dork” she tittered.
Speaking of performing at the Chicago Theatre, Chenoweth remarked “I know who has come before me. Frank. Liza. Diana.” As in Sinatra, Minnelli and Ross, respectively. “I am very honored to be here” she whispered before nailing a pitch perfect version of “Maybe This Time” the ode to the loser at love from the Tony Award-winning musical and Oscar Award-winning film, Cabaret. This was not the first time Chenoweth has crooned this particular track. Younger fans recognized she recorded this as a duet with Lea Michele from the first season of Glee, where Chenoweth played the boozy and brazen, April Rhodes. She even earned an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Appearance for this role. Twice. Speaking of awards, while she was harmonizing about being a failure, she is actually a celebrated winner in real life. Scoring a Tony Award playing Sally Brown in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown on Broadway, where she also picked up two more career nominations, one for Wicked (she originated the role of Glinda) and again this year for the Roundabout Theatre’s production of On The Twentieth Century. On television, she won the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy Award while playing Olive Snook on ABC’s cult classic, Pushing Daisies.
Next up, the adorable “Taylor, The Latte Boy” a song about her infatuation for the handsome coffee barista at Starbucks, recorded on her second solo album, 2005’s “As I Am.” “I keep trying to retire this song”she exclaimed, but it is a fan favorite, so she keeps on performing it. Sharing stories of her adoptive parents, an Engineer father and homemaker mother, Chenoweth next entranced with her loving ballad “Fathers and Daughters” from the 2011 Country flavored album “Some Lessons Learned.”She said she also learned, early on, her parents were not gifted musically and she was not a fan of math, so they negotiated this compromise, “You keep quiet, and I won’t do math” she jested. While in school in Oklahoma, this Christian Chanteuse was cast as Val in the Pulitzer Prize winning musical, A Chorus Line. Concerned about the “Tits and Ass” lyrics of the show stopping number, “Dance, 10: Looks 3,” the family prayed about it and the local Director changed the words to “Boobs and Butts” in order to make the song more “Oklahoma appropriate.”
Sitting on a stool, center stage, Chenoweth next regaled with a hauntingly stunning version of “Moon River” from composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer. “Mancini at his best” she exclaimed. This classic song from the Audrey Hepburn star vehicle Breakfast at Tiffany’s won the Grammy Award for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year in 1962. Not too shabby, and this rendition whet the appetite for a Chenoweth Standards album. (PLEASE!) Continuing with the All Things Audrey theme, a flirty version of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from 1956’s My Fair Lady. While credited to Hepburn, the actual vocals were dubbed by Marni Nixon, but tonight it was all Chenoweth. She recently executed this same arrangement on the ABC glitter dipped hit, Dancing with the Stars. Slowing the pace back down, a powerful rendition of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. “Songs evolve” she said when sharing “I have a lot of military in my family.” She spun a tale of listing to the original cast recordings as she was growing up and she connected the most with the extraordinary vocals of Jean Valjean. “I related to the GUY, no wonder I am still in therapy!”Clearly moved by the emotional resonance of the lyrics, Chenoweth received the first of several standing ovations at the song’s conclusion.
Easing the mood, Chenoweth was again met with roars when she began the hit song she is most identified with “Popular” from Wicked. Instead of dedicating this to the original green witch protagonist, Chenoweth joked she has been giving campaign advice to Donald Trump on how to be a little more “pop-u-lar.” When she got to the lyric “I’ll show you what shoes to wear, how to fix your hair” she stopped and flipped her hair over her head in mocking tribute to his infamous comb over. At the end of the number, she said had met him once and then, after posing for a photo with her, The Donald grabbed her backside.“Kidding” she retorted, “#notkidding.” “You’ll be popular, Donald, just not quite as popular as me!”
The first of two numbers with heavy Chicago influences played next, as Chenoweth invited Chicago songwriter/AEA actress Jess Godwin to join her onstage for a duet of Wicked’s “For Good.” I watch “Dance Moms” she exclaimed. “Don’t Judge Me” began the story of how Chenoweth discovered Godwin’s work, featured on the Lifetime Television show. Outfitted in a green sequin dress, the spirted red headed Godwin spoke of her admiration for Chenoweth and shared her own philanthropic work with the “Youth Empowerment Performance Project” and “Out in the Open Sleep Out” to benefit 19 agencies servicing youth experiencing homelessness in Chicago. Godwin even joked her mother flew in from Atlanta for this once in a lifetime opportunity to watch her daughter sing with her idol. Upon the conclusion, the audience again jumped to their feet with enthusiastic applause.
Sitting back down, Chenoweth reminisced about a song she sang as a young girl when her parents really first realized “she can carry a tune in a bucket.” She dazzled a captivated crowd with her rendition of the 1939 Wizard of Oz classic, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I am confident Judy Garland, another powerful petite singer, also 4’11”, was watching over her, a proud celebrity guardian angel. Speaking then of her favorite conductors, Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” and Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow” followed. When mentioning her friendship with Dolly Parton, she suggested Parton would like Chenoweth to play her in the musical of her life. “I am missing a coupe of things” she joked when gesturing down to her chest. The lyrics of this scaled down, acoustic 2001 hit “precious fragile little thing, flies so high” could also describe Chenoweth, perfectly.
Kristin has long shared the fact that she is a Christian with her faithful fan base. “I am a Christian person, but I don’t judge” she retorted. So to assist her with the Sandi Patty ballad “Upon This Rock,” Chenoweth was joined by a who’s who of emerging Windy City talent including Megan Elizabeth Farley, Rodrigo Cruz, Alex Newkirk, Daniel O’Brien Phillips , Mallory Maedke, Scott Sowinski, Molly Kral and Ariana Burks. Yes, the same Ariana Burks who was also randomly selected to sing with Chenoweth’s Wicked co-star, Idina Menzel, when that Tony winner was also recently in concert in Chicago. This teenaged singing sensation is quickly working her way through performing with all the Broadway divas. Perhaps Miss Burks should consider playing the lottery. That 4’11” (I am sensing a theme here) emerging talent seems to have a great deal of her own “Wicked” luck, pardon the pun. Utilizing the rapier wit she is well know for, Chenoweth stated if anyone in the audience didn’t follow her same faith, that would be fine. “The song will be over in 4 minutes” she jested. Following that joke up with “Shalom” as the audience chortled. Her set ended with “I Was Here” and spoke about the importance of “doing something that truly matters.”
Returning to the stage for a single song encore, the night concluded with “Smile,” the Charlie Chaplin composed, 1936 song with John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics in 1954. “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.” “Tonight has been truly inspiration to me” she said before taking her final bow and leaving the stage for the last time. As for inspiration, the Windy City Chicago Theatre capacity crowd also left feeling inspired, with nothing but wide grins on their enthusiastic and thoroughly entertained faces.
Kristin Chenoweth appeared in concert at the Chicago Theatre Saturday, October 24, 2015