Review: ‘Kristin Chenoweth: Coming Home Tour’ at Strathmore

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To paraphrase an old expression, “big talent can come in small packages!” This observation was never truer than when the diminutive musical superstar, Kristin Chenoweth, took the stage at Strathmore Music Center on January 29, 2016. Chenoweth filled the hall with her remarkably strong, beautifully clear, and thrilling coloratura soprano voice. Accompanied by an ultra-talented five-piece orchestra, this petite powerhouse delighted the audience with an ever-changing kaleidoscope of pop, country, rock, gospel, and show tunes.

Kristin Chenoweth. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.
Kristin Chenoweth. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.

By way of background, Chenoweth hails from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. After receiving an undergraduate degree in musical theatre, she earned a Masters Degree in opera performance in 1992. Since then, Chenoweth has become a Broadway legend, as well as a film and television star. Her theatre credits include a Tony Award-winning performance in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, a Drama Desk Award-winning performance in the revival of On the Twentieth Century, and stellar performances in Promises, Promises, Steel Pier, and many others. However, she is probably best known by theatre lovers for her iconic performance in the role of Glinda the Good Witch in the spectacular Broadway production of Wicked.

Chenoweth’s television credits are many and varied, including the role of April Rhodes on Glee, and the role of press secretary Annabeth Schott on The West Wing, as well as roles on the Good Wife, Hot in Cleveland, Six Feet Under, and television adaptations of The Music Man and Annie. Her film credits include The Boy Next Door, A Bet’s a Bet, Descendants, and a voice-over role in The Peanuts Movie.

Not surprisingly, the concert featured a generous helping of familiar Broadway show tunes. In an homage to one of her favorite songwriting teams, Kander and Ebb, Chenoweth offered a heart-rending version of the torch song, “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret. Every note and every syllable was packed with genuine emotion.

Later, Chenoweth recounted her successful audition for the role of “Val” in A Chorus Line, back in Oklahoma, and pointed out that one of the songs contains words that “we don’t use in the Bible Belt.” While the title of the song is “Dance 10; Looks 3”, most fans know it as “Tits and Ass”. Chenoweth did not use those words in Oklahoma nor in Strathmore Music Center. Rather, she regaled the audience with her own version of “Boobs and Butt”!

From the classic Broadway favorite, My Fair Lady, Chenoweth performed a very up-tempo version of “I Could Have Danced All Night” to a thundering ovation. From the lesser known 1939 Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II musical, Very Warm for May, Chenoweth gave a thrilling performance of the beautiful love song, “All the Things You Are”.

For us, the highlight of the Broadway repertoire was a breathtaking rendition of “Bring Him Home” from the legendary theatre sensation, Les Miserables. Chenoweth’s notes were pure and effortless, and her vocal dynamics were impeccable. From defiant crescendos to plaintive whispers, the song brought tears to our eyes. This stunning performance quite literally stopped the show, as Chenoweth was able to go upstage, take a drink, and walk back downstage, while the ovation continued unabated.

Of course, no Kristin Chenoweth performance would be complete without her signature number “Popular” from the smash Broadway hit Wicked. As a prelude to the song, with tongue firmly in cheek, Chenoweth claimed that presidential candidate Donald Trump had asked for her advice, and even pantomimed Trump’s hairdo during the song. As a postlude, Chenoweth performed a lovely rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the classic film The Wizard of Oz, for which Wicked was a prequel.

When Chenoweth called to the stage one of her favorite composers, Andrew Lippa, she announced Lippa’s new show about two American heroes, th. Described as a “concept opera,” the combination show will be performed for the first time at Strathmore on April 23 and 24, 2016. In addition to his composing duties, Lippa will be portraying Harvey Milk, the 20th century gay rights activist and the first openly gay man to hold public office in California. Chenoweth will be playing the lead role of Anne Hutchinson, a 17th century Puritan midwife who was branded as a radical for defying the church, but who has been heralded as the mother of women’s rights and of religious tolerance in America.

Chenoweth closed the show with a stirring rendition of “I Was Here,” which describes the human longing to leave our mark on this world and then sent the concertgoers home with a reminder that there will always be a better tomorrow if we will just “Smile.”

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Kristin Chenoweth: Coming Home Tour was performed for one night only on January 29, 2016 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For information on future performances at Strathmore, visit their calendar of events.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.