On a hot, humid summer evening at the Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center last night, the lithe and absolutely charismatic Broadway, television, and singing sensation Kristin Chenoweth brought out the balmy breeze of her immense talent through a disarming set of 18 (or so) eclectic songs and lively, iconoclastic comedic patter for ninety glorious minutes.
Chenoweth is akin to a musical “force of nature” in that she possesses one of the most thrilling sopranos I have ever heard; she can encompass almost any style of singing and her voice truly borders on the operatic (just listen to her exceptional rendering of the role in the Andrew Lippa Modern music piece which she performed recently —namely, I am Anne Hutchinson, I am Harvey Milk).
She has a soaring purity and clarity of tone that is precise with perfect enunciation but she, concurrently, knows how to channel her focus to meet the emotional subtext and message of every song she sings. Chenoweth was backed-up with a top-flight 5-piece band consisting of piano, violin, guitar, percussion and bass.
The classic “The Man That Got Away” (She cited Judy Garland as a favorite of hers and an influence) was delivered with a slow, steady build until it ended piercingly with a heartbreaking and forlorn spirit of hopes crushed.
Chenoweth has the crowd in stitches with her zany rendering of the comedic musical narrative about her romantic fervor of the boy she has met at the local Starbucks —namely, “Taylor, the Latte Boy.”
Chenoweth often made passing references to her Midwestern parents —these references were alternately affectionate, endearing and —often good-naturedly ribbing. These references led naturally to Ms. Chenoweth’s gloriously homespun homage to her bond with her Father –namely, the aptly –titled “Fathers and Daughters.”
Chenoweth next held the crowd spellbound as the night grew darker and she launched into a pensive yet pleasurably calming rendition of Kander and Ebb’s “A Quiet Thing” from Flora, the Red Menace.
A quixotic change of pace as Chenoweth expressed her admiration for Julie Andrews and, then, proceeded to launch into a very crisp and fast-paced cover of “I Could Have Danced All Night.” A very interesting and exciting musical arrangement!
The definitive highlight of the concert and the most evocative and heartrending cover I have ever heard of “Bring Him Home” (from Les Miserables) moved the crowd to a five –minute standing ovation —and it was obvious that Ms. Chenoweth herself was reduced to tears herself by the emotional depths she had explored in this song.
Prior to her heartfelt singing of this number, Chenoweth had addressed the crowd in a serious and intimate manner expressing her solidarity and sorrow over the recent terrorist attacks and the Orlando, Florida massacre—-it was obvious that she was channeling all her feelings of loss, the waste of human life and the very death of innocence in this penultimate and poignant rendition.
Chenoweth was back in Garland terrain with (for my money) one of the greatest songs ever written —-namely, Harold Arlen’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” This song has always evoked such a direct emotional response and she gave it the best interpretation I have ever heard aside from Ms. Garland. Chenoweth sang it with a very uninhibited, free-flowing and openly dramatic manner—–highly original yet as emotionally accessible as ever.
Another major component that made for the success of the concert was her very unique, edgy and iconoclastic humor that underpinned almost every anecdote and bit of stage patter that she delivered. Chenoweth possesses a superb sense of comic timing no doubt due to her meticulous theatrical training and experience.
One running highlight was an affectionate yet amusing running commentary on her good friend, Marvin Hamlisch.
Another very amusing and effective comedic bit of business was to incorporate a bit of spoofery upon Mr. Trump by admonishing him how to be “Popular”—–simply by singing her well-known standard of the same name from the hit musical Wicked. With her hair messed and her face full of deadpan looks, Chenoweth was distinctly offbeat and hilarious.
A very interesting and inspiring touch was added towards the end of the concert (She admitted that she includes this component in most all of her concerts–) as Ms. Chenoweth introduced eight local singers of distinction. Each local singer introduced themselves and, then, joined in a harmonious and uplifting yet defiant rendition of Composer Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More.”
To sustained and well-deserved applause, she came back on stage for an encore of the classic song “Smile.” As Ms. Chenoweth was bathed in focused white light, the line “…….although a tear may be ever so near” was the emotional hook that hung this haunting song on the slightest sliver of hope amidst turmoil.
Kristin Chenoweth trades on this emotional currency of hope amidst all the sorrows and odds of the world and she wins us over with her beautiful spirit and her ravishing talent every time.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Kristin Chenoweth performed on Sunday, August 21, 2016 at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center -1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For future Wolf Trap concerts, go to their events schedule.