Kristin Chenoweth: The Evolution of a Soprano

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New York Music Review By Brian Scott Lipton

 

 

I don’t like to brag, but I knew Kristin Chenoweth was going to be a big star way back in 1997 when I first saw her in Bill Irwin’s hilarious production of “Scapin” at the Roundabout Theatre Company. But there was a special joy in my heart as I watched just how far her star has ascended as she enthralled a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall this past weekend in her aptly named new act “The Evolution of a Soprano,” directed with incomparable finesse by Richard Jay-Alexander.

A mostly autobiographical concert that encompassed many of her past triumphs (and so-called “mistakes”), favorite songs, and crowd-pleasing hits from her Broadway and recording careers, the show proved not only how much Chenoweth has grown as an artist, but the extreme reaches of her talents. From the deep understanding she brought to Kander & Ebb’s melancholy “My Coloring Book” and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s mournful “Why Was I Born,” to singing bits of Stephen Schwartz’s delightful “Popular” in German, Japanese, and Italian, to the sheer beauty of her voice in the timeless standards “All The Things You Are” and “Over the Rainbow,” and the inherent passion she displayed in a brilliant rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” Chenoweth was consistently impressive.

RTRH4C0373_copyChenoweth also proved (again) to be a very generous performer, not just in giving due praise repeatedly to her superb pianist and musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell, but sharing the stage on numerous occasions with first-class artists, from 12-year-old boy soprano Sam Poon on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s haunting “Pie Jesu,” to a trio of fine back-up singers for two numbers (including a rousing take on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times”).

It was even more wonderful as she brought composer Andrew Lippa to the stage, first to share in singing “My New Philosophy,” the hilarious ditty he wrote for “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” that helped earn Chenoweth her Tony, and then singing to him (as a surprise) his own stunning composition about same-sex marriage “One Day.” (As Chenoweth duly noted, “I’m a controversial Christian”).

RTRH4C0503_copyAnd just when you thought there would be no more guest stars, Chenoweth brought her “idol” onto the floor: opera legend Deborah Voigt. The pair flubbed their way so hilariously through Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do,” it was better than if they had remembered all the words. But then these two soaring sopranos showed what they really can do by duetting beautifully on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”

As only a true pro could do, Chenoweth actually saved the best for last: a stirring, unexpectedly belty version of Jerry Herman’s ballad “If He Walked Into My Life” (leaving us to wonder if “Mame” may be in her future), followed by a gorgeous, unmiked rendition of “Bring Him Home” (from “Les Miserables”) that brought tears to the eyes and left the crowd floating on air.

You say you want an evolution? You got it!

Kristin Chenoweth: The Evolution of a Soprano. Carnegie Hall. Saturday, May 3

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