Kristin Chenoweth, America’s most entertaining entertainer, moved her hopelessly sold out Boston Symphony Hall audience to alternating states of joy, awe, sadness, laughter, and above all, rapture, at a performance for the ages Sunday night.
Chenoweth, accompanied on the piano by her musical director, the Marvin Hamlisch-like Michael Orland, demonstrated her range and virtuosity with a range of songs from the Great American Songbook, her own personal greatest hits, songs with a spiritual bent, and a whole lot of enormously fun conversation that made you felt you were in her living room, not in a huge hall.
She came out welcoming whatever “straight men” there might have been in the audience, who were no doubt brought to see her by their wives, daughters, or perhaps even their sons, a nod to her adoring gay fan base.
But you don’t have to be gay to love Chenoweth. She has Sinatra’s own ability to create intimacy with thousands at once, to command massive audiences with the slightest gesture. And like Sinatra in his day, she can sing like no one else on earth.
If you listen closely, at times you can hear a trace of Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, and even Edith Piaf. But don’t be mistaken – it’s always, always Chenoweth, who makes every song her own, even the ones she earnestly insists she wrote.
This is a singer who never backs away from a challenge, whether it’s singing Promises, Promises on Broadway or offering an extremely broad range of songs that require a singer with, well, an equally broad range. Whether she’s leaping neatly up an octave or suddenly dropping from forte to pianissimo, Chenoweth is always in control, always angelic in her vocal stylings, and always a delight.
In a performance produced by Boston’s highly regarded Celebrity Series, she told stories and sang about her adoptive parents, who have been married 54 years. When she told her folks she would do a two-week solo run on Broadway this past fall, they told her they were coming for the whole run and staying with her – “Which they did,” she added, to laughter.
She then explained that she introduced her parents to the audience the first night, and they were a bit awed by the applause. On the second night, she introduced them and they waved and smiled with enthusiasm.
On the third night, she introduced them and the spotlight fell on two empty seats.
“They’d gone to see Hamilton,” Chenoweth explained.
She sang some of the songs for which she is best known, including Popular from Wicked and Taylor, The Latte Boy, and she blew the audience away with a deeply heartfelt rendition of You Were Always On My Mind.
Toward the end of the program, she brought out a dozen young music students to accompany her on a religious song; before it began, she told the audience, “If you’re not a believer, don’t worry. It’ll be over in four minutes.”
Not just that song but the whole evening flew by. When you see Chenoweth perform, you feel as though you are making a new friend, or perhaps reengaging with a wonderful old friend you haven’t seen in some time.
She is perhaps America’s most familiar songstress, having appeared not just on Broadway, and in the movies, but on West Wing, Glee, GCB, and Hairspray Live!. Sometimes, a performer’s celebrity outweighs his or her ability actually to perform. The opposite is true with Chenoweth. Her voice is a revelation, her charm is boundless, and if there is a God and you didn’t take advantage of your chance to see her perform here on Earth, you’re going to have an eternity’s worth of explaining ahead of you.