There may be many divas appearing in or soon to appear in theatres on Broadway, but there is only one Pink Diva – Kristin Chenoweth. Short in height but long on dazzling vocal assurance and precise comic timing, Chenoweth is one of a kind, gloriously so. Her celebratory Broadway concert (Kristin Chenoweth: My Love Letter To Broadway) was, as advertised, full of love and reflected the variety of musical options the Great White Way promises. With special mystery guests, superb musical direction from Mary-Mitchell Campbell and a surfeit of pink, this was a magical musical confection. Memorable for all the right reasons.
One of Kristin Chenoweth’s signature tunes is I Couldn’t Be Happier from Stephen Schwarz’ Wicked and, in every way, that was the thought echoing and reverberating around the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and out onto 46th Street on the occasion of the final performance of her Broadway concert: My Love Letter To Broadway. The audience could not have been happier to watch this gifted performer go through her paces, both touching and hilarious, and the Pink Diva herself, Kristin Chenoweth, could not have been happier to have been on that stage performing and entirely enjoying herself.
In the Playbill, Chenoweth explains her approach to the concert:
I’ve worked to assemble songs and numbers that are meaningful to me, some of which I have performed in concert or on the Broadway stage but have “changed it up” to keep the program fresh for my loyal and savvy audience. To that end, each evening I will be performing a different selection of songs so that every show is unique and special, much like my fans.
In a separate place in the Playbill, Chenoweth dedicates the performances of My Love Letter To Broadway to the memory of her now deceased dog, Madeline Kahn Chenoweth. Really.
It is the mixture of kooky yokel from Oklahoma, pretty in pink feminine Christian LGBTQIAGNC advocate, breathlessly good Soprano, and quirky, comic genius which makes Kristin Chenoweth both unique and irresistible. She revels in her Southern heritage, is unafraid to sing “A Jesus Song” on Broadway, can extemporise comedic hilarity with ease, is both honest and contrived and knows how to make an audience sit up and take notice. She flirts as easily as she belts out a top C. She really is one of a kind.
Not everyone could persuade Carol Burnett to record a voiceover to remind the audience not to misbehave during the Concert. Not everyone could get away with flirting onstage with a choir boy, albeit a 6′ 5″ one from Oklahoma, and being upstaged by him, reduced to tears of laughter by his cheeky responses. Not everyone could flaunt their physical assets to male members of the audience in quite the way Chenoweth does – deliberately (her costumes aid and abet her flouncing), somewhat dirtily, yet wholesomely. She is a complex package – candy cane on the outside, but soft and treacly inside, as well as tough and ready. Contradictions maketh the Chenoweth.
Certainly, very few people can sing the way Chenoweth can; even fewer can perform material with such all consuming passion and glittering skill.
Kicking off proceedings with snatches of You Made Me Love You, Rose’s Turn and Let Me Entertain You, Chenoweth started as she meant to continue – in full bravura style. Her voice supple and full, she could make it brassy or delicate as she chose. When she suddenly slipped into classical mode, for a pristine verse of I Could Have Danced All Night, the change was startling. This is a voice that can do pretty much anything.
The real point of distinction for Chenoweth is her comic physicality. She is adept at making quirky physical motions or movements part of her humour arsenal. How many fully fledged divas of the Broadway stage would allow one of their former leading men to hold them, full body spread over outstretched arms, and then do repetitions using her full body as a weight? Only Chenoweth (and possibly only with former Rocky star, Andy Karl).
The first half of the concert was chock full of treats of the musical kind. A deliciously funny Around the World with Galinda section, where Chenoweth popped out Popular from Wicked but singing in Japanese, Chinese and Italian (possibly some German too), reflecting the world wide grip the show has on audiences and Chenoweth’s bravura style. She is still the best Glinda that ever there was, and her maturity allows her to imbue the character with more comic grace. Her mastery of the languages was showing off of a completely different kind, but meaning was never in question, whatever language she sang in, and she exacted every laugh she could, even from a crowd that was desperate to sing along.
A mash-up of Losing My Mind and You Were Always On My Mind worked remarkably well, allowing Chenoweth to bring pain and longing to her voice without ever seeming to strive for that result. Truthful, powerful phrasing made these quite different melodies seamlessly communicate heartfelt emotions. There followed an uplifting Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart and a perfectly poignant A House is not a Home, sung better here than either the rendition Chenoweth gave in Glee or the one onstage in the Promises! Promises! Broadway revival. Divine.
There followed a touching tribute to her mother (Fifty Years) and Upon This Rock (the “Jesus” song), the latter featuring some students from Chenoweth’s alma mater, the Oklahoma City University Choir. The Choir were good – nice harmonies abounded – but understandably scared witless to be performing with their idol on a Broadway stage. Somehow their eagerness and enthusiasm made the song very enjoyable.
How does the Pink diva close the first half of her concert? By doing something unpredictable. Here, Chenoweth went out with a blaze of glory – her rendition of Bring Him Home from Les Miserables was touching, powerful and sublime. And totally unexpected.
The second Act was, understandably, more light-hearted, rambunctious even. Chenoweth made a suitably Pink Diva entrance, complete with pink Top Hat, and set the bar very high with a joyous version of One from A Chorus Line. There followed the Christian version of Dance Ten Looks Three, where Tits and Ass were replaced by Boobs and Butt – hilarious but also self-mocking. Wonderful.
On a roll of the velvet vocal kind, Chenoweth gave definitive versions of Blazing Saddles‘ I Am So Tired, Moon River and I’m Not A Diva (from Soapdish, a musical which really needs to be heard) – all perfectly performed musical jewels. A wonderful jam session followed based on Dolly Parton’s Little Sparrow and the band superbly set the tone – rapturous melodic joy.
Then, a perfect final icing on the cake – a new frock and a superb version of I Couldn’t Be Happier – again showing Chenoweth’s ability to really sing while unearthing every possibility of regret, reflection and humour.
Throughout, Campbell’s mastery of the Steinway was complete and the handpicked band did assiduously gifted work, providing the perfect backing to the vocals. Campbell was also a dry, very dry, foil for Chenoweth, and the affection between the pair was palpable.
Shows like this don’t work so well accidentally, and having a supernova talent as the focal point is not always enough. The patter here is excellent, with Trump jokes, Menzel jokes, Oklahoma jokes, God jokes, Gay jokes, and, well, jokes about sex and pretty much anything that actually was funny and even slightly relevant. Full credit to Marco Pennette and whoever else penned the patter. Full credit also to Matt Berman whose lustrous illumination of Chenoweth’s talents extended to deeply felt mood enhancement as well as flippant effulgent pinkness as required. The changes during Bring Him Home were particularly superb, as was the refinement of ambience during A House is not a Home.
Directed, with real flair and a complete understanding of star and likely audience, by Richard Jay-Alexander, My Love Letter To Broadway reminded anyone who needed reminding just what a talent Chenoweth is and what glories she has achieved, despite not winning many Tony awards. She was robbed when Indina Menzel took the Tony for Wicked, but perhaps that loss has inspired her to do better, other work. With Jay-Alexander’s vivacious vision, Christian Siriano’s sparkly costumes and Chenoweth’s enduring chutzpah, another Tony might be on the way.
Anyone for a revival of Mame? With Audra MacDonald as Mame and Chenoweth as Vera? Or Chenoweth as Rose in Gypsy? Or as Dolly?
Chenoweth really has no limits. She can work her magic in almost every way.