Kristin Chenoweth’s exuberant concert is titled My Love Letter to Broadway, and it all but demands that Broadway write a love letter back. I’m happy to oblige: As followers of this space may know, I think Chenoweth is one of the great musical-theater leading ladies of our time, and this concert—which generously lasts more than two hours, with an intermission to catch our breaths—is a mostly splendid showcase for the qualities that have made her pop from the stage and into the pantheon.
Dressed in va-va-voom pink outfits by Christian Siriano, and accompanied by a six-piece band led by the superb Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Chenoweth tears through more than 20 songs, alternating show-off moments—she casually tosses off a high E-flat—with sunny self-deprecation about her age and career. She deploys her stunning upper range sparingly: in brief accounts of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “All the Things You Are” and, most impressively, a straight-up “Jesus song,” “Upon This Rock,” sung à la Sandi Patty and backed by a small local choir.
These flashes of high color are moderated by more tender Great American Songbook moments, including strong and simple performances of Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” Kander and Ebb’s “A Quiet Thing” and Don Henley’s “Heart of the Matter.” Her “Bring Him Home,” from Les Misérables, benefits from what seems like an intimate personal relationship with the God it prays to, and her version of the Bacharach-David hit “A House Is Not a Home” rescues the song from its disastrous interpolation into the 2010 Chenoweth revival of Promises, Promises. And there are comic moments as well, including a bowdlerized (and, like many of the concert’s songs, foreshortened) rewrite of A Chorus Line’s “Dance Ten, Looks Three”—a wry wink at her Oklahoma background—and a lightly amusing spin on Wicked’s “Popular” addressed to Donald Trump.
There are minor missteps. A mash-up of “Always on My Mind” and “Losing My Mind” seems facile, and the two songs don’t complement each other well. More generally, Chenoweth suffers occasionally from what a Sondheim character once called “the curse of versatility”: Though her real strength is her distinctiveness, she has a slight tendency to slip into imitation when performing songs associated with famous voices. Sometimes it works, as in a strong take on Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow”; sometimes it falls flat, as in a belabored recreation of “I’m Tired,” Madeline Kahn’s goof on Marlene Dietrich in Blazing Saddles.
But the overall effect of the show, directed by Richard Jay-Alexander (and featuring writing by Marco Pennette), is to leave you marveling at Chenoweth’s talent. A pair of back-to-back bittersweet encores—“I Couldn’t Be Happier” and “Smile,” the latter delivered without a microphone—gently turn a dimmer on her blinding star wattage, and leave you all the more impressed with her glow.
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (Broadway). Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander. With Kristin Chenoweth. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission. Through Nov 13. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam
Keep up with the latest news and reviews on our Time Out Theater Facebook page.