Forget "defying gravity" ... Kristin Chenoweth defies everything, including the laws of nature, in a brand new show conceived specially for Lincoln Center Presents THE AMERICAN SONGBOOK.
It just doesn't seem possible that this 4'11" beautiful creature from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, can possess the gifts she's been given. It also can't seem fair to other performers, or to many of her current peers, what she is truly capable of.
Kristin Chenoweth is the kind of talent that modern day Broadway cannot seem to showcase properly, which is undoubtedly why film and television have welcomed her with open arms and keep stealing her from us. Add to that her extraordinary training, being terrorized by her beloved voice teacher, Florence Birdwell, doing whatever shows she could find or pray herself into, while growing up ... and one could actually claim it's an outright miracle how she ever really got here at all. The answer turns out to be simple: blinding talent.
On Friday evening, February 15th, at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room, the diminutive Chenoweth gave not one, but two performances of what turned out to be one of the most satisfying musical evenings of theatre songs ever assembled.
The conceit was simple: THE DAMES OF BROADWAY - ALL OF 'EM !!!!! The story Kristin tells is that when she first arrived in New York, her first agent didn't know whether to send her out for leading lady parts or for the wise-cracking, funny supporting roles. So ... she takes care of business, in a BIG way, by telling some fantastic stories about her life and journey to the stage and just "kills" on 16 extremely well chosen songs, in both categories, from great musicals with great parts - for DAMES. She also sips whatever it is that she is drinking, between songs, out of her BIG GULP plastic cup, with a straw. Very Chenoweth, as was a very funny bit that included her TONY Award, which, still spins, and entertains her endlessly.
As we watched the show unravel and our jaws dropped, we couldn't believe she had already performed this program earlier that evening. Pitch-perfect, funny, touching, heart-breaking and ferocious, one song after another. And, in the audience, just feet away, we could see her proud parents, Junie and Jerry from Oklahoma, smiling and, yes, crying.
The lighting and sound seemed just perfect and, needless to say, that room has the most stunning back-drop in New York City, which Ms. Chenoweth used to her advantage, both in her story telling and lyric content.
Knowing that this show, in an edited form, will appear on PBS on March 24th, we don't want to be accused of "spoilers" but it was a perfectly calibrated evening, in terms of how the show, directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, unraveled and was performed. A lean, tight, thoroughly enjoyable 74 minutes and, of course, we would have stayed for plenty more.
The evening also bragged brilliant work by the highly respected Mary-Mitchell Campbell and her merry band of two: Damien Bassman on percussion and Dave Phillips on Bass. The arrangements were just perfect, song after song. There is also warm and wonderful support from four of the handsomest "fellas" anyone could ever hope to hear or see: Tyler Hanes, Will Taylor, Constantine Germanacos and Johnny Stellard - the first two tour with Kristin and the other two, we learn from Chenoweth, were in the recent revival of EVITA, which just closed.
Lincoln Center Presents THE AMERICAN SONGBOOK hit a home-run with this one. You just don't see shows like this very often, if ever, anymore.
Some personal favorites: SOMEBODY, SOMEHERE, MY LORD AND MASTER, DANCE 10, LOOKS 3, OLD MAID, GREEN FINCH AND LINNET BIRD, BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY, A QUIET THING .... Actually, we could go on and on ... so here's the full list with the composers, lyricists and the shows from which the songs were performed.