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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Nederlander Theatre


  Kristin Chenoweth/ Ph: Nellie Beavers

How many of Kristin Chenoweth’s diehard fans have pictured her in nothing but a t-shirt? I mean, they adore her, but are most of them, um, on her team? (She jokes that her biggest admirers are guys who admire her taste in shoes.) Whether or not you’ve fantasized about the original Galinda scantily clad, that image greets us as the curtain rises on the Broadway superstar’s latest cabaret act, Kristin Chenoweth: For the Girls. She’s accoutered identically on the cover of the CD of the same name, released in September. Cheno’s here to move product and remind us why she’s the queen of Broadway.
Or at least, one of the queens. We can never forget Idina or Kelli or Audra or Patti or Christine, but there is only one Kristin, the ageless, plucky pixie with the huge voice and the dainty frame. Her coloratura trills and helium squeak transcend period and plug her into a beloved line of comedy dames, from Fanny Brice to Annaleigh Ashford. None of these aforementioned names is one of the “girls” in the title. Instead, Chenoweth dedicates her act to the next generation. That includes her hard-working backup singers, Crystal Monee Hall and Marissa Rosen, and special guests: powerhouse Wicked understudy Brittney Johnson and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, already a big noise in the opera world.
A good deal of the set list derives from the new CD, filled with impeccable, shiny covers of retro pop classics “I’m a Woman” and “You Don’t Own Me” – which she performed with Hall and Rosen – as well as solo renditions of others made famous by pop royalty: Linda Ronstadt’s “Desperado,” Judy Garland’s “The Man that Got Away” and Barbra Streisand’s tear-stained torch standard “The Way We Were.”
If you’ve seen Chenoweth in Wicked or more recently in On the Twentieth Century, you’re already familiar with her trademark mix of pint-size sex appeal and angelic melisma. The combination of sensuality and chastity is in full force, as she bemoans a sputtering romantic life, yet reaches for the stars in her highest notes. Her gentle, lullabying cover of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” wraps us in sepia melancholy in English – and, a new twist, in Spanish.
There’s plenty of comic badinage interspersed among the songs. Chenoweth teaches a “Galinda Masterclass” with Johnson, literally passing Galinda’s sparkly wand to her young successor. She mock-faints when Jamie Barton sings a heavenly verse or two from “Over the Rainbow” and then cedes the spotlight to the opera singer for the quite funny “Alto’s Lament” (by Zina Goldrich). Mary-Mitchell Campbell accompanies deftly on piano and music-directs the swinging, five-piece band.
The second half of For the Girls grows more God-minded as Chenoweth lets her Christ flag fly. (“This next song is about Jesus, so if you don’t love Jesus, it’ll be over in four minutes.”) She does a lovely, haunted version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and a cathedral-ready “How Great Thou Art,” which should get you in the holiday mood – whether you like it or not. For her finale, Chenoweth does a gorgeous, soaring rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” the love anthem made famous by Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston. For a few lines, she steps away from the microphone to regale us with her classically trained, immaculate instrument – unamplified, unadorned, blessedly free from technology. That catch in her voice at the end – was that showbiz schmaltz, or is she truly choked up by our adulation? We may never know, and that artful blurring of the line between the artifice and truth, heaven and earth, woman and girl – it’s where the eternally enchanting Chenoweth lives. No matter how undressed she may appear, this Empress has resplendent clothes.

David Cote is a theater critic, playwright and opera librettist based in New York City.


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