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Lincoln Center's American Songbook: Kristin Chenoweth

by Michael Cirigliano II

Kristin Chenoweth American Songbook Series

Photo credit: Richard Perry, The New York Times

Lincoln Center's American Songbook series is in full swing, featuring notable names in pop music, musical theater, and art song. Perhaps the only performer to toe the line across all of the aforementioned genres, however, is Emmy and Tony Award-winning stage and television star, Kristin Chenoweth. Her Friday night show, aptly titled "The Dames of Broadway . . . All of 'Em," was a dynamic collection of 15 songs spanning the work of Bernstein, Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Sondheim.

Woven between the perfectly executed numbers were moments of radiant personality, with Chenoweth clearly displaying her humble Oklahoma roots that have helped to keep her grounded when so many other artists of her caliber fill the stage with ego. In fact, nowhere else in today's musical landscape will you find a singer that can leverage years of classical training to fill the room with her crystalline voice, then quickly take a drink from a plastic 7-11 Big Gulp cup. With Chenoweth, though, it just seems apt.

Moving between exuberant naiveté and kittenish purrs, Chenoweth excelled in her programming, capturing the essence of wide-eyed love in Carousel's "(When I Marry) Mr. Snow," before launching into a deep-throated version of Show Boat's "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"—a performance that had no need for affectation or colloquial contrivance. With an instrument as virtuosic, effortless, and capable as Chenoweth's, she has the leisure to adopt each song to her own strengths, rather than trying to contort her vocals to match an overwrought style.

Her energy was electric throughout, leaping across the stage during a dance breakdown in Jumbo's "Little Girl Blue" and twisting her hips to bring A Chorus Line's Val to life in "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three." Regaling the Allen Room crowd with her tale of creating the role during a high-school summer-stock production, Chenoweth made sure to recapture the essence of her Bible-Belt, Christian upbringing, choosing to replace the usually saucy anatomical lyrics with "boobs" and "butt" instead.

Backed by a drummer, double bassist, and even a male quartet for "Moonshine Lullaby," the main partnership on stage was deeply felt between Chenoweth and pianist Mary-Mitchell Campbell—an accomplished musical director and collaborator to the some of the biggest names in music. While it must be difficult to match a character like Chenoweth in terms of star power, Campbell rose to the challenge, helping to deliver an incredibly heartbreaking version of "My Funny Valentine" that made use of dense, romantic chords that would have made Rachmaninov himself blush.

Capping the evening off with a hushed and emotional account of The Sound of Music's "Edelweiss"—accompanied solely by the double bassist—Chenoweth proved that the music, not the singer, should always be at the foreground; it wasn't a razzle-dazzle high note that ended the stunning 80-minute set, but rather a tender rendition of a timeless classic that left not a dry eye in the house.

The Allen Room, Kristin Chenoweth, Feast of Music, American Songbook