A “Wicked” Kristin Chenowith at the Hollywood Bowl
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Kristin Chenowith is an absolutely delightful performer and entertainer. She made the huge Hollywood Bowl feel like an intimate dinner theatre as she held us captive. She sang like an angel with her crystal-clear soprano voice, and acted, danced, did comedy, gave warm patter to her orchestra and audience, and more. If any network executives were in the audience, Kristen Chenowith showed them she has the makings for a wonderful variety show. How about reprising those great variety shows? Ladies and gentlemen, here’s “The Kristen Chenowith Show.”
This petite gal, who is a Tony and Emmy award winner, hails from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. It is hard to believe she is 4 feet 11 inches tall because she has a much larger persona with immense energy. She is larger than life and gives 110 percent to her performances. She has done Broadway, television with her own show, “Pushing Daisies”, and film.
Kristen came onstage to thunderous applause in a wedding-cake white, beaded, sparkling gown with a hoop and a train. She opened with the Doris Day favorite, Jay Livingston’s and Ray Evans’ hit, “Que Sera, Sera” “I like to start off with a bang.” When she finished the song, Chenowith said, “I can’t believe I am at the Hollywood Bowl by myself”. Unlike most performers who sing for half of the time while the Los Angeles Philharmonic opens or fills in, as with Josh Groban and others , Chenowith was the whole show. She had the talent and energy to carry the full show. Kevin Stites conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, Richard Jay-Alexander directed, Damien Bassman, drums; Eric Davis, guitar; Brian Hamm, bass; Ben Toth, piano; featured Constantine Germanacos, Jennifer Diamond, and Johnny Stellard.
She did a slow and hauntingly beautiful rendition of Mancini and Mercer’s “Moon River” followed by “Over the Rainbow” which was chilling and gave me goose bumps. So fine! Act 1 was a mix of songs from movies and musicals which showed her incredible range and talent in singing and acting. Kristen Chenowith brings her all to a song and is totally there in the moment with full emotions and so moved this audience of over 15,000 people. She thanked her parents who were there and who have been married fifty years, as she told how they found her singing herself to sleep and thought she sang well and encouraged her.
As a total departure from her high range, Chenowith sang“The Man That Got Away” in her lower register, and transformed herself into a hard as nails, tough gal with a broken heart. It was bluesy, gutsy, and she used her strong belt-voice. I was in awe as she did a startlingly soft and sad ending, “the man that got away”. It was a “throw away” line.
She called for a costume change as two fellows came out and lifted up her dress and hoop to take of her high heels so she could do a foot stomping country-western number in copper glitz boots. She segued into the Sherman Brothers number, with a sublime, “Feed The Birds” from “Mary Poppins” which moved her and the audience into tears. Chenoweth, again, showed her emotional range and acting prowess with Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me”. That took number my breath away.
Her showstopper toward the end of Act 1 was “Time to Say Good-Bye” from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” which she had heard Sarah Brightman perform. Once again, Chenowith made a complete transformation and sang in her startlingly divine operatic voice. She had studied opera and turned down an opear scholarship to do musical comedy. She ended Act 1 with a tribute to Julie Andrews, who influenced her, and did a light and fun version of “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
In between acts, we were shown clips from her twenty years’ career with bits and pieces from her Broadway shows, various performances, magazine cover shots, and a whole visually interesting montage. As Act 2 opened, Chenowith was heard offstage yelling, “I’m not ready yet.” She amped the volume of that lament as she berated the orchestra conductor. She came out, ala Carol Burnett, in character in her colorful dressing gown grumbling that she was not ready and did a very funny original number in a Marlene Dietrich accent of sorts, “I’m Tired.” “I need some “west.” “I’m tired, sick and tired of ABC that cancels my shows (“Pushing Daisies”). Touche’.
It was clever how she did another wardrobe call and went behind a screen onstage and got help to change into a short white dress. At 2 was comprised of Chenowith’s signature songs, so we knew we would hear something from “Wicked”. She told how she had sung in The Musical Theatre of Wichita, Kansas and did the role of Tuptim from “The King and I” when she had called herself Kristi Chen. That led into “Val” from a “Chorus Line” in which she had substituted some key words not suited for the mid-West. Those words became “boobs and butt”. Her warmth and banter added a nice personal touch that reduced the Bowl to a smaller, intimate venue. Few performers have the ability to so connect on such a personal level.
When it came time to sing something from “Wicked”, Chenowith did a multi lingual “Popular” with Japanese, German, Swedish, etc and paid tribute to Anthony Weiner in a hilarious bit she had done on Jay Leno’s show. Chenowith changed some lyrics as she gave advice to Weiner and told him how to become “Popular.” “I’ll teach you what tweets to tweet, something clean, something sweet.” “We’ll make sure you get your chance to be popular”. “The right kind of popular.” (That version is on her official site).
Chenowith brought the house down when she called for a volunteer to come up and sing ”Good,” the duet from “Wicked”. She had done this Friday night and had Sarah Horn, a Los Angeles vocal coach, and wowed the Bowl audience. Friday’s duet went viral with one million viewersby Saturday morning on You Tube. Our gal was Kelli Mc Kay, who is a vocal student from the Boston Conservatory. Kelli was so brave to go up before 15,000 people and to sing with Kirsten Chenowith. This had been her dream and she did a fabulous job and got a well-deserved standing ovation. (Both videos are on You Tube).
We got to see film footage as Dolly Parton gave advice to Chenowith as Chenowtih sang her original song as a tribute to Dolly,” WW DD”, which translates into “What Would Dolly Do?” It was a hoot!
The show was so alive and sparkling with energy and humor. There is a huge talent inside this tiny woman. The fireworks finale’ was like the final cherry on top of the the whip cream. Chenowith opened and closed with a big bang. Of course, there was an encore. Chenowith ended with Charles Chaplin’s “Smile”. She hates endings, so she smiles as she says “good-bye”. It was the capper to a more than perfect evening at the Hollywood Bowl.
There are more wonderful Bowl nights before the summer season ends, so check the schedule on line at www.hollywoodbowl.com. Wayne Shorter, Beethoven’s Third Concerto, John Williams: Maestro of the Movies, The Big Picture, A Night at the Oscars. For tickets call 323-850-2000 or Ticket Master at 800-745-3000. There are jazz, classical, and eclectic music through September. You won’t want to miss the last of the summer days at the Hollywood Bowl.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “