Review: Kristin Chenoweth Sings With the Philadelphia Orchestra

During her shining, campy set, the pint-sized diva dished on Wawa, her West Chester roots, and sang her most popular Wicked hit to an absent Donald Trump.

Chenoweth

Toward the end of Kristin Chenoweth‘s set on Saturday evening with The Philadelphia Orchestra, she turned to the audience and said, “There’s only about 20 minutes left, and then you can go and pee. Oh, and if there are any straight men in the audience, my name is Kristin Chenoweth.”

That’s the typical kind of camp one would expect from the Broadway star who has both a Tony and an Emmy to her name. Let’s be clear: Ms. Chenoweth and The Philadelphia Orchestra are odd bedfellows at best, but how can you not adore the pint-sized soprano sipping soda from a giant cup between her big musical numbers? And how could you not love her commentary on Wawa (“You can buy a candle there. You can buy a Slurpee there. Heck, you can buy an entire five-course dinner there!”)? It worked as an evening of endearing entertainment.

The first half of the night was sans Chenoweth, and highlighted the versatility of the Orchestra. Two nights earlier, they had performed a lavish concert featuring great operatic arias from Verdi and Puccini. This evening, the ensemble opened with a ravishing rendition of the overture from Bernstein’s Candide, followed by a suite from West Side Story, under the baton of Steven Reineke. Mr. Reineke, while definitely more of a pops conductor, was clearly able to bring out the playful side of the musicians throughout the evening.

Ms. Chenoweth did rely on a microphone throughout her performance, which, while not surprising, was a bit disappointing. She told the audience that she was at one point accepted as a soprano into Philly’s Academy of Vocal Arts, but she opted to go right to work in the New York theater world instead. That’s a shame, because when Ms. Chenoweth moves from the pop-infused style that her audience is accustomed to and lets her classically trained pipes sparkle, there’s a clear sense that in her 4-foot-11-inch frame there’s a voice fit for The Met.

Nevertheless, Ms. Chenoweth did shine throughout her performance, singing one tune after the other in almost rapid-fire form. Some of the highlights included a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which eerily sounded a bit like the ghost of Judy Garland was haunting the stage, plus a moving “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables that brought Ms. Chenoweth to tears and the audience to their feet. She also employed some camp to what is arguably her calling-card anthem, “Popular” from Wicked, by pretending like she was singing it to Donald Trump.

The audience also learned that Ms. Chenoweth has some regional roots: Her family moved to West Chester for a period of time, and she was a runner-up in a Miss Pennsylvania pageant (to us her words, “I was a Miss Columbia”). She also made references to King of Prussia Mall and the Main Line toward the end of her set, which the audience ate up.

And, just like the Orchestra, there’s a true level of versatility to Ms. Chenoweth: One of the best numbers  was her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” where we got to see a glimmer of a soulful performer on the stage. That multilayered talent has served Ms. Chenoweth well during her career, and will continue to do so for years to come.

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