Photo courtesy of Minnesota Orchestra
Actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth may just be a Minnesotan at heart.
During the Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and singer’s March 4 performance with the Minnesota Orchestra, she didn’t let her giant SuperAmerica soda cup out of her sight. She spent at least five minutes telling the audience that she got lost in the skyways searching for Target—her favorite store of all time—the night before the show. She made sure we knew she has history in Twin Cities show biz, due to brief stints performing at the Guthrie Theater and filming the 2009 indie flick Into Temptation—both done in the dead of January.
“Let me just say I’ve had a love affair with this city for many years,” she said.
Well, Kristin, Minneapolis loves you too.
Her show was whimsical, moving, and witty all at once. The set list ranged from Judy Garland’s “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” (and a few others—it’s easy to see how much Judy Garland has influenced Chenoweth’s career); “Taylor the Latte Boy,” her ode to the handsome, extra espresso shot-doling barista of her youth; and a dreamy rendition of “Moon River” that highlighted the full orchestra playing behind her without taking away from her own sweet, clear voice.
But despite the glitz and glamour—her costumes were adorned with glitter and feathery ruffles—she has stayed true to her roots. A few songs and anecdotes reflected her childhood as an aspiring performer in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where certain shows and songs needed to be modified a bit to placate Bible Belt audiences.
She told the audience about the time she was cast as Val in A Chorus Line when she was 19. The role was a little risqué for Oklahoma—especially during Val’s hit song, “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” “Now, there are some words we don’t say in the Bible Belt,” Chenoweth said before parading across the stage holding signs that broadcasted those exact words—which won’t be repeated here. But let’s just say that during the performance, she cheekily sang them as “boobs” and “butt.”
Naturally, she couldn’t let songs from her own past performances stop there. The audience might have rioted had she not belted out “Popular” at some point, which she sang after intermission. She started with a nod to the recent La La Land/Moonlight Oscars flub by starting one song, opening a red envelope from the orchestra conductor that he brought her partway through the first verse, and, after a few seconds of feigned confusion, launched into the Wicked hit. She barely got the first line in before the crowd erupted in cheers. Though it was the only Wicked song she sang all night, it was peppy and fun and more than enough for the audience.
One of the most memorable parts of the show came at the end, when Chenoweth invited eight singers from University of Minnesota a cappella groups to be her backup singers. To her surprise, only one was a music major. As she asked them their majors, she became more and more animated and appalled by each one. One student’s answer—neuroscience—caused her to march right off the stage for a moment. “Neuroscience? I don’t even know what to do with that!” she exclaimed as the audience chuckled. Their voices, though, brought a fuller sound to the spiritual song “Upon This Rock” (“Find whatever is spiritual to you and sing to that,” Chenoweth told the students before the show) and Lady Antebellum’s “I Was Here.”
Chenoweth’s one encore, a microphone-less and raw version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” closed the show on a poignant, yet uplifting, note. It proved that she has never needed elaborate costumes and theatrics—fun as they are—to get into the audience’s souls and stay there for a while.