Kristin Chenoweth(© Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Kristin Chenoweth
(© Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
For her solo concert debut at the Metropolitan Opera House last night, Kristin Chenoweth made her first entrance in a baseball uniform and asked the audience to direct her to the hot dog stand. "It's not the Mets," musical director Andrew Lippa corrected her; "It's the Met!" An abashed Chenoweth told Lippa and the small but stalwart on-stage orchestra to "play something," then beat a hasty retreat. After an overture, the grand drape rose to reveal the star in a sexy, sparkly, red dress, and she sang "Gorgeous" from Bock and Harnick's The Apple Tree (in which she's currently starring on Broadway). At the end of the song, the ovation she received from the nearly sold-out, 3,800 seat house was thunderous.

It was clear from the start that Chenoweth's mega-watt personality and peerless comic sensibility would be brought to the fore in her Met concert, much to the joy of the the many loyal fans she has gained from her performances in such Broadway shows as You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Wicked, and The Apple Tree -- not to mention her work in television and film.

Aided by Broadway singer-dancers Sean Martin Hingston and David Elder, Chenoweth performed with her customary verve, once again astonishing us with her phenomenal vocal and acting range. ("Has anyone seen my larynx?," she asked after one particularly difficult selection). Kathleen Marshall directed the show with a light hand, allowing the star to shine her brightest.

The generous, eclectic program of songs was wittily categorized as "Things You Want" (Act I) and "Things You Need" (Act II, for which Chenoweth changed into a gorgeous purple gown). Among the many highlights were Stephen Schwartz's "Popular" (from Wicked); the sweet, post-modern love ballad "Taylor, the Latte Boy (by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler); "The Girl in 14G" (Jeanine Tesori/Dick Scanlan), which so brilliantly showcases Chenoweth's talents; the "Italian Street Song," from Victor Herbert's "Naughty Marietta"; and a mini-medley of two Gilbert and Sullivan airs. We were also treated to such selections as Adam Guettel's "How Can I Love You?", Stephen Foster's "Hard Times," and the roof-raising Styx number "Show Me the Way."

Throughout, Chenoweth was in full command of the audience, who clearly adored her. When she flubbed some of the lyrics in the fast-moving Styne, Comden, and Green number "If," she made a comic bit out of it. ("I've only been singing that song for six years," she sarcastically remarked.) And when she came up short on one of the fierce high notes in her first encore, "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide, she dealt with it by returning to the stage and flawlessly nailing the same note three times in succession. (The crowd went nuts.) Then, claiming that she was 'running out of gas," she offered as her second and final encore a winsome rendition of "What Makes Me Love Him?" from The Apple Tree, dedicated to Lippa.

It would have been nice to hear the singer in at at least one bona-fide operatic aria, perhaps Olympia's "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" from The Tales of Hoffman or something from The Daughter of the Regiment. And it would have been great if she had been backed by a full orchestra, just as Barbra Cook would have benefited from such support in her January 2006 concert at the opera house. But the Met obviously doesn't feel it necessary to have its world-class orchestra play for these events, so we'll all have to try to accept this as a disappointing fact of life.

Looking on the bright side, the instrumental ensemble that Lippa led last evening was twice as large as the tiny combo that accompanied Cook; and, in three numbers, Chenoweth was backed by the Juilliard Choral Union. More good news: The concert's sound amplification was much better than expected, given that the Met was designed for "unplugged" music. Though these events are not perfectly suited to this huge auditorium, they do have an undeniable sense of occasion. And when they're as well put-together as Kristin Chenoweth's concert, they are very welcome when all is said and done.