Kristin Chenoweth is one of the most in-demand performers in general, but right now is a particularly prolific time. New albums? Two, with a single on the way. Hallmark Christmas movie? Check. Netflix Christmas movie? Still to come. Voice on BoJack Horseman? That too! But Chenoweth still has time for Broadway, her one true love. And we love her right back.
Chenoweth has returned to our shores for a short run at the Nederlander Theatre in For the Girls. The second edition in three years of Chenoweth's Broadway borrows the title of her latest record and pays tribute to her favorite female singers and songwriters. Beyond a snatch of "Popular" from Wicked, don't go in expecting many show tunes — Chenoweth took care of that in 2016 with My Love Letter to Broadway. Instead, settle in for a soulful evening of hits popularized by Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Lesley Gore, Tricia Yearwood, Karen Carpenter, and more, all with Chenoweth's own bewitching spin.
While director Richard Jay-Alexander's staging feels a little thrown together (apparently this concert was developed in between Chenoweth's touring engagements), he proves his mettle as a concert director (he's Barbra's go-to) by following the cardinal rule of staying out of his star's way. For the Girls feels authentically Chenoweth, a mix of heartfelt honesty and self-deprecating humor, punctuated by songs that mean a lot to her.
There were a lot of numbers I would have happily listened to on loop: Gore's "You Don't Own Me," performed alongside ace vocalists Marissa Rosen and Crystal Monee Hall, the Eagles' "Desperado," sang with as much gravitas as Linda Ronstadt's version, and Chenoweth's unexpectedly poignant take on "The Way We Were." Alongside the emotional songs, there are also amusing takes on the comic numbers "Millennial Song," written by musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell, as well as a tune Chenoweth has been singing since her pageant days in the 1990s, Victor Herbert's "Art Is Calling For Me" from the operetta The Enchantress.
Nightly, Chenoweth is joined by special guests whom she treats as royally and generously as the audience. Veterans of Wicked past and present take the stage for a "Galinda Masterclass," ("the Ga is silent") which ends with Chenoweth departing for a costume change as the guest artist sings their own solo. On opening night, it was Brittney Johnson, the current Glinda standby, who holds the record of being the first African-American artist to play the role in the show's 16-year history. Johnson sold her "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from Sunset Boulevard to the rafters, while Jamie Barton, a special guest from the Metropolitan Opera, did similarly with the funny "Alto's Lament" later on.
But it was the final part of the concert that moved me most. From a magnificent version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" to Sandy Patti's "How Great Thou Art," this section of spiritual music came from Chenoweth's heart as a devout Christian, and you could tell. It was delivered with profound feel and you could tell that these songs, particularly the latter, mean quite a lot to her. And then, as if to top it all, she did two encores — "I Will Always Love You" and "Smile" — unaided by amplification. If the previous two hours of concertizing weren't enough, this grand finale was the icing on a very special cake.