If Kristin Chenoweth’s personal elán and ability to elate an audience could be mass-produced, the quest for global peace would be over, as Monday night’s Segerstrom Concert Hall appearance decisively proved. In her first major concert since sustaining a serious accident in July (more on that presently), the Tony- and Emmy-winner offered up a virtual object lesson in performing finesse and unfettered joie de vivre.
Expectations were palpable in the capacity crowd well before musical director Mary Mitchell Campbell’s swank pick-up orchestra began an overture that got applause at segues into signature numbers from “Wicked,” “The Music Man,” “Candide” and more. Then Chenoweth entered, beaming in a lamé mini-dress like a besilvered pixie, and the huge venue basically exploded.
This phenomenon recurred throughout a sagely programmed 90-minute set, which merged pop, Broadway, gospel and country with perky, unforced-feeling remarks. Clutching a take-out beverage cup -- “When I’m not in California, I miss my In-N-Out” -- Chenoweth made brief, witty nods to the presidential election, South Coast Plaza and her calamity on “The Good Wife” location shoot. “I’ll get back to that,” said the 4-foot-11 canary, and eventually she did, but the focus was clearly on singing.
Ask any opera diva about the possible consequences to resonance, breath control and pitch after a skull fracture, broken nose, spinal and rib injuries. It’s a miracle that Chenoweth is alive, let alone able to vocalize. But whether opening with operetta insouciance, tearing into Burt Bacharach/Hal David standards, or giving Diane Warren and Dolly Parton their due, Chenoweth’s range, timbre and versatility are in peak form, with astonishing top notes, equalized registers and a delicious ability to variegate attack from number to number.
Thus, when Chenoweth and her expert backup singers -- Tyler Hanes, Chelsea Packard and Will Taylor -- launched Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” to a dulcet, Copland-esque arrangement, it was as ravishing as her specialties “Taylor the Latte Boy” and “WWDD (What Would Dolly Do?)” were delightful. Of particular note was her “Popular” from “Wicked,” with Japanese and German lyrics inserted, and many a Nashville warbler might be nervous if she continues to explore her ripe potential in the country-western arena.
Name me another Broadway superstar who would bring a 9-year-old audience member named Brooke onstage to duet with her “For Good” from “Wicked,” and join the house in a (wholly merited) standing ovation for the girl mid-show. Or one who could affirm her Christian faith without proselytizing, in a breathtaking “Upon this Rock,” or deliver a final encore of Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” that approached Barbara Cook territory.
That’s the magic of Kristin Chenoweth, and she’s not just funny, or sincere, or plangent, but all that and so much more. To borrow the phrase she kept returning to, I’m very grateful. More, please, thank you.