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Kristin Chenoweth’s “My Love Letter to Broadway” At the Lunt-Fontanne, Saturday, November 5th, 2016, Reviewed

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Musical theatre in the 10s is to musical theatre in the 50s, what rock and roll in the 10s is to rock and roll in the 70s, what Stephen Sondheim to Adam Guettel” not dead, it is still all over Broadway, but a Broadway in which Andrew Lloyd Webber, a successful laughingstock back in the day, is considered a Berlin or Gershwin type great. This affects everything from the top down and it affects Kristin Chenoweth, the little gal from Oklahoma City, with the big voice, born to play the second banana and taken the lead.

At the Lunt-Fontanne Saturday afternoon, I was blown away by the singer, dancing 4′ 11″ -the first time I saw Chenoweth on stage, as Sally Brown in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”, I, and everyone else who saw her, knew she was gonna be huge. And since then, she has performed high octane, powerful, a touch over acted, but always sincere musical theatre. Yet, she wasn’t meant for these roles, she was meant for secondary comic relief and force fed into higher profile because there was nobody in the wilderness of musical theatre half as good.

At her one woman plus six piece band playing a limited run at the Lunt-Fontanne, Kristin is less a love letter to Broadway and more a swift and smooth musical autobiography, starting with Kristin singing “Dear Mr. Nederland” to the tune of “You Made Me Love You” -imagining herself exactly where she is. From there she misplays “Popular” -remember Kristin was the first Glinda, in an almost instantaneously dated thumb suck at Donald Trump. But if that was a bit of a waste, a deeply felt version of Don Henley’s “The Heart Of The Matter” as an anti-gun response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, with  music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell on the Steinway, taking a verse, made the point stick. A lovely rendition, and two other highlights, Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow” and a mash-up of  Willie Nelson’s “You Are Always On My Mind” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” were extremely good.

Nothing here wasn’t good, at 48 years of age Kristin is smart, vivacious and lovely, but she isn’t who she is. The Sally Brownness of her is her strongest quality and she is at her worse at her most bathetic. A terrible song, “50 Years”, sung as a tribute to her parents had me checking my watch, and, Godhead “Upon This Rock” was helped by the New Paradigm Theatre’s college kid choir, but yeah, preaching to the non converted for sure.

Still, the caveats come with musical theatre in 2016. It is the world we live in and it is a world where Kristin can’t be appreciated for who she is as much as we would like her to be. A fine performance, exactly what it is, and she has been touring behind it for a year, so it is spit and polished. But there is nothing to do with the musical to revive it, and there are no big stars left really: certainly no Ethel Merman’s out there, and no Rodgers and Hart writing for them. More is the pity but I will take Kristin any way.

Grade: B+

 

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