Kristin Chenoweth is a tiny woman with big hair, a big voice and a big sense of humor.
She has a big resume, too –she originated Glinda in “Wicked” on Broadway, won a Tony for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and did boffo box office in “Promises Promises,” and she starred in TV’s “GCB,” won an Emmy for “Pushing Daisies” and will have a recurring role on “The Good Wife.” But she doesn’t have a signature song that could surely elevate her to divadom. Still, a sizable crowd Tuesday night at the State Theatre in Minneapolis clearly worshipped her like an icon.
The 43-year-old pride of Broken Arrow, Okla., came on like Dolly Parton with a bigger voice and smaller you know whats. Even though the two-hour show was quite stagey, it was a highly entertaining evening of song and silliness.
Chenoweth fired off both sharp and corny jokes (often delivering them too fast). She yakked a lot about her life, with a mix of heart-tugging stories and self-deprecating humor. She also discussed her previous trips to the Twin Cities, to appear at the Guthrie (“Babes in Arms”) and to film a movie (“Into Temptation”) – and to shop at Mall of America. She mentioned Garrison Keillor and Prince, whose house she said he’d been to. And she delivered a couple of digs at ABC executives for cancelling “GCB.”
But, most importantly, the chatty, easy-to-like star sang – Broadway tunes, pop classics, standards, a contemporary Christian piece and country songs from her 2011 album, “Some Lessons Learned.” When she sang pop with her unmistakable Oklahoma accent, it felt like a beauty pageant (see the Streisand/Summers disco duet “Enough Is Enough” with backup singer Chelsea Packard).
But when she used her bravura Broadway voice – wow! Her versions of “The Prayer” from “Les Miserable” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from “Phantom of the Opera” were stunning performances of restraint, emotion and power.
Chenoweth’s Christian tune was as painfully overwrought as her original “What Would Dolly Do” was brilliantly clever (featuring a videotaped phone call to Dolly herself). “Fathers and Daughters,” from her new album, had concertgoers dabbing their eyes, and “For Good” -- done as a duet with a hearing-impaired fan named Katie who signed her words – had everyone in tears, including Chenoweth.
Indeed, it was an emotional night. The wear-her-heart-on-her-sleeve star dedicated “I Was Here” to writer /director/producer Nora Ephron, whom she learned at intermission had died; Ephron cast Chenoweth in 2005’s “Bewitched.”
The singer closed fittingly with “I Will Always Love You” – the Dolly Parton way, with just acoustic guitar and voice, with the emotions ringing louder than her restrained voice.
To be sure, there was a lot of cheesiness but, in the end, the Chenoweth cream rose to the top.