Kristin Chenoweth certainly knows about popular. Indeed, she is one of the most popular stars to emerge from the Broadway scene over the last couple of decades. There are very few stage or musical theatre stars who become multi-media platform draws, making it on the silver or small screen as well, and even fewer who could even think about staging a solo concert at arguably London's most iconic venue: the Royal Albert Hall. Kristin Chenoweth is one of them.
Last night, Kristin (finally) made her UK solo concert debut. She explained it was a case of 'third time lucky', after the past two attempts had to be cancelled due to a head injury, suffered by a piece of set falling on top of her during the filming of 'The Good Wife', and then due to visa complications. I can safely say, it has been worth the wait. For someone so petite in stature, Chenoweth undeniably knows how to engulf a venue, not only with her (sometimes surprisingly) powerful, operatic voice and lung capacity, but also with her irresistable, born-and-bred Broken Arrow, Oklahoma personality.
As the concert begins, we are reminded (via a large cinema screen above the stage) of all her accomplishments on the other side of the pond. The video montage served as a great introduction to anyone sitting in the audience, who perhaps didn't know what they were in for. Perhaps the odd husband had been dragged there by his musical theatre afficionado wife? From headshots to red carpet shots, magazine covers to talk show appearances, Tony Awards to Emmy Awards, and of course footage from the Broadway and TV shows that have garnered her fame, the collage left no stone unturned and set the stage for this theatrical gem's entrance.
Visibly moved as the opening applause refused to cease after her short walk to centre stage, the sceptics amongst us may be tempted to think: "Well, she's a professional, isn't she! Crying on cue!" However, Chenoweth takes it upon herself to reveal that her tears are definitely not 'fake', but 'real American shit!'. You can't help but laugh and believe her simultaneously. To her, the Royal Albert Hall is the British mecca for any entertainer and to have walked out onto this stage for her UK debut concert is quite the accomplishment.
It seems to be impossible to pick a single highlight of the night. Chenoweth offers a unique and wide range of material, every song picked for a reason and explained in such relaxed and amusing anecdotes. From lashings of show tunes, topped up with country music, mixed with a dash of gospel and even a sprinkling of disco on top, that's the Kristin cocktail, we were being served last night.
Performances of some of the songs she has performed on the hit TV show 'Glee', where she plays a borderline alcoholic character called April Rhodes, including 'Maybe This Time' from Cabaret and Burt Bacharach's 'One Bell Less to Answer', added an air of class to the evening. For the latter, performed as a duet on 'Glee' with Matthew Morrison aka Mr Schuester, she brought out Les Misérables' current Jean Valjean Peter Lockyer. Other collaborations followed in the second half when a huge disco ball appeared on the big screen, and Jerry Springer the Opera's Alison Jiear bopped around the stage with Chenoweth to the beats of 'Enough is Enough' - showing that even uptemp disco is not off limits for this classically-trained songstress.
Perhaps a dream come true for all the 'Wicked' fans in attendance, right after her signature tune 'Popular' (which she re-christened 'Glinda Around the World' and sang certain verses in the foreign languages of other places in the world where 'Wicked' has been staged, including German, Italian and even Japanese), she summoned the first ever British Elphaba Kerry Ellis to the stage for a rendition of the show's tear-jerker 'For Good'. This resulted in the first, and not the last, standing ovation of the night.
Other favourite musical theatre numbers showcased included 'Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again' from The Phantom of the Opera, 'Lord and Master' from the King and I, 'Over The Rainbow' from The Wizard of Oz and she even challenged gender stereotypes by singing Valjean's infamous prayer 'Bring Him Home' from Les Misérables.
Another Midwest gal's spirit was certainly felt last night too: Chenoweth's all-time favourite performer Dolly Parton. In the country number 'What Would Dolly Do?', not only did the three talented background singers wave around cardboard cutouts of the country icon's face, but Chenoweth even interrupted the song half-way through to get on the phone and actually directly ask for her mentor's advice. To the audience's glee (excuse the pun), Dolly appears on the screen (supposedly from her desk in Dollywood) and suddenly we witness a 'conversation' between the two. The wonders of modern technology... The final song of the evening was also in homage to Dolly, as she performed a beautiful acoustic rendition of 'I Will Always Love You', a song of course made even more famous by Whitney Houston and 'The Bodyguard', - a heartfelt conclusion to a remarkable evening.
Ms Chenoweth acted out every song on stage, as if it were in the middle of a West End show, and yet nothing felt out of context or overlaboured. Her charming demeanour and storytelling, (particularly of her visit to Buckhingham Palace and performing for Her Majesty), were captivating. Even as she discussed her faith and sang the gospel number 'Upon This Rock', the perhpas secular audience was fully behind her, even moreso when she declared she was a christian, but a 'controversial christian' because she 'loves gays'. One gentleman from the front rows promptly cried out: "And we love you!" Well, you have to give it to her: she knows her audience! And that audience was in the palm of her hands for the duration of the evening, mesmorised, entertained and enchanted.