Inside of a sold-out Winspear Opera House, the star of stage, screen and studio Kristin Chenoweth offered a sublime case study of when an artist, venue and location are perfectly married.
Given that the Oklahoma native has won an Emmy and a Tony, it's likely she could've knit a sweater in the AT&T Performing Arts Center's parking garage and still have served up an entertaining evening. But it's hard to imagine there's a better spot than the gorgeous Winspear for her powerful soprano and bold personality.
And since she's from this part of the country, she knew which buttons to push with the worshipful crowd.
During the lengthy, banter-filled gap between her first two songs, Chenoweth, decked out in a sparkly cocktail dress with fiercely bedazzled knee high boots, sipped from a massive Whataburger cup to the delight of the Texans in the room. Her anecdotes involving her childhood, parents and Christian faith added favorably to the familiar tone.
There were indeed plenty of songs to go with the chit-chat, but this wasn't a typical concert so much as it was a powerhouse performance merging music, comedy and vulnerability. Instead of focusing solely on cuts from her most recent album, last year's The Art of Elegance, Chenoweth constructed a musical memory board to share. Singing personal favorites from Hoagy Carmichael, Willie Nelson, Stephen Sondheim and Judy Garland lent the evening a jovial unpredictability that's often lacking if the audience has an entire musical or album memorized by heart.
Chenoweth cited Dolly Parton as perhaps her biggest inspiration as a performer, and proof of that went well beyond lip service.
Her easy-going humor, quirkiness and ability to master a range of songs is something Parton has demonstrated for decades. From foul-mouthed to tender, Chenoweth's reach was impressive.
That effortless spectrum cold be felt from song to song, as each tune was ended with her commenting on how she wished she had written it for herself. "Taylor the Latte Boy," was as cute and comical as the name suggests, while a song she dedicated to her parents about a couple who has been married for 50 years didn't tug at the heart strings as much as it ripped them.
The audience erupted at the opening piano twinkles to "Popular," the iconic song Chenoweth first performed as Glinda the Good Witch in the Broadway smash Wicked. Later, the crowd remained still in silent reverence as she sang Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter," which was preceded by her thoughts on how music heals and gives hope.
The out-of-left-field mashup of Nelson's "Always on My Mind," and Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" lent the evening an intriguing spark, while her "Oklahoma version" of the "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" from A Chorus Line was a knee-slapper delivered with all of the spunk and force she could muster.
Whether she was riffing on reality television or showing off her new dog Thunder, Chenoweth continued to prove her mettle as a student of music and theater. But even more, she opened up and showed herself as a fan of the great artists that came before her.
For all of the sparkles, tales of famous friends, soaring voice and iconic songs, Chenoweth still managed to seem like one of us regular folks for a night. Except, with all that talent, she definitely isn't.