It’s a truly extraordinary thing to experience the concert of a star so beloved that she could conceivably have performed the scale and received a rapturous welcome from her audience. So it was at the Sydney Opera House on Monday night, where a love-in occurred between the sold-out house and Broadway diva Kristin Chenoweth.
Famed for her powerful soprano vocals, her vivacious personality and overwhelming stage presence, Chenoweth took to the stage to a standing ovation that set the tone for a concert in which all parties present were clearly aware that something special was afoot. And while what followed was a spectacle of bravura performances, peerless vocal technique and a warm rapport between audience and star, it has to be acknowledged that the evening as a whole would not have survived in the hands of any other artist.
Chenoweth’s set list choices deliberately attempted to please all facets of her multi-generational fan base, and yet the result felt somewhat like it sought to check off some obvious boxes before filling in the rest. Wicked, Glee and the infamous Chenoweth high-notes all were given their moment, while so much else from the divas career was left unsung, with other inexplicable skits and songs taking their place. Running the gamut from country, to gospel, to disco and the odd standard, the concert gave no shrift to Kristin’s lesser known Broadway vehicles or the standards that defined the last decade of her career (‘My New Philosophy’, ‘If You Hadn’t (But You Did)’, ‘The Girl in 14G’), and instead leapt back and forth between the convivially teenage and the drastically solemn.
Chenoweth herself was chatty and always looking for a laugh. Sliding effortlessly between her native Southern Belle accent and fresh New York-ese, she took command of the concert hall stage from the first and left no question about her own vocal skill and capacity to carry a lyric and make it unique. Choosing to cover Broadway showstoppers defined by others artists rather than focusing on her own, she took songs like ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, ‘Bring Him Home’ and ‘Maybe This Time’ and made them quintessentially hers.
A few moments went astray as she was joined by one or another member of her back up singers in a duet. With an audience that was one part music theatre stars to five parts music theatre students, and with Chenoweth herself in such spectacular voice, it was not the sort of atmosphere where a flat lyric (or note) could go undetected. And still the momentum of the show remained undiminished as the audience and their star continued to outdo each others energy in terms of performance and applause.
A fabulous moment occurred when Australia’s own Galinda, Lucy Durack, took to the stage to join Kristin in a duet of ‘For Good’. Though clearly unrehearsed, it was Durack’s night off from playing Elle Woods in Melbourne, the piece was an emotional moment for the pair and the audience responded with a rapture that displayed all too keenly just how extraordinarily popular Wicked has become in Australia.
Though some segments of the concert will be left forgotten in the light of day – an inexplicable Avenue Q skit for instance, or a too low rendition of Madeline Kahn’s ‘Tired’ – the overall evening had the presence of a legendary performance and Chenoweth delivered accordingly. Though it would have been nice to see this incredibly talented vocalist tackle some more serious music theatre (the kind the New York audiences get), it still has to be acknowledged that the concert given was a singular experience and impossibly delightful to behold.
After the concert, a reception was held in the northern foyer of the opera house at which members of the recently closed Sydney production of The Addams Family were hosted alongside other Australian music theatre stars. Throughout the night, Kristin frequently made reference to the talent she had been in contact with while in Australia – “there are some incredibly talented people on this island!” It can only be hoped that her rapport with Australian artists along with the overwhelming reception she received on Monday night will only encourage her to return to Sydney and Australia to perform again soon.