What happens when you give a petite, feisty blonde from small-town Oklahoma a microphone and put her onstage? Loads of laughter, fun and a profusion of Broadway hits that make my inner Thespian want to applaud each number with jazz hands and a box step. Enter Kristin Chenoweth, the 4-foot-11-inch soprano whose larger-than-life vocals and quick-witted tales are punctuated with sips from the Big Gulp perched casually on the grand piano next to her. Chenoweth strides onstage and enraptures the audience immediately — and it’s not just the sequins of her slinky black romper that dazzle us. A Southern belle through and through, Chenoweth is at once charming, humorous and just a little bit risqué.
The Oklahoma-born Broadway singer is most famous for her roles as Wicked’s Glinda the Good Witch and Sally in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; the former earned her a Tony nomination and the latter won her the award itself. Chenoweth, 48, is no stranger to the stage, and really knows how to enchant her audience.
She dedicates a song to her parents, joking about how they ditched her show for a nearby performance of Hamilton! Paying homage to Julie Andrews, whom Chenoweth credits as “one of the main reasons” she got into singing, Kristin Chenoweth launches into classics like “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Hills are Alive” with gusto. Each song is prefaced with a story that both entertains and gives us a glimpse into the person Chenoweth is: A no-nonsense hard worker, a devout Christian and someone we’d all like to run into at a party.
Halfway through the show she pauses for a rare moment of seriousness. Chenoweth says she would be remiss if she did not use her stage presence for something good. Asking for everyone to pray for Syria, Chenoweth then sings “Bring Him Home,” a Les Misérables classic, with delicate poise and passion. Many of us — including Chenoweth herself — tear up, and the audience gives a standing ovation as the song concludes.
The starlet takes a second to compose herself, then provides comic relief by firing off a farcical obituary for the Pillsbury Doughboy, who died of “too many pokes.”
Never once giving her audience a chance to grow tired or bored, Chenoweth’s energy and humor brighten up the spirits of everyone in the theater. With Chenoweth, everyone is fair game: Poking fun of herself for missing her own sound check due to the brush fires that shut down I-275, she then moves on to Mariah Carey and targets the superstar’s infamous botched New Year’s Eve performance.
For the final two songs, Chenoweth calls eight students from Clearwater High School to join her onstage. The performing arts students are taking a break from their prom dance — held upstairs in another wing of Ruth Eckerd Hall — to join Chenoweth in wrapping up the show. It is a special moment for all as Chenoweth advises each of the young artists not to let themselves be put in a box. Their performance is both beautiful and endearing as skilled young vocals escape from shy, nervous mouths.
There is an extended standing ovation, to which Chenoweth returns for an encore and closes out the night with Nat King Cole’s classic “Smile.” Chenoweth is at once vulnerable and brave, singing without a microphone and only soft piano accompaniment. She invites audience members to conclude the final line of the song with her, and the theater fills with sweet and almost hesitant voices in singing “Smile.” It is the perfect conclusion to a night of laughter, tears and especially, a sense Kristin Chenoweth’s sassy Southern self.