Dallas — When Kristin Chenoweth took the stage at the Winspear Opera House and began to sing, it wasn’t just the start of a performance—school was immediately in session. Hers was a master class of pitch-perfect vocal technique and heartfelt expression, and the full house at the concert, a one-night-only affair as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s “Center Presents” series, was ready to learn.
It was an intimate, almost cabaret-like performance despite the size of the venue—just Chenoweth and her longtime music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell on piano. It might have been too bare for some performers, but for Chenoweth it felt just right. She may cut a diminutive figure without her high, glittery boots (decorated by Dolly Parton’s blingmaster, she claims), but her sheer presence is more than big enough to fill any stage.
The Oklahoma native was clearly pleased to be close to home, with her parents and family in attendance and a large Whataburger cup in a place of honor on the piano, which drew a large cheer from the audience. The space between songs was interspersed with bright patter and amusing anecdotes to act as a palette cleanser for her varied set, which ranged in performance from bust-a-gut funny to achingly sad.
Chenoweth pulled out old crowd favorites, like “Should I Be Sweet?” from her 2001 album, and “Taylor the Latte Boy,” which she jokes should probably now be “the vodka man.” These somehow work perfectly alongside standards from her new album, The Art of Elegance, like “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” which she dedicated to the late Mary Tyler Moore.
It is hard to listen to her sing and not marvel at the absolute virtuosity of her vocal instrument—the phrasing, tone, clarity, and control she possesses are practically unmatched. It’s always nice to see the wonderful acoustics of the Winspear put to good use, and Chenoweth definitely used her talents to push that envelope. During her encore, she sang an unadorned, unamplified rendition of “Smile,” which had no trouble reaching the highest seats in the hall.
Each song sees her becoming a different character, so fully that it is almost jarring when she returns to her jokey routine right after she pulls your heart out and squeezes it. Her performance of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” is wistful and lovely, and a mash-up of Willie Nelson’s “You Are Always on My Mind” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” feels seamless, bleeding with palpable emotion down to each shaky breath she takes.
Other standouts in the concert included her humorous “Bible belt” take on A Chorus Line’s “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” a hauntingly beautiful version of “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables, and a stripped-down duet with Campbell on Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow.” And of course, the crowd went wild for her iconic “Popular,” for which the stage lights turned cotton candy pink.
She closed out the evening two beautiful performances with students from Booker T. Washington, a “Jesus song,” as she called it (“Upon This Rock,” which appeared on her 2005 album As I Am), and “I Was Here,” from her 2011 album Some Lessons Learned. It felt very appropriate to sing with a group of young artists who are poised to make their collective mark on the world, and Chenoweth reminded them to embrace what makes them each unique and special, and create greatness with it.
It’s advice we all need in tumultuous times, as well as her paraphrase of a Leonard Bernstein quote on his response to violence in the world. She said, “the best revenge is to make the most beautiful music.” If that’s true, then for Kristin Chenoweth, revenge is very sweet.