Show Review: Kristin Chenoweth at Zellerbach Hall, 5/11/2012

by Jason LeRoy on May 12, 2012

Photo by Kirk Stauffer

Kristin Chenoweth came to UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall last night for the second date of a 19-city North American tour promoting her newest album, Some Lessons Learned, as well as her campy ABC series GCB. Or at least, that was the plan. Then, late yesterday afternoon, ABC announced their decision to cancel GCB, which is still in its first (and apparently only) season. An uneasy sense of anxiety hung over the sold-out audience me, wondering if and how Chenoweth would address the setback. How devastating of a blow would this be to her? Would she be able to rally by repeatedly shrieking “The show must go on!” and singing scales until shattering a tray of stemware? Or would she barricade herself in her dressing room, listening to “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and sobbing hysterically?

Of course the show went on! This is Kristin Chenoweth we’re talking about, a professional entertainer if ever there was one. But this does not mean she didn’t have a thing or two to say about the cancellation. The two-act show, which consisted of Chenoweth performing songs from her life and career with three gorgeous backup singer-dancers and a 13-piece orchestra, went largely GCB-free in its first act, other than a few jokes about Newt Gingrich’s pandering attacks against the show during a sketch featuring a special appearance by some Avenue Q puppets.

But then, at the top of the second act, Chenoweth did a Sex and the City “Empire State of Mind” sketch that was supposed to lead into a segment about GCB. Her faux-Carrie Bradshaw ensemble was ripped off to reveal the cropped blue choir robe from the show’s ads. “Hey, wait a minute! I wasn’t in that show,” she said, pointing at the Sex and the City still on the stage screen. “I was on a show called GCB!” I caught the past tense, lurched forward in my seat, and wondered if she’d say more.

Then, she ripped off the choir robe. “Well guess what?” she said drily, as the music fell away. “You know what I found out today?” Boos began to echo from the audience, which reassured me that I wasn’t the only TV news nerd in attendance. Chenoweth seemed a bit surprised that the audience was already aware. “Five o’clock,” she continued, reminding us that this had only happened four hours ago. “Dress rehearsal. Cancelled.” The remainder of the audience that hadn’t heard the news joined in the booing. When a woman yelled, “ABC can suck it!”, Chenoweth heartily agreed, saying, “ABC can suck it.”

She referenced a somber song she’d performed in the first act, Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” saying, “You know that song I sang earlier? Oh, ‘hard times, hard times,’ boo hoo. Well, now I’m unemployed!” she chirped, to laughter from the audience. “And the thing ABC doesn’t understand is that I have a bag addiction, and a shoe addiction. So if any of you folks out there are in show business, I’m available,” she added cheerfully, proving once again to be at her most adorable when groveling for work, as evident in her hilarious Pushing Daisies Emmy acceptance speech.

But if Chenoweth was distraught about her show’s cancellation, she took this performance as an opportunity to shake off that negativity by belting her brains out and basking in the warm embrace of her adoring audience. More of a night at the theater than a traditional concert, the show opened with an orchestra overture accompanied by a slideshow of Chenoweth’s many career accomplishments, which served to whip the assembled crowd into a giddily frothing frenzy.

Striding confidently onto the stage, Chenoweth thanked the audience sincerely for coming and reminisced about the time she spent in San Francisco during the previews of Wicked before it went to Broadway. She called it one of the greatest times of her life, adding that she fell in love with our city as well as our Macy’s, one of several materialism-related jokes that predictably fell flat with the Berkeley audience (she later projected a picture of her SJP-worthy shoe closet on the screen, which provoked nary a murmur).

Another regionally specific moment occurred when she was setting up the saccharine track “Fathers and Daughters” from her newest album. “How many of you are daughters?” she asked, to loud applause and cheering. “And how many of you are fathers?” she continued encouragingly, to a typically low-on-reproduction Bay Area smattering of golf claps. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “Okay, so a few of you…” “I’m a daddy!” yelled a gentleman in leather, which she happily accepted.

The audience was surprisingly accepting when Chenoweth segued from her fatherly love song into a song about heavenly fatherly love, “Upon This Rock,” from her second album, As I Am. She seemed a bit nervous during her introduction of the song, perhaps fearing it would provoke a godless sodomite uprising (a reasonable concern on the Berkeley campus), but was actually greeted with warm applause while speaking about her Christian faith. “This song is for those of you who believe,” she concluded before beginning the song. “And for those of you who don’t — it’ll be over in four minutes.”

She performed numbers from such mega-shows as Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, and two songs each from her two most culturally phenomenal projects, Glee and Wicked. From Glee, she reprised her powerhouse rendition of “Maybe This Time” (mercifully free of Lea Michele’s interjections), as well as the heart-wrenching duet of “One Less Bell to Answer/A House is Not a Home,” for which Matthew Morrison’s vocals were performed by one of Chenoweth’s two extremely hot male singer-dancers, both of whom were repeatedly bent over in their skintight black jeans for the enjoyment of the crowd and easy spanking/goosing from the 4′ 11″ Chenoweth.

Perhaps showing a bit of fatigue with the material, Chenoweth elected to perform neither song from Wicked in a straightforward manner. For “Popular,” she opted for a new version she calls “Galinda Around the World,” in which the lyrics have been translated into a multilingual arrangement. And for “For Good,” she asked for volunteers from the audience to sing Elphaba’s part, eventually settling on a very nervous 11-year-old girl who knew every word, singing in an adorably tiny but on-key voice with much delighted coaxing from Chenoweth (who removed her massive stiletto heels to reveal she was nearly the same height as her young duet partner).

In addition to an electric and cheeky cover of Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer’s disco classic “Enough is Enough”, Chenoweth also paid tribute to Madeline Kahn with a priceless rendition of “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles (she later noted that her dog is named Madeline Kahn-Chenoweth), as well as Dolly Parton with a new original song called “WWDD (What Would Dolly Do?)” and a tender encore performance of “I Will Always Love You.” It is perhaps fitting that Chenoweth featured covers by Streisand, Kahn, and Parton, as each represents a vital part of her DNA as an artist: the pop-leaning Broadway diva, the quirkily saucy comedienne, and the indomitably glitzy country girl. Holding the sold-out audience tightly in her grasp for two and a half hours, Chenoweth overcame the day’s bad news with a triumphant, generous, and endlessly entertaining performance. GCB may be gone, but Chenoweth’s megawatt starpower can never be cancelled.

I didn't get a picture of the Act 1 set list. Sorry.

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