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June 10, 2012

Kristin Chenoweth casts spell in concert for Hippodrome Foundation

If you ever wondered why there's so much fuss over Kristin Chenoweth, you need only to have been at the Hippodrome Theatre Saturday night.

This stop on her first national concert tour found the physically diminutive, artistically towering singer/actress in brilliant form.

The event, a benefit for the Hippodrome Foundation's valuable education and outreach activities, drew a big, happy and clearly Chenoweth-devoted crowd.

(Not sure why Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was wearing what appeared to be an 1812-era military uniform -- bicentennial fever? -- but he sure looked dashing.)

The Chenoweth vehicle is more a two-act show than a mere concert.

Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, the mostly well-paced production features the star in a hefty sampling of repertoire from her career and her current country-flavored album, along with a whole lot of humor -- much of it self-deprecating ("When I was little" -- pause "--er").

Saturday's performance found Chenoweth in sterling vocal form. I was reminded more than once during the evening of ...

Kathleen Battle (in her prime, not her eccentric years). Like Battle, Chenoweth has a remarkably pure, sweet tone -- there's terrific personality inside the sound of the voice itself -- and a sure technique that can negotiate just about any hurdle.

I was particularly taken with her eloquent delivery of the ballads on the program, among them Kander and Ebb's "My Coloring Book," the Jerome Kern classic "All the Things You Are" and Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You."

Until hearing Chenoweth's haunting version, I didn't think I could ever sit through "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables" without gagging on its triteness. She made it sound Schubert-worthy.

(I do wish the singer had resisted the tendency to finish lyrical numbers with a crescendo to forte; a soft ending can be so much more affecting.)

Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Comes Again No More" doesn't really need the propulsive assist from Andrew Lippa's arrangement, but Chenoweth tapped the ever-resonant power of the melody and lyrics. And she sure was in her element when she jolted the house with a high-powered version of a Christian anthem, "Upon This Rock" -- after thoughtfully advising nonbelievers that it "will be over in four minutes."

Music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell did admirable playing at the piano and had the small orchestra purring nicely. (The sound system unfortunately emphasized the treble range, one area that needed no boosting with Chenoweth in the house.)

An attractive supporting trio -- Tyler Hanes, Chelsea Packard, Will Taylor -- moved seamlessly in and out of the picture to provide supple vocal, choreographic and comedic support.

Chenoweth held the Hippodrome in the palm of her hand all evening, and gave every indication that she was genuinely happy to be there -- an impromptu snippet from "Hairspray" and a mention that her adoptive mother came from Baltimore made the star seem all the more at home. If we're really, really lucky, she'll be back soon.


Posted by Tim Smith at 8:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Hippodrome


She was amazing and joyful. I'm really glad I had the opportunity to hear her.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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