When Wicked previewed in San Francisco a decade or so ago, Kristin Chenoweth had just created the role of Galinda. Later to become the goody-two-shoes known as Glinda the Good, Galinda was the unconsciously mean sorority-sister type at a lady’s school in the turbulent land of Oz. Her showstopper was a reminder about the importance of being popular: “When someone needs a makeover / I simply have to take over.” The petite (4-foot 11-inch) Oklahoman counterbalanced Idina Menzel’s own theater-filling voice. Generally men prefer the Wicked Witch type to the Glinda type. Chenoweth changed their minds.
Last fall, I was at a laundromat waiting forever for a sleeping bag to dry, and thus sort of forced to watch a daytime talk show. The hostess was grilling Chenoweth on the details of her love life. I doubt if even Dolly Parton—to think about someone else from the country who pretty much everyone loves and admires—could have handled the rude interrogation with such ease. Straight but not narrow, a devout Christian while publicly supporting the cause of gay people, Chenoweth has been a sprightly presence on TV. She’s livened up Two and a Half Men, usually by strutting through the set in a swimsuit. That’s diverting, but it’s as a singer of aptly chosen material that she dazzles.
At Stanford Live’s Bing Fling! Chenoweth will sing to the accompaniment of pianist Michael Orland. Some of the material she’ll be performing is previewed on her album, prettily titled The Art of Elegance. It’s a fresh approach to songs that, in some way, one would rather not see touched because of the way they so frequently get manhandled. “Someone to Watch Over Me,” given too much masochism, can sound like “Someone to Walk Over Me.” Chenoweth handled it with freshness and opera-trained sustaining, in the crooning, pleading passages. Her rendition of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is slightly breathy, but Chenoweth finds the bounce in the song, and the arrangement includes electric guitar with a bit of dry blues to it.
It’s her cover of “A House is Not a Home” that nails it. The Bacharach/David song was written as the title for a little-seen Shelly Winters movie of the same name. Chenoweth approaches the song like someone understanding it for the first time, and it’s a joy to hear.
Mar 25, 8pm, $50+
Bing Concert Hall, Stanford