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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Kristin Chenoweth and
the San Francisco Symphony

Also see Richard's review of Forever Tango

Every year on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, the San Francisco Symphony presents Vienna Woods/New York Nights: Songs of Two Cities, which has become a favorite for symphony-goers. Each year the symphony presents a current Broadway diva for the second half of the program. This year was no exception with the performance of pert and petite Kristin Chenoweth for the New York portion of the festivities.

Kristin Chenoweth has had a popular following here ever since she appeared in the pre-Broadway run of Wicked, and the fans were at Davies Symphony Hall to give their love and attention to this vivacious woman with an amazing and versatile singing voice. There was an instant love fest between her and the audience.

Before the Broadway diva came on stage, the famed and wonderful San Francisco Symphony regaled the audience with some lilting waltzes from Johann Strauss, Jr. The orchestra, under the direction of Edwin Outwater, started the proceedings with Von Suppe’s classic “Overture to Poet and Peasant” which became a cult favorite after Walt Disney had the indomitable Mickey Mouse conduct an orchestra of animals to this piece in an early sound film. The orchestra got more serious with Strauss’s “Wiener Blut” with its lilting melodies. The orchestra changed gears to present the composer's “Perpetuum Mobile” which could have gone on all afternoon, but Mr. Outwater said “and so on, and so on” in German. The first half would not be complete without the audience hearing the ever-popular “By the Beautiful Blue Danube.”

After a long intermission during which the audience rushed to the bars for Irish Coffee, campaign cocktails and, for hardy souls, a shot of Grey Goose vodka, the spectators were prepared for New York Nights. The new orchestra conductor, famed composer Andrew Lippa, strolled out on the stage, looking imperial, to great applause. Without a long introduction, Kristin, dressed in a smart black cocktail dress, came out onto the stage and went straight into BG De Sylva’s “Should I Be Sweet?” from the 1933 musical Take a Chance. This was a great number for her opening since it showed off all of the registers of her voice, from operetta trills to husky Broadway voice. There was a little repartee with the audience after this number, in which she explained that when she first came to New York to audition all of the female vocalists were using songs from Rent or modern melodies whereas she was using songs from Victor Herbert or Sigmund Romberg. Even with those auditions, her career was launched for Broadway musicals (I first saw her singing the hilarious Cellophane Wedding song in Steel Pier, and I could see she was going to be a star).

Kristin showed off her dramatic and sexy abilities when she embarked on Bobby Troup’s “Daddy,” picking on one of men in the front row. She was accompanied by two very great, sexy dancers: Sean Martin Hingston and Vince Pesce. Kristin next went into what must be one of a cabaret artist's favorite songs, “Taylor the Latte Boy,” written by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler. No evening would be complete without Ms. Chenoweth singing songs by Jerome Kern. Starting with “Bill,” she segued into the torch song “Why Was I Born?” and then the jazzy “Nobody Else But Me” from Show Boat, which is one of the most difficult Kern songs to sing, since it needs several changes of vocal register. Changing into a different key, she sang Dworsky/Burns/Couglin's “Goin' to the Dance with You,” bringing out the two sexy dancers in cowboy outfits.

With Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlon’s “The Girl in 14 G,” Kristin used her operatic voice to its full extent. Turning serious, she said that the next song would be for all of those persons who lost love ones in the recent tsunami disaster in Asia, and went into Warren and Coughlin's “Borrowed Angels.” One could feel the pain in her voice as she sang this heartfelt song. Her program ended with a song from Wicked, “For Good.” The song was part of a duet in the musical, and it should always be sung by two, but this was a good take just the same. Thoughout the whole concert, the full San Francisco orchestra with brass backed her up with beautiful arrangements.

The audience would not let her go without an encore, and she obliged with Leonard Bernstein’s “The Jewel Song” from Candide. She does not sing it as well as the divine Barbara Cook (of course, no one can, as far as I am concerned) but Kristin's version was part operatic and part jazz, and she played it like a flapper in those roaring twenties. The audience rose to their feet, demanding a second encore and she very briefly sang “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” She said goodbye and off the stage she went.

That did not conclude the full program as Lippa directed the orchestra in the military march by Strauss Sr., “Radetzky March,” with the audience clapping in unison. I have to agree with what the New York Times said about Kristin's voice: “It emanates sunniness just short of blinding.” This was a perfect opening to 2005 for a rainy Sunday afternoon in San Francisco.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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