Last Friday I saw Kristin Chenoweth make her Carnegie Hall recital debut. I was there as a fan, not professionally, but I’ve written about Chenoweth quite a bit in my Wall Street Journal theater column, most recently in my review of the New York Philharmonic’s semi-staged concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide:
Cunegonde, Candide’s shopworn sweetheart, is far beyond the reach of ordinary musical-comedy singers, for “Glitter and Be Gay,” her big number, is an all-stops-out coloratura aria requiring a rock-solid high E flat. I knew the diminutive Ms. Chenoweth had operatic training, but it never occurred to me that her high notes would have survived years of Broadway belting, much less that she could still nail them with the brilliance and panache of a full-time opera star. Add to that her impish charm and switchblade-sharp timing and…well, let’s just say I’m no longer capable of being surprised by the amazing Ms. Chenoweth. After “Glitter and Be Gay,” I wouldn’t have boggled if she’d picked up the baton and conducted the second act.
Though Chenoweth didn’t conduct the band on Friday night, nothing else happened that was inconsistent with what I wrote about her performance as Cunegonde. Yet what impressed me most forcibly about her concert was the fact that it was a concert–an experience whose impact relied in substantial part on her physical presence. Tiny though she is, Chenoweth has the kind of outsized charisma that is impossible to capture on record. I hadn’t seen her on stage when I first heard her solo album, Let Yourself Go, and so I didn’t quite get what she was all about. It wasn’t until I covered the opening of Wicked last year that I got the point, which was hammered home by Candide and her Carnegie Hall recital. As the saying goes, you have to be there, the way earlier generations claimed that you had to see Al Jolson or Ethel Merman on stage to understand why they were so great. I hope Chenoweth someday finds a record producer (or TV director) who can figure out how to translate her astonishing energy into a medium that puts so high a premium on one-to-one intimacy. In the meantime, all I can say is that if you’ve never seen her in the theater, do so as soon as you can.
Last Friday was also, of course, the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, an occasion Chenoweth marked by singing a touching version of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times (Come Again No More).” On the day itself I was awakened by the sound of jets flying overhead, presumably on their way to the ceremonies at Ground Zero, and by the time I got outside to partake of the glorious weather, I was startled by how thinly populated the streets were. Perhaps everybody was downtown–or out of town.
Me, I had a press preview to cover, and I’d given quite a bit of advance thought to what I wanted to be seeing that day. In the end, I settled on the Dodger Stages revival of Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique, which opens on Thursday. Since I’m reviewing it for the Journal, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’ve written about Symphonie Fantastique before, most recently in my Washington Post column when it was performed at Lincoln Center a couple of years ago as part of a Berlioz festival. Here’s what I said back then:
I’d been looking forward to Lincoln Center’s revival of Basil Twist’s “Symphonie Fantastique” ever since it was announced last year, but when my friends asked me exactly what it was, I hemmed and hawed and finally said, “Well, uh…it’s an abstract puppet show in a thousand-gallon water tank, set to a recording of Berlioz’s