REVIEW: Kristin Chenoweth's Coming Home
If there's one word that can describe Kristin Chenoweth's new live album Coming Home, it's "heartfelt." From a song about her father to a shout out to her beloved college vocal teacher Florence Birdwell, this concert, taped in Chenoweth's hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, is full of songs, people, and experiences that have touched and shaped Chenoweth's life and career in the theater.
In an era of belting Broadway divas, Chenoweth is happily a throwback to the golden age of Broadway musicals and for me has always evoked a modern-day Barbara Cook with her perfectly trained soprano voice and sharp comic timing. Her career, though, musical and otherwise, has been much more than just theater and is reflected here in what is a bit of an eclectic song list that often goes beyond the Broadway canon. While Chenoweth claims that she picked each of the songs in her concert because they have real meaning for her, something I do not doubt, the lineup feels a tad populist at times with an eye to the PBS audience that will soon be asked for donations when this concert airs on TV at the end of November.
The album launches on a high note, literally, with Chenoweth offering up a sparkling I Could Have Danced All Night, a song that shows off her effortless high range. Moving from lyric soprano, she has the audience eating out of her hand with a powerful belty rendition of Kander and Ebb's Maybe This Time, which she first performed on Glee. A wonderfully unusual selection on the album is Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, which Chenoweth sets up by telling the audience how she always wanted to be the male lead in this show. Chenoweth brings to the piece a clear sense of emotion, sensitivity, and delicate control in what is one of musical theater's most difficult and rangy songs.
For me, the surprising highlight of the concert where Chenoweth feels most "at home" with the music is not the Broadway songs, but a three-song section made up of country, folk, and Christian Rock numbers. "Fathers and Daughters" is a melodic country-infused ballad from an earlier studio recording and has remained one of my favorite numbers in Chenoweth's repertoire with its poignant lyrics about family. She follows this up with a song that she has been performing since I first saw her in concert ten years ago, but which she has never recorded until now: Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More." In this stirring arrangement, Foster's simple song about the power of community in difficult circumstances is performed by Chenoweth in a manner both affecting and urgent. Finally, backed by the Broken Arrow High School Choir, Chenoweth draws on her church upbringing with "Upon This Rock" which is so beautiful that listeners of all faiths (or none at all) can't help but be roused.
The wide-ranging concert continues with Chenoweth favorite Wicked represented by Popular, here sung in not only English but also Japanese, Chinese, German, and Italian to great comic effect, as well as the ballad For Good, performed in a duet with local Broken Arrow singer Axyl Langford whose nerves unfortunately betray some pitch issues. Other Broadway standards include Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again from Phantom of the Opera and All the Things You Are, but there's also some disco thrown in (!) with "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)."
Despite the fact that Chenoweth is always a compelling and engaging performer, this album, while a delight to have, is not Chenoweth's strongest release. The 12-piece band, led by Mary-Mitchell Campbell, sometimes sounds thin in its arrangements and sound, and with a voice like Chenoweth's one wishes that she were backed by a larger ensemble. And while Chenoweth's patter is often quite delightful, somehow, despite the multiple listens I gave this album, it never seems to impart the electricity or crackle that other live albums from other Broadway legends do.
These quibbles aside, it's always great to have a new recording from Chenoweth who remains one of this generation's true stars, and from what I've seen of previews of the concert video, this concert will sparkle even more on the small screen.
Laurena Kaufman wrote on July 3, 2015
I disagree with this review. I was amazed how a small back-up orchestra could provide such dense musicality. The pianist was wonderful! The duet with Axyl Langford was amazing! I Love this CD, and listen to it frequently. Kristin is so multi talented, and so able to capture the audience attention. I really enjoyed her "patter" before each song! I plan to give her CD as Christmas and Hanukha gifts this year.
wickedfan wrote on January 8, 2016
Since when did she want to be the male lead in Les Miz? I think she said her favorite song was "the male lead song" (Valjean that is).
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Coming Home - 2014 Kristin Chenoweth Kristin Chenoweth Barbara Cook Mary-Mitchell Campbell Axyl Langford Maybe This Time (43) Bring Him Home (84) Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again (33) Popular (9) For Good (16) All the Things You Are (63) I Could Have Danced All Night (80) Toggle Additional (9)
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