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Review: Kristin Chenoweth brings star quality to Kleinhans

In her long-awaited Buffalo concert debut, Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, of course, sparkled.

Whether you know her from Broadway as the original Glinda in “Wicked,” or from her television role in the adored “Pushing Daisies,” you know that she glitters wherever she goes. Her 4-foot-11 frame and pixie voice are hard to miss.

But it’s her opera training and Oklahoman charm that really fill the stage, as it did on Saturday night with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Not even the cavernous Kleinhans Music Hall could swallow up her petiteness, nor her pixie voice.

The evening dabbled in Chenoweth’s multifaceted identity, blending musical theater with country and standards with rock, contemporary Christian and comedic pop.

Still, surprises (some of them strange) peppered the two-act program, such as opening with “Que Será, Será,” an agreeable waltz that lifts but hardly makes a splash.

Or an underwhelming take (is there any other?) on The Eagles’ “Desperado,” whose soothing, autumnal intro I had been sure would lead into to “Georgia On My Mind.”

And those comedic songs, which came well into the second act, didn’t land either. One, written by her musical director and arranger Mary-Mitchell Campbell, who accompanied on piano, about the strange lingo used by today’s youth, was too cliché to make a spark. Another, about not actually being a diva, felt off-brand; she’s never worn that mantle, even as one of Broadway’s biggest stars. I tried hard not to want something from Gilbert and Sullivan here instead. Maybe next time.

Her banter was often easygoing, and certainly charming, but sometimes got off-track. If anyone who attended can decode her segue between a story about the kids she saw at the Walden Galleria food court and the whispered, perfect beauty of “Bring Him Home,” sung by baguette thief Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” then please email it to me. She nailed the performance, but I don’t think she knew where she was going with this intro, and neither did anyone else. It was worth hearing if only to know that Kristin Chenoweth goes to the Walden Galleria.

In truth, the best moments involved the BPO, to whom she gave frequent thanks. Her own band added strong rhythmic value to the orchestra's sound, and handled a number of songs on their own.

A gorgeous take on Henry Mancini’s “The Sweetheart Tree” made me smile. Judy Garland’s “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” was just what the evening called for, and the grand “I Could Have Danced All Night” was pearl-clutching, if too short.

A mashup of Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” effortlessly bridged the gap between narrative country music and character-driven musical theater. This was a lovely retreat from the poppier second act.

Signature songs from “Wicked” made their rightful appearances, too. “Popular” got the meta-treatment with official permission to document on social media. Where Patti LuPone might have an audience member’s cell phone quarantined, Chenoweth happily welcomes them in the spirit of this one Instagrammable song. On the lush “For Good,” a local music teacher was brought on stage to duet; she had written a letter asking to sing with her, a common bit on concert set lists these days.

Two faith-based songs closed the evening with members of the University at Buffalo’s vocal music department providing choral backup. Even if these songs were the most niche-oriented in her repertoire, they still felt more at home with the singer than some of her other selections. They lifted, raised and elevated a charming evening.

However the best performance of the entire evening came as the encore’s cherry on top — a soothing rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” sung without a microphone, at the apron of the stage, radiating throughout the hall with all the glory, glitz and sparkle that only a real star can provide.

CONCERT REVIEW

BPO Pops Concert with Kristin Chenoweth

8 p.m. April 6 in Kleinhans Music Hall.

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