The joy Kristin Chenoweth felt, being in the same time zone she grew up in, was palpable Wednesday.
The Broken Arrow, Okla. native, all four feet eleven inches of her, giddily reeled off a list of culinary landmarks she’d visited since touching down in Dallas the day before — 7-11’s Coke Slurpee in the airport; Mi Cocina and The Capital Grille — all while sipping from a large Whataburger cup.
“In Oklahoma, we also do celebrate the Whataburger,” Chenoweth deadpanned. “We consider it a healthy choice — because of the wheat bun.”
All of this ebullience (which, if we’re being perfectly frank, is effectively Chenoweth’s default mode) came on the heels of her opening number, Should I Be Sweet?, the first of 15 songs she shared over the course of a brisk 90-minute set. Despite having released The Art of Elegance last year, the set list featured just one track from the record: Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.
Wednesday’s turn at the Winspear Opera House, Chenoweth’s third appearance at the venue and her first in five years, was a sold-out affair, packed to the rafters with adoring fans (and her family) who filled the space with rapturous applause and hearty shouts whenever the Tony-winning vocalist and actress drew another song to a close.
Accompanied by musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell on a gleaming black Steinway, the 48-year-old Chenoweth — herself all a-spangle in a dress accessorized with boots she claimed were bedazzled by “Dolly Parton’s bling lady” — moved easily through moods contemplative and carefree, incorporating selections from her acclaimed career on Broadway (her rendition of Popular, from Wicked, elicited perhaps the most raucous cheers all night) as well as music one might not immediately associate with this star of stage and screen (a cover of Don Henley’s Heart of the Matter was one pleasantly left-field choice, as was a haunting version of Parton’s Little Sparrow).
Her formidable coloratura soprano was quickly unfurled during Should I Be Sweet? to stunning effect. Chenoweth, who could have easily spent the night shattering glass, was judicious in her deployment of her show-stopping multi-octave vocal runs: The climax of I Could Have Danced All Night packed enough force to pin you to your seat.
Less was very often more, and Chenoweth wrung real pathos from Les Miserables’ Bring Him Home — conjuring so much emotion she dabbed her eyes at its conclusion — as well as a luminous reading of Moon River and a deft mash-up of Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind and Stephen Sondheim’s Losing My Mind (“My two great loves,” Chenoweth observed upon finishing the number).
For all Chenoweth has accomplished, something she said midway through Wednesday’s showcase helped ground the entire night, already functioning as a salve for souls bruised by world events in recent weeks.
“Artistry is not just about being famous — it’s about being great and wanting to get better,” Chenoweth said. “I tell kids: If you want to be famous, get a reality TV show. ... Keep evolving, keep failing, keep growing. It’s never good enough.”
That realization cut through the sparkles and soaring high notes, lending even the most effervescent moments the sort of earned grace that comes from many nights facing crowds far less adoring than the one filling the Winspear. Internally, it may never be good enough for Chenoweth, but externally, her performance was nothing short of wonderful.