My taste in popular culture is inherently gay. Not "gay" in a derogatory sense -- I mean, "gay" as in I often find myself liking stuff only my gay dude friends like. Knowing nothing about her work, I signed on to see Kristin Chenoweth's performance at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House this past Friday night completely unaware it was "gay" of me to do so -- until the one theater-type person I hang out with on a regular basis informed me that my naiveté regarding Chenoweth's existence was enough to revoke my honorary gay card. I blame that on the paltry amount of television I watch, the even fewer movies I see and the fact that I can't sit through a theater performance without my eyes involuntarily rolling back into my head while drool gathers on my shoulder.
But it wasn't Kristin Chenoweth's fault that I didn't understand what she was up to. And as I quickly found out, what she's up to is very, very good.
If it wasn't obvious from the ticket stub, this was the Kristin Chenoweth show. Still, the Ellie's curtain wore a giant projection that read "Kristin," and when the curtain raised, the backdrop also read "Kristin." Then there was a montage of Kristin's various Broadway and television roles -- which would also reappear at the show's closing, but in the form of a Kristin montage featuring personal photographs. This was the Kristin show.
She opened the show with "Should I Be Sweet?" from Take a Chance, while all eyes focused on the petite woman dressed in a black pantsuit and a bushel of overstated, Dolly Parton-esque hair. (Parton would later make an appearance via a pre-filmed "phone conversation" with Chenoweth.) While Chenoweth's vocal abilities were beyond impressive -- as several standing ovations would attest to -- I was more fascinated by the talks that came between songs. I found myself hanging on her every joke about Wicked playing in the same theater complex (she starred in the show on Broadway) and how much she liked shopping at FlatIrons Mall -- all in a voice that came off as intentionally cartoonish and surreal.
There were other surreal moments: The two sassy cowboys in "Going to the Dance With You" served as props (as did Chenoweth, when one used her as a belt). One became a horse she could ride off stage, the other a stool for her to sit on while she did a strange shoe fetish skit.
Speaking of weird footwear situations, though Chenoweth's height didn't need to be the focal point of the show, it was. She harped on her four-foot eleven-inch size, stressing a love and need for high heels (while a picture of her presumed floor-to-ceiling shoe closet at home lit up on the screen behind her) and disdain for flats.
Political commentary about Newt Gingrich and John Edwards's extra-marital behavior was interjected between cracks at Chenoweth's own late-night self-googling escapades. But it was the talk regarding her deep faith that proved most interesting, and the key to Chenoweth's greatest and most fascinating juxtaposition: being a devout Christian and a supporter of gay rights.
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"Upon This Rock" was one of several songs she sang from her own catalog of albums throughout the evening, along with "What Would Dolly Do?" (featuring the Parton virtual cameo), "Fathers and Daughters" and the duet "What If We Never?" But Chenoweth's show-stopping voice rang truest when she sang standards and selections from the vast Broadway tome: "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables, the multi-language nuanced "Popular" from Wicked and Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More."
The best moment? Chenoweth asked for a partner to sing "For Good" from Wicked, and a thirteen-year-old student from the Denver School of the Arts was picked from the audience at random. When the young woman absolutely killed the impromptu performance with expert vocal ease, even the perfection-seeking Chenoweth looked floored.
Regardless of my previous ignorance of both this type of performance and the Glee-sanctioned icon herself, the Kristin show was awesome. I still have a hard time believing Chenoweth is a real person, however. A GLBTQ-supportive devout Christian woman from Oklahoma with a room full of shoes? Sounds like fictional stage creation to me.