One of the rewards of a Kristin Chenoweth concert is re-discovering familiar songs.
On Friday at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center, Chenoweth dusted off a tune at once so old and new, she needed a cheat sheet for the lyrics.
Old, as in 1864, the posthumous publication year of Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer.
New, as in fresh off Singing You Home, Children’s Songs for Family Reunification, an album that just debuted this week online.
Co-produced by Chenoweth’s piano accompanist, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Singing You Home includes Lin-Manuel Miranda, Josh Groban and Laura Benanti singing in English and Spanish.
Proceeds benefit the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, better known as RAICES, and ASTEP (Artists Striving To End Poverty). Funds specifically will help migrant families separated by federal authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border, Chenoweth said.
Beautiful Dreamer is her contribution to the album. Her performance was a touching moment in a 90-minute show–her third visit to Morristown–that pivoted from punchy to poignant, alternately sounding warm notes and indulging the Oklahoman’s twangy humor.
How many performers can sashay from colonoscopy details and Pillsbury Dough Boy “obituaries” to solemn tributes (When She Loved Me, from Toy Story 2, for her inspiration, the late Marin Mazzie) and tender reflections on parents (50 Years Long)?
She introduced Bring Him Home, a plea for mercy in Les Misérables, by quietly expressing gratitude that a pipe bomb discovered a block from her in New York last week did not detonate.
On the lighter side, Chenoweth offered Que Sera Sera, I’m Not a Diva, and I Could Have Danced All Night, a nod to another of her heroines, Julie Andrews.
On that one, Chenoweth ended on a note so high, geese had to divert their route to Florida. At 50, the Tony- and Emmy-award winning entertainer appears to be hitting her prime.
A youth choir joined her on the spiritual Upon This Rock and the buoyant anthem Reasons for Hope.
She reintroduced listeners to an overlooked Henry Mancini gem, The Sweetheart Tree; put shimmer on Willie Nelson’s Always on My Mind; and elicited audience participation on her un-amplified rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile.
After recently starring as Velma Von Tussle in NBC’s Hairspray Live!, Chenoweth is back on the network playing a quirky murder suspect in this season’s Trial & Error series. But for many fans, she’ll always be Glinda, her breakout role in Broadway’s Wicked.
For Popular, her signature song, she invited Morristown’s faithful to whip out their smartphone cameras, while she camped it up live-streaming her shtick on Instagram.
Still ‘Popular’ in Morristown: Kristin Chenoweth. Video by Kevin Coughlin:
To call Kristin Chenoweth bubbly doesn’t begin to describe this dynamo. Think of a four-ounce bottle of sparkling water. When she shakes that petite container… stand back!
Just as quickly, she is able to can the fizz and get delicate.
For me, Beautiful Dreamer used to be a disposable melody, the stuff of tinkly music boxes and cable TV commercials.
Turning down the volume, Chenoweth turned up the attention. Stephen Foster’s lyrics are haunting–he is singing to a dead lover.
They are even more haunting as a lullaby for children ripped from their parents.
Chenoweth said her involvement in Singing You Home owes something to the late actor Paul Newman, who introduced her to Campbell, her music director of 18 years, through his Hole in the Wall Gang camp for seriously ill children.
The album’s artists felt compelled to make a statement about the border situation.
“The greatest revenge,” Chenoweth explained, quoting the late composer Leonard Bernstein, “is to make beautiful music.”