SALT LAKE CITY — Kristin Chenoweth has had a lot to smile about lately.
The Tony Award-winning actress/singer, who originated the role of Glinda in “Wicked,” recently celebrated the musical’s 15-year run on Broadway. And Thursday night, the Broadway star crossed a big item off her bucket list: Perform with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
Based on enthusiastic reactions Thursday night, the audience — which filled the 21,000-seat Conference Center to capacity — was just as honored to have her. And although concertgoers didn’t get any of Chenoweth’s signature numbers from “Wicked,” they did get a full display of the singer’s bubbly, Christmas cheer.
Rather than sharing that cheer from center stage, Chenoweth opted to first visit with her audience, walking down the aisle and asking for people’s names, signing programs and even asking one person, “Did I see you at the mall last night?”
She’s small in stature — standing at 4 feet, 11 inches — but the actress and singer quickly proved she’s large in personality, and her high voice easily filled the large venue. During her opening number, “We Need a Little Christmas,” Chenoweth asked her audience for some vocal advice: “Should I do it? Should I go up?”
After an enthusiastic yes from the audience, the soprano took heed and raised her voice, finishing the piece on a high E flat — a note she said was all for choir director Mack Wilberg. She added that her big goal of the night was “to make (Wilberg) blush.”
Before performing “O Holy Night,” Chenoweth said singing the song in the Conference Center had special meaning as her favorite singer, Sandi Patty, had once performed the classic Christmas number on that very stage.
Following the choir’s performance of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” from Handel’s “Messiah,” Chenoweth took the stage once again — this time with a bright red gown and some country flare. After a moving performance of “Mary, Did You Know?” Chenoweth’s Oklahoma upbringing shined through the number “Come On, Ring Those Bells.”
“I was actually part of a bell choir in school … and I was always hankering to play one of those big bells. … I always got stuck with the little piccolo bells, teeny-tiny ones,” Chenoweth said, her voice rising in intensity. “But then after a while, it didn’t matter so much because I got to sing about ringing those bells for the most important reason of all: to herald in the birth of Jesus! … And … Who knows, maybe someday, someone will give me a chance to … ring one of those big grown-up bells!”
After Chenoweth’s spirited performance, the Orchestra at Temple Square performed selections from “The Nutcracker.” Once the orchestra finished planting visions of sugarplums in people’s heads, Chenoweth sang “The Christmas Waltz,” taking the song’s name to heart as she danced with one of the choir members.
But that wasn’t the only time Chenoweth got involved with the choir. When Wilberg invited the audience to sing along with the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” Chenoweth managed to sneak into the choir to perform a brief, show-stopping solo.
And as choir president Ron Jarrett promised at the press conference earlier this week, Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott delivered a dynamic organ performance — and his own arrangement — of “Carol of the Bells.” But just as his footwork and fingerwork was picking up speed, Chenoweth arrived yet again for another scene-stealing moment: She finally got the chance to ring that big bell she’d always dreamed of ringing. Elliott kindly took a short pause to let Chenoweth bask in her glory.
Chenoweth brought a lot of laughs Thursday night, but she was also quick to share her belief in Jesus Christ and gratitude for the Christmas season, especially as she told the well-known short story “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry.
“The best gifts do not come in packages,” Chenoweth said with warmth. “What makes them valuable is not what they cost to buy, but what they cost to give.”
The choir then performed “Somewhere in My Memory” from the movie “Home Alone,” and Chenoweth spoke with emotion about her two aunts in attendance, who had flown in from Oklahoma for her performance.
“They are my angels. Christmas is all about angels — unsung heroes that change us for the better,” she said before singing “Angels Among Us.” After Chenoweth’s voice soared on “What Child is This?” a video of people throughout the world reciting verses from Luke 2 filled the Conference Center.
Following the recitation, Chenoweth ended her opening night performance on a high note — literally. Her soprano voice soared as, backed by the choir and orchestra, she concluded the concert with the French carol “Angels From the Realms of Glory" — an exuberant rendition enthusiastically received by the audience.
Two more performances will take place at the Conference Center Dec. 14-15, 8 p.m. The concerts are free but sold out, and a standby line will form at the north gate of Temple Square approximately two hours prior to each concert.