Until her concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2014, the name Kristin Chenoweth had little significance to me, aside from being name-dropped in the Off-Broadway revue show Forbidden Broadway as one of the leading stars in the original Broadway cast of Wicked; her beautiful vocals are forever showcased in the Grammy Award winning cast recording of that musical (for Best Musical Show Album, as that particular category was known at the time). She seemed very much aware of being a relative unknown to London audiences, and where other performers may have come across as rambling on about themselves instead of getting on with it and singing and performing, her concert was a good opportunity to inform us about her work and life, including charitable activity. And she seized the day – or, more accurately, the evening – and I left the Royal Albert Hall with a comprehensive understanding of the breadth and depth of this pre-eminent American actress and singer.
Her new album, The Art of Elegance, stamps her authority on a genre not highly prominent in that Albert Hall concert, which included more contemporary musical theatre tunes and a number of songs with religious content, commensurate with her Christian beliefs. The latter theme is not completely absent on the album, with a tune called ‘You’re My Saving Grace’ forming the final track. It is the Great American Songbook that’s the overarching theme of this studio recording, however. Songs from this genre have, of course, been covered before – most notably in recent times, in my mind, by the British singer/songwriter Rod Stewart, whose distinctive vocals provided a different angle from which to enjoy such musical and jazz standards.
As for this album, the orchestrations are suitably lush, with no expense seemingly spared on getting in a decent orchestra that more than does these largely well-known tunes justice. It’s never overdone or too elaborate, complementing Chenoweth’s vocals faultlessly. My personal highlights of the thirteen songs were the Gerswhin-composed ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ and ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, from Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey. But if the collection of songs spans a number of composers and decades, they do sound similar on this recording. A comparison to Groundhog Day is too harsh – it’s a pleasant listening experience, really – and Chenoweth does well to spin the narratives out of these songs with an assured confidence.
I’m also thrilled that each song ends properly and doesn’t fade out (a pet hate of mine). The album is very much her own, performed without a choir or backing singers, and its relaxed nature lends a sort of living room ambience to the album. These are not songs to jump up and jig along to, but probably best enjoyed when there is occasion to kick back and relax.
The style of the songs on the album leave little room for the top soprano notes for which Chenoweth became famed for at an earlier stage in her career. This, then, is a different but equally engaging showcase of vocal powerhouse talent, and in asserting her likeable personality on the songs there’s no radical reinterpreting or quirky revisions going on. And why should there be? What’s important is that the songs are done well – and they are.
Through this recording, Kristin Chenoweth will, almost undoubtedly, be introducing her younger fans, followers and supporters to these extraordinary songs. It’s a cliché, for sure, but they really don’t write songs like this these days. There is not much in it between Kristin Chenoweth’s renderings and those of the stars of yesteryear, and that’s hardly a bad thing. A delight to listen to, The Art of Elegance is a worthy addition to the canon of the Great American Songbook.
Review by Chris Omaweng
1. Someone to Watch Over Me (3:04)
2. I’ve Got a Crush on You featuring Dave Koz (2:54)
3. Let’s Fall In Love (3:12)
4. Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered (5:00)
5. Zing Went the Strings of My Heart (3:21)
6. The Very Thought of You featuring Dave Koz (4:24)
7. They Can’t Take That Away From Me (3:20)
8. A House Is Not a Home (4:08)
9. I Get Along Without You Very Well (4:27)
10. Skylark (4:41)
11. I’m a Fool to Want You (5:38)
12. Smile (3:11)
13. You’re My Saving Grace… (2:51)