Clad in a short, sequined dress and sequined go-go boots, Kristin Chenoweth strutted onto the stage to begin the second half of her “intimate evening” at the Lied Center for Performing Arts on Thursday, getting cheers at the first notes of “Popular,” her signature song from the musical “Wicked.”
Then she brought out a special guest to sing "For Good," another “Wicked” number — Merrill Mitchell, a Fremont High School student who attended Chenoweth’s summer arts camp in Broken Arrow, Okla.
Initially tentative, Mitchell found her voice by the song’s chorus, towering over the pint-sized Broadway star and holding hands with her as they beautifully blended their voices — a touching moment that drew a standing ovation from the audience.
“You felt it with this girl, when it clicked,” Chenoweth said after the song. "We all saw it. She is going to do great things. ... That to me is what it’s about. That is the power of musical theater.”
Chenoweth had to brush away tears throughout the next number, sitting on the piano bench with Michael Noland. She then stepped to the microphone, saying, “I have a huge reaction always when I do ‘For Good.’ ... I remember being her.”
That was a long time ago for the 49-year-old Tony and Emmy Award-winning Broadway star, who brought pieces of her 2016 Broadway solo show, songs from her album “The Art of Elegance,” her operatic voice and comedic skills to the Lied.
The latter emerged minutes into the show when she carried a Runza cup to the front of the stage, pointed at it and quipped “Never heard of it. Went there. Enjoyed. Spanx.”
Then she was off on a routine about spending the last two days in Lincoln, visiting Gateway Mall, where she rode a motorized dog usually for kids, visited the Capitol and rehearsed with choirs from Lincoln Southeast and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
They joined her to end the first act of the show, with the powerhouse gospel number “Upon This Rock” and returned to end the second act with another uplifter, “Reason For Hope.”
But Chenoweth, who clearly was taken with the crowd and performance, wasn’t done yet, returning to sing “Smile” sans microphone.
That was one of the highlights of a thoroughly entertaining evening — along with her sassy take on “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” a song liked by “the other 4-foot-11 singer” Judy Garland, a gorgeous “Moon River,” her tribute to her parents (“Fifty Years Later”) and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” on which she demonstrated her operatic range and dramatic control.
The Lied Center, director Bill Stephan said in his introduction, had worked for five years to bring Chenoweth to Lincoln, an effort that paid off Thursday with a magnificent, yet down-to-earth performance from a pro’s pro. And, man, can Chenoweth sing.