On a brisk fall Sunday evening, the line leading into New York’s Nederlander Theater stretched along 41st Street, snaked around the corner on Seventh Avenue, and looped back around down 40th Street — an uber-queue of the Kristin Chenoweth faithful, lucky to snag tickets to see the beloved Broadway vocal powerhouse and comic actress in one of only eight performances of For the Girls, her limited engagement show timed to the release of her new album of the same name (running through Nov. 17).
Released in September, the concept record features Chenoweth performing songs written or sung by great female singers, most of which can be referred to on a first name basis: Dolly, Judy, Barbra.
For the Girls, the show, is a follow-up of sorts to Chenoweth's twelve show run in 2016 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, dubbed My Love Letter to Broadway, but it takes a much broader approach, with Chenoweth expanding her repertoire to include spins on pop tracks, many of which she grew up listening to.
The second act, in fact, opens with Chenoweth on the floor of a set furnished like a living room, sifting through records — a nod to her adolescence in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (made even more complete with shout-outs to her parents, who were in the audience). A 1950 recording of Doris Day’s “When I Fall in Love” deftly transitions into a live version, Chenoweth’s band taking over where the record leaves off.
Chenoweth’s love of music and her own favorite singers is at the heart of the show. Sporting her own pair of ruby slippers, Chenoweth performss an extended segment dedicated to Judy Garland — first with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” followed by a brooding rendition of “The Man that Got Away." She pays tribute to Lesley Gore with a version of “You Don’t Own Me” (included on the album in a version featuring Ariana Grande), and to Peggy Lee in the appropriate opener “I’m A Woman.”
But what Chenoweth presents isn’t simply a live version of For the Girls; she thoroughly takes advantage of the stage, giving the production a variety show vibe. Her notorious sense of humor is on display in made-up novelty songs like “Blessed: The Millennial Song” (goofing on teenage slang like "AF," and ending with a dab) and in highly choreographed sketches, like one in which the diminutive Chenoweth beats up a male suitor. She's also unafraid to play on the diva stereotype, asking singer Morgan James (one of the night's handful of special guests), “Who’s one of your biggest influences, besides me?”
In fact, it seems one of Chenoweth’s main goals in this show is to highlight the singers she loves who aren't quite household names yet. James, a Broadway actress who previously appeared in Godspell, The Addams Family and Motown: The Musical, was introduced with an anecdote about how Chenoweth first met her at a photo shoot: “She said, ‘I’m a singer’ and I said, ‘Oh, that’s sweet’ and then I heard her sing. After I put my hair extensions back on my head, I wanted to celebrate her tonight.” The show’s two talented backup singers, Crystal Monee Hall and Marissa Rosen, are featured prominently, with the latter noting she was proudly making her Broadway debut in For The Girls.
A Chenoweth-curated evening wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Wicked, in which she originated the role of Glinda the Good Witch and earned a best actress Tony nomination (and a place in the Broadway pantheon) in the process. Alli Mauzey, a post-Chenoweth Glinda, joined her in a salute to the show that made her a star, duetting on “Popular" and then later on "For Good," accompanied by a surprise guest — the show's composer, Stephen Schwartz.
Chenoweth, who introduced him with tears of gratitude in her eyes, also joined Schwartz on a duet of The Eagles’ classic “Desperado," a nod to Linda Ronstadt’s acclaimed rendition.
Leaning into tender moments like that, Chenoweth built toward the evening's finale, Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You," a song which Chenoweth told Streets Talkin she included on the For the Girls album in an effort to “give the song back” to Parton in the wake of Whitney Houston's perhaps better-known version. As the song, and show, came to a close, Chenoweth sang the final verse off mic, proving her voice is a monumentally powerful instrument on its own, no extra amplification necessary.