Kristin Chenoweth: Christmas at the Met

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:11 mins read

Kristin Chenoweth

Christmas at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera House, NYC, December 13, 2021

Reviewed by Todd Sussman

Kristin Chenoweth
Photo by Todd Sussman

Kristin Chenoweth is as multi-faceted as a Swarovski crystal limited-edition Christmas ornament. She can traverse musical genres with ease – from pop to Broadway to opera to religious to country to the blues. And that’s exactly what she did for her spectacular one-night-only show at the Opera House.

Hearing Chenoweth sing the first lines of “Silent Night,” off stage, to begin her Christmas at the Met concert may have conveyed “serious and somber” as the opening tone of this show. But she interrupted herself and switched to a festive, over-the-top entrance from the back of the house, carried Cleopatra-style by a few fawning hunks while she sang an exuberant “(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag,” with slivers of “Jingle Bell Rock” mixed in. Decked out in a whirl of white feathers straight off the cover of her new holiday album, Happiness Is…Christmas!, she was transported to the stage as another handsome lad fanned her with giant white plumage that matched her dress.

Such a grandiose entrance may exemplify the ultimate in diva-hood, but it was more like a send-up presented with a wink of the eye. By the middle of Act I, the charismatic and much-loved actress/singer—who at this point is virtually critic-proof—would present a parody song entitled “I’m Not a Diva,” further poking fun at her status as Broadway royalty.

In a venue as revered and opulent as the Met, one would expect to find divas in the sense of the original definition, celebrated prima donnas. Though Kristin is not employed full time as an opera singer, her supreme skill as a coloratura soprano enables her to fit right in. Indeed, she would reveal that awe-inspiring range throughout the night, thereby keeping the audience spellbound. The whole versatile and dynamic package that is Kristin Chenoweth is something to behold, especially live. Her go-to concert director, Richard Jay-Alexander, has the keen ability to showcase her many dimensions as an artist.

“The Man with the Bag” was an apropos selection to kick-off the proceedings, given that Chenoweth had a sleigh full of more musical gifts to come. Many of those presents were culled from the holiday album. Indeed, 9 of its 12 tracks were included in the concert setlist, and each live version sparkled in the hands (or rather, the voice) of the star attraction.

Of course, this evening featured much more than her voice. It also offered up her heart. She played gracious host to a variety of special guests, generously sharing her spotlight. Early on, she welcomed a group of local heroes to the stage: the Mount Sinai hospital workers who have braved the front lines in this pandemic for almost two years now, giving care and saving lives. Chenoweth dedicated a tear-inducing “Angels Among Us” (first recorded by the country group Alabama) to them.

Soon after, she invited one of her back-up singers, J. Harrison Ghee (currently featured in Broadway’s Mrs. Doubtfire) to duet with her on the contemporary Christmas standard “Mary, Did You Know?,” giving him the chance to wow the audience with his beautiful, soulful voice. Josh Bryant (KC’s fiancé) provided a rousing guitar interlude.

Chenoweth followed up with “O Holy Night,” inviting additional choir members to the stage. She allayed any overtly religious concerns by stating, “For those of you who don’t believe in Jesus, this will be over in five minutes,” garnering huge laughs that filled the cavernous Met. It really didn’t matter what one’s faith was to appreciate her inspirational and poignant delivery of this cherished carol.

Next up was the aforementioned “Diva” number (written by U.K. composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drew, with a rewrite by Chenoweth and her musical director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell). This humorous turn featured some good-natured ribbing from Mary-Mitchell at the piano, and a sly reference to KC’s co-star from Wicked in the line, “I swear I’m not Idina.” Read into it what you will.

Five-time Grammy-winning blues artist Keb’ Mo’ joined KC to reprise their duet, “Merry Christmas Baby,” from her new album. Cheno acknowledged his mentoring during the recording session to help her find the right laid-back pocket to express this Charles Brown R&B holiday classic. Keb’ remained on stage for a solo on another Charles Brown yuletide blues standard, “Please Come Home for Christmas.” It’s not every day you can hear the blues at the Opera House, so this was truly a rare treat.

A very sexy Chenoweth returned to the stage donning a tuxedo-inspired black jumper with white lapels. Inversely proportional to her soaring vocals was this outfit’s plunging and revealing neckline. She then paid tribute to two of her Broadway friends (and sopranos); the late Marin Mazzie and Rebecca Luker, giving each her own unoccupied spotlight and dedicating an impassioned “Till There Was You” (from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man) to them.

Another standout among many was the re-imagining of the title track from her new disc, “Happiness (Is Christmas).” The magnanimous Chenoweth brought her four back-up vocalists (Ghee, Crystal Monee Hall, Nikki Kimbrough, and Marissa Rosen) front and center to sing side-by-side with her. They shined brightly in their solos and their gorgeous harmonies. The icing was a lyric change exclusive to this performance, whereby Kristin transitioned to her soprano voice on the line, “Happiness is…playing the Met,” miraculously holding the word “Met” for an extended time. Just brilliant. To close the song, she briefly introduced “Christmastime Is Here,” which is sung on the album track by a children’s choir. It was wonderful to hear this alternative, live interpretation. Both are exceptional.

Chenoweth’s devout followers are probably aware of a third arrangement of “Happiness.” She recently appeared on a few television guest spots to sing a stripped-down solo version, accompanied only by Josh Bryant on guitar. The various renditions are testament to the song’s (as well as the singer’s) inherent beauty and malleability. It is a natural fit for her and happens to be part of her Broadway DNA. “Happiness” is from the musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, for which she won the Tony Award. However, the special Christmas-themed lyrics were penned by Jay Landers and Charlie Midnight, with permission from the estate of the show’s composer, Clark Gesner. At the Met, Chenoweth gratefully acknowledged the talented Mr. Landers (in the audience) each time she performed one of his songs. He also co-produced the new album.

Act II held more magic and more surprises. In a shimmering white strapless jumpsuit, Kristin sang “We Are Lights,” a Chanukah song (music by Stephen Schwartz, lyrics by Steven Young) originally written for a choir. This evocative song, seldom performed as a solo, was an outstanding second act opener. Schwartz should be very proud: Among the multitude of classic holiday songs, very few celebrate Chanukah, and this jewel deserves a place among them.

“We Are Lights” also provided one of the night’s most glistening and heartfelt moments. When the Met’s elegant chandeliers descended from the ceiling, audience members collectively turned on their cell phone flashlights, forming a cascade of lights throughout the entire house. In this instant, life imitated art as the serendipitous lyric, “look at all of us, shining here tonight,” became a reality. Now, it was our turn to make Chenoweth joyfully cry. She exclaimed, “If you could only see what I see. One by one, the lights went on…you all surprised me!”

KC returned to her comedic side for “Santa, I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with You,” an Andrew Lippa novelty song written just for her. With the aid of a jumbo pencil prop, she started to write (and then sing) a complaint letter to Santa. The lyrics contained a checklist of the not-so-terrific Christmas gifts she has received (e.g., “ugly picture frame, travel Scrabble game”), and her delivery elicited maximum laughs. 

Her heart-rending rendition of “Moon River,” dedicated to the memory of Ginny Mancini, wife of composer Henry Mancini, brought down the house, yet again. Whenever she mines the Great American Songbook for such gems, she imbues the familiar words and music with insight and nuance.

Cecily Strong of Saturday Night Live fame (and Kristin’s recent co-star in the Schmigadoon series) joined her for “KC, It Sucks Outside,” sung to the tune of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The updated lyrics by Cinco Paul served a double purpose. They gave the duet partners a chance to show off their funny sides in call and response while also replacing the original words by Frank Loesser. Given the current “Me Too” climate, some consider Loesser’s lyrics too controversial.

In a night filled with honoring colleagues, idols and heroes, Kristin turned to “our late, great Mr. Stephen Sondheim” for the poetic ballad, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” (from Sweeney Todd). Singing this one entirely in her soprano voice, she simply mesmerized. The song sounded tailor made for her in this particular venue at this moment. More Sondheim followed with the unexpected yet brilliant pairing of his “Losing My Mind” (from Follies) with Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind.” The melding was Chenoweth’s idea, and it certainly gave her the chance to act out a story in song, with an absolutely exquisite vocal.

This one-off, “you had to be there” night at the Metropolitan Opera House will live in my memory for years to come. Alas, I did not see any film cameras to capture it. Perhaps the audio portion was recorded for a future CD or streaming release. Now that would be a great Christmas gift.


Special thank you to Jay Landers. 


Write to Todd Sussman at

Todd Sussman

Todd Sussman is a graduate of Columbia University, where he studied journalism and film. A longtime entertainment writer, he is the author of the Blockbuster Video books, The Greatest Movies of All Time, Volumes 1 & 2. He began his writing career as the film critic for The Miami News and soon became the editor of Blockbuster Video Magazine. For his work on the magazine, Todd received an Addy Award for Best In-House Publication, one of several Addy honors he holds. The Walt Disney Company commissioned him to write an interview promoting the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (for which Todd wrote the questions as well as the answers, in character as the beloved Roger Rabbit). He had the privilege of working as the Liner Notes Editor on the following projects for Barbra Streisand: Encore (her 11th Number One album), Release Me 2 (with various collector editions), and her tour program for The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic! He also edited the liner notes for: A Capitol Christmas - Volumes 1 & 2, Neil Diamond’s Classic Diamonds, Nat King Cole & Friends’ A Sentimental Christmas, and Kristin Chenoweth’s Happiness Is Christmas. Recent cover stories for Cabaret Scenes include Johnny Mathis, Kristin Chenoweth, and Stephen Schwartz.