Two hours prior to the conclusion of the most highly-anticipated series finale on television, a Broadway star was introduced on the Phillips Center stage as a “slayer of high notes, breaker of music chains and house of Chenoweth.” She opened her set with an operatic version of the “Game of Thrones” theme song, which elicited chuckles from the audience.
After being introduced by Brian Jose on Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Kristin Chenoweth took the stage at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which was four months after she was originally scheduled to perform. About 1,300 guests of all ages attended the show.
Brian Jose, director of UF Performing Arts, came out to greet the audience at showtime and thanked sponsors like Blue Water Bay for making the performance with Tony Award-winning singer Kristin Chenoweth possible.
Chenoweth is a veteran in the entertainment scene. She debuted on Broadway as Precious McGuire in the 1997 musical “Steel Pier,” and has since earned three Tony Award nominations — one of them ending in a win for Best Featured Actress in a Musical — and an Emmy.
Virginia Martinez, UF School of Theater and Dance acting instructor, had always known about Chenoweth but had never followed her career closely. Even though Martinez was not a personal fan, it did not dissuade her from coming to see the Broadway star.
“It would be a foolish waste of [an] opportunity,” Martinez said.
Martinez was later brought to tears by Chenoweth’s rendition of “The Sweetheart Tree” by Henry Mancini, originally performed in the 1965 movie “The Great Race.”
Chenoweth gave a loving shout-out to Malcolm Gets, a UF acting professor, who was in the audience. Gets has been nominated for a Tony Award and has performed on Broadway multiple times. Both Gets and Chenoweth were in the musical “The Apple Tree.”
“He was a teacher to me in a very important time,” Chenoweth said.
There were many touching moments throughout the show, such as when Chenoweth honored military veterans with the song “Bring Him Home” from the musical “Les Miserables.”
Chenoweth engaged the crowd when she sang her iconic solo “Popular” from Broadway musical “Wicked.” She invited audience members to bring out their phones and record her. Videos of the audience were posted to Chenoweth’s Instagram Live toward the end of the song.
Austin Halvosa, an 18-year-old senior in the performing arts program at the P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School, said his favorite performance of the night was “Popular.”
“I thought the show was incredible. Just seeing her that close to me was just astonishing,” Halvosa said.
Toward the end of the evening, Chenoweth brought out students from the UF School of Theatre and Dance to help her sing her last two songs. She surprised the students with the addition of an unplanned song, the Leonard Cohen tune “Hallelujah.”
Chenoweth asked the audience to sing along during the final chorus to create one harmonious choir in the theater before taking a bow and leaving the stage.
That was not to be the end of the night, however.
To the delight of the audience, Chenoweth quickly returned to the stage for an encore performance of the ballad “Smile” by Nat King Cole. Chenoweth expressed how much she loved music and started her final song of the evening without a microphone. As she performed “Smile,” her voice bounced off the walls and filled up the room.
At the end of the song Chenoweth encouraged the audience to sing the last word in unison: smile. She then took a bow and everyone in the theater rose to give Chenoweth a standing ovation.
After the show, Martinez said she was deeply moved by Chenoweth’s performance and that she had surpassed her expectations.
“You can see her roots and a lot of her personality coming through the music and the way she expresses the music,” Martinez said. “She really is a storyteller.”