PARK CITY — Kristin Chenoweth called me “sweetheart.” And I melted.
There’s a disarming lure to Chenoweth that forces you to immediately adore her. It could easily be her sparkling smile or her Midwestern speech lilt. But it’s most definitely her colossal pipes. As Glinda the Good Witch, Chenoweth and her chandelier–rattling belt introduced two now-standard songs of the Broadway canon, the comic gem “Popular” and the show’s anthem “Defying Gravity,” in the runaway hit “Wicked.” But there is also the hysteric charm of “My New Philosophy,” written for her to premiere in the “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” revival.
Making her Utah concert debut, the Tony- and Emmy-winning performer will again steal audience members’ hearts at the already-sold-out New Year’s Eve concert at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, a fundraiser for the Park City Performing Arts Foundation.
“For my concerts I select the songs that inspire me and speak to me personally, with songs I know that everyone wants to hear. But I also like to try out new material and see how the audience responds,” Chenoweth says from her publicist’s office in Los Angeles. “And I also don’t like to repeat myself too much. I really want to continue to grow as an artist and improve however I can.”
Chenoweth’s growth as an artist began when she was 10 years old, and at that early age she discovered what she was “born to do.” Playing a rabbit in “The Nutcracker” ballet, she saw one of the sugar plum fairies lose part of her costume. Thinking “What would a bunny do?” she hopped to the piece of potentially injuring costuming, picked it up in her mouth and then hopped back to her place on stage, to the laughter and cheers of the small audience.
The Park City concert is part of a brief tour and will be one of her first since a serious accident last July on the set of the CBS series “The Good Wife” sidelined her. A large piece of lighting equipment hit her in the face, then slammed her to the ground, and the back of her head hit concrete.
Suffering a five-inch skull fracture, two fractures to her nose and broken ribs, she has called the episode “life changing,” forcing a review of her perspective on life and a focus on “only doing things that really matter.”
Judging by the reviews for her first post-accident engagement at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, Calif., her “personal elán and ability to elate an audience” is back, and she’s delivering her A-game. The Los Angeles Times noted, “Chenoweth’s range, timbre and versatility are in peak form, with astonishing top notes, equalized registers and a delicious ability to variegate attack from number to number.”
“I’m very much looking forward to performing in Utah,” the bubbly blond says. “I’ve performed privately in Utah, but never in a concert, so I’m looking forward to Utah audiences.” Her previous New Year’s Eve gala performances have included the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and other prestigious venues.
“I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t performing on New Year’s Eve,” she explains. “But I like that. I like to be able to work. It’s a blessing, really.”
Along with her roles on Broadway and her New York debut in “The Steel Pier,” Chenoweth sang the role of Cunegonde in the New York Philharmonic’s 2004 concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” a treasured part of PBS’ Great Performances series.
One of a handful of actresses who can seamlessly transition between stage and screen, Chenoweth co-starred with Matthew Broderick in ABC TV’s classic musical, “The Music Man, and starred in ABC’s TV movie of “Annie.” Her big-screen hits include “Bewitched,” “Four Christmases” and “Deck the Halls.” Her TV credits include developing characters in programs such as “The West Wing,” “Glee” and “Pushing Daisies,” for which she was awarded an Emmy. Her Tony win was for playing Sally, a character that was not present in the original production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and she was in the recent revival of “Promises, Promises.”
Along with the original cast recordings to her Broadway hits, Chenoweth’s CD releases include “Let Yourself Go,” a collection of standards from the musicals of the 1930s, “As I Am,” containing various Christian songs, and “A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas," her best-seller, which climbed to No. 7 on the Billboard magazine holiday chart. Her latest release is a country-pop CD titled “Some Lessons Learned,” which includes songs by Dolly Parton, Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott and two songs she co-wrote.
Chenoweth is revered by musical-theater fans for the song “The Girl in 14G,” written specifically for her, which shows off her classically trained coloratura soprano and her ability to sing the note F above high C.
Next up for Chenoweth is a PBS concert taping of Lincoln Center’s annual American Songbook series. “The show will be very, very simple but will celebrate the classic American songs we know and love. I’m very honored to do the show for PBS. I’m glad there still is a PBS, if I can say that,” she adds. “PBS gives performers the opportunity to do things that they aren’t always able to do and share this with the audience.”
Of her eagerly awaited return to the musical stage of Broadway, she says, “We’re going to announce ‘On the Twentieth Century’ soon. It’s something I’m really excited about. But also very nervous. Madeline Kahn (who originated the show’s lead role of Lily Garland) is one of my idols, along with Dolly Parton and Julie Andrews. I want to put my own stamp on it. It also gives me the chance to sing both classical and musical-theater songs.”
As one of Chenoweth’s admirers (how did you guess?), I am planning a New York City trip that will coincide with “On the Twentieth Century” — just waiting for opening date announcement.