SALT LAKE CITY — After their first rehearsal with Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth Tuesday, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square is feeling pretty good about the upcoming Christmas concerts.
“As first rehearsals go, we had a great time last night,” choir director Mack Wilberg said during a brief press conference Wednesday. “Now we still have things we have to work on.”
“We do?” Chenoweth interjected, feigning surprise.
“Not you,” Wilberg assured her.
It’s safe to say the Tony Award-winning actress, who playfully punched Wilberg’s shoulder and joked with him throughout the conference, is one of the more bubbly performers the choir has brought in for its annual Christmas concert — a sold-out holiday tradition that each year draws 63,000 people to downtown Salt Lake City.
But don't think Chenoweth's lively attitude means the singer isn't serious about her work.
“Kristin does not take anything lightly. When she wants to deal with something she deals with it,” said Ron Jarrett, the choir's president. "Other artists have been much more reserved. It’s a blessing for us to have her here.”
For Chenoweth, the feeling is mutual.
“There were exactly three shows on TV I watched growing up. It was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas special, it was Miss America and it was the Tony Awards. And that’s everything you need to know about this girl right here,” she said.
“This is a bucket list. It’s the music that draws me in every time, so for me it’s part of my DNA. I’m so honored to be here … celebrating the birth of Christ.”
The press conference didn’t reveal any big secrets about the Christmas concerts or whether Chenoweth will be singing songs from “Wicked,” but Wilberg did say because of the singer’s versatility, the three sold-out concerts — which run Thursday through Saturday at the Conference Center — will have elements of classical music, pop and even country — reflecting Chenoweth’s Oklahoma upbringing. Jarrett added that audiences can also expect some dynamic organ playing from Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott.
Chenoweth is no stranger to large venues in Utah. Just last year she performed as a guest artist at the Marriott Center during the "BYU Spectacular!" homecoming event. But the singer admitted she “pretend fainted” when she saw the Conference Center for the first time last night.
“For sure this is one of the most beautiful venues to sing in,” she said. “Last (night's rehearsal) was so incredible that it’s going to be hard to top. The only way that it can be topped is with the audience.”
That audience will include two of Chenoweth’s aunts, who are flying in from Oklahoma for the performances. And there’s a good chance when she’s not rehearsing or performing, Chenoweth is going to take her aunts shopping at Salt Lake's City Creek Center and on a hunt to find the delicious pizza she had Tuesday night.
“There was a situation that happened last night in the dressing room involving pizza,” she said. “I’m not sure of the brand. … I wish I could know the name. (But) are you kidding? I’m trying to then fit into the beautiful Christian Siriano gown after that? I’m just a girl from Oklahoma so I like the normal food; I like ice cream. When I was in Provo there was an ice cream place there (so good) that my hair extensions fell out.”
For Wilberg, having Chenoweth in Utah is the fulfillment of a longtime goal. He estimates the singer has been on his radar as a potential guest artist for 10 years now.
“I think that makes her being here even more special for us,” Wilberg said. “We’re so grateful that she’s here. … We (are) just all completely overwhelmed and charmed by her incredible energy that she brings to the stage. And I’m sure that the audience … will be able to feel that not only great energy but warmth and generosity.”
As someone who grew up watching the choir's Christmas special on TV, Chenoweth is pinching herself that she finally gets to take center stage for the event.
“This moment in life has been a long time coming,” she said. “And all I want to do is celebrate the reason for the season, and I'm so honored I get to do it. And I ask you to pray for my memory. … I want to get the words (right) because the words are the most important.”