Michael Feinstein, Hilary Hahn, Norah Jones, Alisa Weilerstein, Branford Marsalis: At the start of the summer Andrew Palmer Todd, president and CEO of the Grand Teton Music Festival, promised a “season of gala artists” this year, and the organization delivered. But, in addition to the typically raucous closing weekend concerts, there’s still one last gala-caliber evening to come.
Kristin Chenoweth — star of stage, television and film; interpreter of Broadway, country, standards, gospel and opera; recording artist and even author — is set to make her Jackson Hole debut Thursday with a wide-ranging evening of song that will at least attempt to convey a representative cross-section of her prodigious talents.
“It’s definitely all over the map, in the best possible way,” she said of a typical Chenoweth concert. “I love to sing country music — that’s how I grew up singing, and gospel music — but obviously I’m known for music theater and my training is in opera, and people know that as well, so everything is represented. No matter who you are there’s got to be something you like. The only thing I haven’t gotten really good at yet is rap, but I’m working on it.”
It isn’t easy to summarize the nearly 30-year career of the Oklahoma songstress.
Her earliest performance experiences came from singing in school plays, musicals and church, although in Chenoweth’s case, “church” means the megachurches of her Baptist upbringing.
Named “most promising up-and-coming singer” in a Metropolitan Opera audition, she seemed headed for a career as a classical vocalist, but after earning a role in a production of “Animal Crackers” she switched tracks to musical theater — an auspicious move that in short order led to off-Broadway, then Broadway, then Tony and Drama Desk Awards and, later, TV, film, recording and concert touring.
“I never for once thought I would be on television or on a film,” she told the News&Guide. “I never even understood the concept that I could get a part like that because I was a stage actress, and not just musicals but theater, plays, and that’s what I was trained on.”
But a role on the 1999 TV show “Paramour” snowballed into made-for-TV movies, her own short-lived sitcom, appearances on “Frasier,” “Sesame Street” and “Ugly Betty.” In 2004 she began appearing regularly on NBC’s “The West Wing” as the media consultant Annabeth Schott, for which she was nominated twice for a Screen Actors Guild Award, and in 2009 she won the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy for her character Olive Snook in the show “Pushing Daisies.”
Her film debut came in 2002, and in 2008 she made her entry into animated film with the voice of Rosetta, a fairy, in “Tinker Bell.”
Having won the hearts and minds of children everywhere, Chenoweth could at last claim true fame.
“I think it’s obvious I sound like Betty Boop,” she said, repeating an oft-told joke about her distinctively high-pitched voice, which makes “me very, very well suited for any plant, animal, floating bubble, any kind of thing you can imagine — a poisonous pink frog — the list goes on.”
For nearly 20 years now, Chenoweth has juggled a career with many strands.
Between 2001 and 2004 she released her debut album, “Let Yourself Go”; appeared in her first film; played Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in Broadway’s “Wicked” musical, sharing a Grammy Award for the cast recording; sang the role of Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein’s opera “Candide” with the New York Philharmonic; signed on to “The West Wing”; and launched her career as a concert artist. And she has maintained that pace pretty much ever since, going from “Promises, Promises” on Broadway to “Glee” on the Fox network, voicing animated characters and making Grammy-nominated albums, and singing concerts at the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House.
“Whether I’m doing a play or a musical or recording or a concert, a Broadway show or television … if I’m doing the truth of the song or the scene, I’m doing my truth of it,” she said. “People can always say, ‘Well, maybe that’s not be my taste,’ or whatever, but I don’t think when you sing or speak your truth people can get all that mad at you.”
Since 2012, Chenoweth has made several concert tours in support of her recordings. But she has never made it to Wyoming — until now.
“I can’t believe I’ve never gotten to come,” she said. “This will be the third time I’ve been asked, so finally it’s coming true for me. All my friends love it, everyone just says everyone is so kind, I can’t wait. I plan on definitely going out to eat, possibly getting in a little shopping and I’d like to do some just walking around and just seeing.”
For her “GTMF Presents” concert, Chenoweth will perform with her music director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, on piano.
“We love doing these kinds of shows,” Chenoweth said, “because they’re a little more intimate, and no matter what the space I think the material we picked really works. Of course there’ll be dedications to Don Henley and Dolly Parton and others, but there’ll also be songs from ‘Wicked’ that I’m meant to sing and get to sing for the rest of my life. It’s not hodgepodge. Every show is made exactly for that venue — I never do the same show twice.” ￼