Kristin Chenoweth will perform tomorrow in Newark
Kristin Chenoweth owns a Tony for her performance as spunky Sally in the 1999 revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and an Emmy for her acting in “Pushing Daisies.” She brought down the house as Glinda the good witch in “Wicked,” and brought levity to the “West Wing” with her portrayal of a fast-talking political consultant. her recurring role on “Glee” has won her a new generation of fans and another Emmy nomination.
But one thing she couldn’t point to on her lengthy CV was a country album.
Well, that’s changed.
There’s nothing particularly rustic about “Some Lessons Learned,” her latest effort, but it’s unmistakably country, and unmistakably Chenoweth. on the 13-track album, Chenoweth sings gentle folk ballads, Nashville tearjerkers and even a few rave-ups with the same exuberance and personality she brings to her stage roles. And while “Lessons” may seem to be a departure for her, she insists that it’s more like a homecoming.
“Why wouldn’t I do a country album?” asks Chenoweth, 43, who was raised in a Tulsa, Okla. suburb. “It’s how I was brought up. I grew up singing church music and country music. My mom didn’t allow MTV in the house.”
If “Some Lessons Learned” often sounds like a Broadway actress inhabiting country songs and scenarios, Chenoweth’s occasional actorly self-consciousness does not detract from the enthusiasm of the performances. “Lessons” is also an opportunity for her to inscribe her own lifelong appreciation of country music on record. as a girl, she loved Christian contemporary singers Sandi Patty and Amy Grant, and the delicate “God and Me” does sound quite a bit like Grant at her folkiest. “I was Here” and “what more do you Want” share the feminine swagger of Shania Twain. on lead single “I want Somebody” — one of five songs on the album written by platinum tunesmith Diane Warren, who chose to work with Chenoweth after hearing her on “Glee” — she behaves like the rollicking sister of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.
“It’s the right time for an album like this because I’ve lived a little,” says Chenoweth, who will sing at NJPAC’s annual Spotlight Gala on Saturday. “I’ve been hurt, and I’ve done some hurting. each song was chosen for a specific reason, and a couple of the songs I helped write. being in love with someone you can’t have, making a mark on this earth, questions for God … it’s all here. I’m really proud of it.”
One of the songs that Chenoweth co-wrote is a wayward-husband kiss-off called “what Would Dolly do.” “I may not be from Tennessee,” she sings, “but you know I got a lot of Dolly in me.” Inspired by Dolly Parton, the narrator exiles the cheater to his truck, and then rubs it in with a playfully gratuitous cup-size joke; Chenoweth and her band sound like they’re having a ball throughout.
Two tracks later, Chenoweth sings her version of the emotional “Change,” a Parton-penned ballad from the ’90s. These songs draw a connection between Parton’s voice and Chenoweth’s own high-pitched twang that wasn’t always noticed by theater fans. But even when Chenoweth was singing under the stage lights, Parton was always there.
“It’s a bit more freeing to sing country than it is to sing Broadway,” she says. “It’s more about the raw voice and just opening up and singing.”
While Chenoweth is enjoying the liberating feeling of performing the material from “Some Lessons Learned,” she hasn’t turned her back on Broadway. She’ll be appearing in an upcoming revival of “on the 20th Century,” a giddy Jazz Age romp that ought to fit the actress as snugly as a lace-up boot. She’ll be reprising a role made famous by another of her idols: Madeline Kahn.
“I don’t feel intimidated by it,” says Chenoweth, who sees herself as a carrier of the tradition of charismatic leading women on Broadway that includes Kahn and Bernadette Peters. “I just want to bring honor to it. Composers have always been inspired by strong women.”
Kristin ChenowethWhere: New Jersey Performing Arts Center Spotlight Gala, 1 Center St., NewarkWhen: Saturday at 7 p.m.how much: $35 to $75; call (888) 466-5722 or visit njpac.org.