If we ever need to give all the Christmas jobs to one person, Kristin Chenoweth could try.
She has the voice of an angel, the height of an elf and, seemingly, the disposition of Santa Claus. If she can learn to make toys and pull a sleigh, she’ll be perfect.
This month, viewers have already seen her sing in Nashville and act in a Hallmark movie (which reruns often). Now a concert (shown here) – Dec. 16 on PBS, Dec. 19 streaming – has her on the big stage … literally.
This was taped a year ago, over three nights in the Conference Center at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Each night, Chenoweth had the 360-voice Tabernacle Choir behind and 21,000 people in front.
That’s almost 11 times the size of her nightly crowd for “Wicked” on Broadway. “And there’s not a pole, not a light, nothing to get in anyone’s way,” she said.
The result was overwhelming, she said. “It filled my heart in such a way, I was ready to burst.”
The fact that it happened was both logical and wildly illogical.
Logical? Chenoweth said she’s been a fan of the group (then called the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) since childhood. She wanted to sing with it – “I thought it was a rite of passage” – and the choir wanted her. “Kristin was on our radar to be our guest artist for at least a decade,” Mack Wilberg, the music director, said when the booking was announced.
Still, Chenoweth said, scheduling kept getting in the way. “We almost had it three or four times …. I finally said, ‘Heck, I’m not going to miss it again.’”
And illogical? Chenoweth is strongly outspoken in two areas – her Christianity and her support of gay rights. The latter put her at odds with the Mormon leadership.
Their policy – which was changed four months after the concert — refused baptism to children in same-sex families. They could be baptized as adults … but only if they moved out and rejected the idea of same-sex marriage. Fred Karger, an activist, wrote a letter asking her to withdraw, to support people who face “bigotry, bullying and hatred from the Mormon church leaders on a daily basis.”
Chenoweth did the concert, but sticks with her gay-rights beliefs.
“I just try to go by how Jesus acted,” she said. “He wouldn’t say, ‘I like everyone but …’”
People are simply different, she said. “I’m 4-foot-11. I’m not going to be the same as Heidi Klum.”
Her approach has been upbeat. Raised in a suburb of Tulsa (her adoptive mother and father were engineers), she sang gospel, classical and musical. She also was runner-up for Miss Oklahoma.
Chenoweth entered the Metropolitan Opera’s national auditions and was named “most promising.” That brought a scholarship to the Academy of Vocal Arts; she spurned it when she landed a role in a musical at the Paper Mill theater in New Jersey. “I’m a big believer in following the gut.”
Seven Broadway musicals have followed. She won a Tony in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and nominations in “Wicked” and “On the Twentieth Century.” She’s also done a couple Broadway concerts, most recently involving “For the Girls,” her album that includes tracks with Ariana Grande,
Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire (a fellow Oklahoman) and Jennifer Hudson.
The Tabernacle concert usually has a singer plus an actor who does readings. When the latter booking fell through, Chenoweth said, she agreed to read a shortened version of “The Gift of the Magi.”
Some singers include non-holiday songs, but not this time. There’s no Broadway (well, technically “We Need a Little Christmas” is from “Mame”), just non-stop holiday music, negotiated with Wilberg.
“I really wanted to do ‘Mary Did You Know?’” Chenoweth said. “I said, ‘Just listen to the words.’” He agreed, as long as she agreed to take on the rigors of “O Holy Night.”
She did that and much more – even joining the bell choir.
As a kids, Chenoweth said, she was assigned to the tiny bells. So this time, she grabbed a big one.
What was it like? “Heavy. I could hardly lift it.” Which may be why Santa lacks an elfen bell choir.
– “Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir,” 9-10 p.m. Monday (Dec. 16), PBS, rerunning at 9 p.m. Dec. 24. A longer version streams from 7-8:30 Dec. 19 on www.byutv.org.
– “A Christmas Love Song” reruns on Hallmark at 8 p.m. Dec. 12; 6 p.m. Dec. 14; 10:03 p.m., Dec. 16; 6 p.m., Dec. 18; and 4 p.m., Dec. 22.