Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Dance Party: Kudos for Kristin

I'm a big Kristin Chenoweth fan, though I know some people (you know who you are) are not. What the hell's wrong with you? More accurately, what the hell's wrong with her? Nothing, that I can see. Perhaps you think her tone is too perky, her voice is too high, her height is too short?

I've been reminded of Ms. Chenoweth's talent quite a few times in the past weeks, beginning with the Primetime Emmy Awards a short while ago. She was part of the ensemble of that kookie show Pushing Daisies, a program I really tried to love, but couldn't. I promise, I gave it more than one chance, but there is just only so much whimsy a guy can take. The show was the critics' darling, but was sabotaged by the writers' strike and by the network's foolish decision to refrain from broadcasting reruns. Instead, they "re-launched" the show a year later. Bad, bad mistake. Despite the presence of stage actor types like Swoozie Kurtz, Ellen Greene, and of course Chenoweth (plus the superbly talented Jim Dale narrating the thing), I just could not hook into the show. Nobody else could, either, and Pushing Daisies has been pushing up daisies for many months. So it was one of the few surprises of the recent Emmy Awards that our Kristin snagged the prize as Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy.

It's not her first major award. That would be the Tony, which she won for the Broadway retooling of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, in which she stopped the show as Sally Brown. She attracted a lot of attention for her work in what was, apparently, a mediocre production. She snagged several films and a short-lived TV series, the latter of which did not showcase her talents well. She now moves easily between the stage and screen and, more importantly, actually does so. Lots and lots of stage actors who become regulars in Hollywood claim their heart is still with the stage, but actually abandon the theatre. Not our Kristin. She returned to Broadway in a very big way, playing one of the witchy roommies in one of the biggest smashes of the past decade, Wicked. There are several bootleg videos out there, of Chenoweth singing her various songs from the show, and in all of them, she is clearly overplaying her charm factor. I bet she knew the same thing that all my friends who have seen the show recognized: the show is a technical behemoth, but is emotionally slender.

I mentioned there were several reasons Kristin has been on my radar lately. In addition to the Emmys, she guested on Glee last week, a performance which gave her the opportunity to show off her lower register, as she belted Cabaret's "Maybe This Time." She's popping up on my TV screen even more during the day; I've been revisiting The West Wing, which is being rerun on Bravo. I had forgotten that Kristin had a large recurring role in the show's final season, a performance which included no singing and no dancing (but it does have her requisite charm...I doubt she can give a performance without it. But why would we want her to?) The West Wing was not known for its sight gags, but they provided a doozy in an episode I watched this week. They placed Chenoweth in the same frame, side by side, with the show's star Alison Janney. Kristin is 4'11". Alison is 6'. Hilarity ensued.

I admire Kristin Chenoweth for a reason other than her talent. She is a woman of devout faith, and does not hide the fact. But unlike other mouthy Christians, she does not torture herself (or us) over Leviticus. She lives her life according to the WWJD belief system; she asks herself, "What Would Jesus Do?" The answer is always one of inclusion, and as a result, she is the only born again Christian I can think of who is also a gay favorite.

This week's Dance Party is a clip from Chenoweth's visit to the Boston Pops, videotaped for PBS. She is at her best with comic numbers like this one, from an old Jule Styne show called Two on the Aisle. If you love our Kristin, prepare to love her even more. If you dislike our Kristin, this may change your mind. Or you're just crazy. Watch the clip anyway, and enjoy the physical comedy of the unnamed actor playing the corpse. He should be a star, too: