Kristin Chenoweth Sings Prince and Matches Wits With Sarah Palin

Kristin Chenoweth - H 2016
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Kristin Chenoweth - H 2016

The Broadway star talks to THR about her plans for a Tammy Faye Bakker musical, her upcoming concert tour and why she thinks her 'Match Game' partner Sarah Palin is "just a dish."

She’s won Tonys and she’s won Emmys, but can Kristin Chenoweth win at Match Game? The 47-year-old Broadway star will be crossing wits with other celebrity contestants — like her new friend Sarah Palin — as ABC reboots its classic 1970s game show this season, with Alec Baldwin following in Gene Rayburn’s footsteps as host.

But, as THR recently discovered, that’s just one of a slew of upcoming projects keeping Chenoweth occupied these days. She’ll also be embarking on a 20-city concert tour, starting on July 15 when she'll open Festival Napa Valley. “I’ve been doing a little bit of a tribute to Prince, because that was a real loss,” she says of her song list. “I’ll be doing everything from Jerome Kern to Kander and Ebb to Rodgers and Hammerstein to Dolly Parton. It runs the gamut.”

Still, theater remains her true calling: Last week she participated in a table read of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which producers are hoping to revive on Broadway with Chenoweth as Miss Mona (played by Dolly Parton in the 1982 movie). She’s also planning on finally starring in Rise, the long-gestating musical about Tammy Faye Bakker, to which Chenoweth has been attached for at least five years. And she’s doing some TV acting, too, beginning rehearsals for NBC’s live TV production of Hairspray, in which she’ll play Michelle Pfeiffer’s old part, Velma Von Tussle.

Here, she speaks with THR all about her busy season.

The big news is Hairspray. What can we expect from Mrs. Velma Von Tussle?

I want to put my spin on it and pay homage to Michelle’s [Pfeiffer] take and pay homage to the material. I certainly hope I look as good as Michelle Pfeiffer did. One of the things I respect and admire about her is, not only is she beautiful, but she’s also a fantastic actress. She always led with her talent first and that’s something I really respect. I hope she watches and smiles and thinks back when she had a good time in her musical life.

You’ve obviously had plenty of theater experience, but live TV is different.

I’m hoping my former pageant work of long ago clicks in and gives me some of the fun that’s already there in the part that I can draw from. I think Hairspray lends itself so perfectly for this kind of live shooting of a musical cause it’s basically about a beautiful love story between a girl and herself and becoming okay with herself, but it’s also about the show within a show, so I think it works on TV.

In the meantime you’re on the new Match Game.

I was with Leah Remini, J.B. Smoove, Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock, who’s adorable, and Randall Park, who I love, and Sarah Palin. I’m just going to say she is a total dish. She’s gorgeous and she’s very, in person, personable. I can see how people kind of went with that at that time. It was all in fun and jest, and that’s what I love about the show. I think Sarah Palin had a good time too. I’m not going to hate on her because we disagree. She’s never personally rude to me.

Any chance we’ll see you in the movie adaptation of Wicked?

I haven’t heard a peep. I’m pretty close with all the creators and producers. I think Idina [Menzel] and I, we’re both in our 40s. I think if they made them age over time, sure we could do it. Maybe I’ll play one of the Munchkins.

So which is next on Broadway, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?

I did a reading of Best Little Whorehouse with my director for Promises, Promises [Rob Ashford]. I love just singing that score that Carol Hall wrote. And Jennifer Holliday was a part of that and kicks butt. Just watching her do her thing I cried. I was just happy we got to kind of see if it has a life.

Is it going forward?

I think there is financing in place and I think it has to be a decision we can make and I have another show that I’m involved with about Tammy Faye Bakker. It’s all about timing.

What’s the hold-up with that?

We are waiting on our latest and newest draft. I expect that August 1. It’s a very poignant, sad, wonderful story about a woman that we think we know. I don’t think Tammy Faye is as guilty [of] the things that her husband may have been guilty of, but I think she might have been guilty of turning a blind eye and in some peoples' minds, that’s just as guilty. That’s all she wanted to do was do a fun variety television show about God and making people laugh on television. Things went very awry, as you know.

So what is it with you and Game of Thrones? You use the theme song as a warm-up?

It’s a good warm-up, what can I say? Sometimes we do different versions of it: staccato, soprano, sometimes we do pizzicato, sometimes we do it really slow. I love the show. I can’t miss it. I love Bloodline, a family drama with Sissy Spacek on Netflix. I’m a fan of Narcos and waiting for season two. I’m also a John Oliver freak. I just did a little part for him the other day.