Along with the grand finale excitement of August, a new series of events is adding some bang and a burst of color to the Island’s climactic summer month. Two of Broadway’s biggest stars will make appearances at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center, adding a couple of new celebrity faces to the Vineyard scene. Audiences will get an up-close-and-personal chance to get to know Kristin Chenoweth and Audra McDonald, two women who have both made their mark in theater as well as television.
The Broadway @ series — featuring superstars of the Great White Way — began in Provincetown in 2005. Since then, founder Mark Cortale has brought his series of intimate evenings with Broadway personalities to places like the West End of London, New Orleans, Santa Monica, Ft. Lauderdale, and Sydney, Australia. This summer, for the first time, the series of story-laced performances has touched down on the Vineyard, bringing top-rate theatrical and musical experiences right into our laps.
The series kicked off in July with Vanessa Williams and Megan Hilty entertaining rapt audiences with a blend of song and anecdote, interviewed and accompanied by Seth Rudetsky, host of SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s “Seth’s Big Fat Broadway” and “Seth Speaks.” This month’s lineup includes the all time Tony award-winningest actress, Audra McDonald, and the reigning darling of stage and screen, Kristin Chenoweth.
The Broadway@ format mixes up songs from each performer’s repertoire with some background tidbits and stories. Taking the stage on August 14 will be the impossibly adorable Kristin Chenoweth, with her self-described “Betty Boop voice,” punctuated by her southern twang and spunky personality. Ms. Chenoweth, who studied opera before pursuing musical theater, can belt with the best, as well as put her distinctive high-pitched voice to perfect comedic effect.
Ms. Chenoweth made her name both in television (“Pushing Daisies,” “Glee,” “The West Wing”) and on Broadway (she originated the role of Glinda the Good Witch in “Wicked”). She’s won both a Tony and an Emmy and is also a veteran of concert stages, selling out shows all over the world. Recently, the versatile singer-actress received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of live performance on stage or in theater.
Ms. Chenoweth has a disarmingly upbeat, energetic personality and a genuine humility, which was in evidence in a recent phone interview with The Times.
“Part of my love of concerting is letting people get to know me,” said Ms. Chenoweth, who is proud of her Oklahoma roots and still a bit awed by her success. “Who I really am as a person. As a woman. As a person in show business.”
In between songs, she will offer some personal tidbits. “I’ll talk about why I’m singing a song, or a memory,” Ms. Chenoweth said. “It’s one of the most fun aspects of performing live as opposed to performing in a studio. The relationship between me and the audience is the most important part of the evening.
“I’ve had a lot of great one night stands,” Ms. Chenoweth said in her chirpy, humorous style. “I want the audience to have fun. There’s nothing more gratifying or pleasing than that immediate feedback.”
The song list for the evening is yet to be determined, but Ms. Chenoweth did promise that she would sing something from “Wicked.”
“I’ll have to if I want to get out of there alive,” she joked. The rest of the evening will be eclectic. Ms. Chenoweth said she generally mixes up the program to include “everything from opera to country.”
“I love Dolly Parton, Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe,” she said.
In 2008, Ms. Chenoweth sang for Queen Elizabeth and the Obamas at a state dinner in England. If she has a chance to serenade the first family on the Vineyard, she noted that she might just have to come up with something special.
On August 22, actress/singer Audra McDonald with take the PAC stage along with Seth Rudetsky, who will serve dual roles as accompanist and interviewer. The special guest will be actor, writer, film director, and singer Will Swenson, who is also Ms. McDonald’s husband.
Ms. McDonald has accumulated six Tonys over the course of her illustrious career, setting the record for most performance wins by any actor. She is the only person to win all four acting categories, being equally adept at musical theater and drama.
Ms. McDonald, perhaps best known among television viewers for her starring role on ABC’s “Private Practice,” has also won an Emmy (three nominations, one win), has been nominated for a Grammy, and is a veteran of concert stages. If anyone could be considered Broadway royalty, it’s Ms. McDonald.
Seth Rudetsky has worked with Ms. McDonald for many years. Mr. Rudetsky, perhaps the authority on musical theater, is a three-time Emmy nominee as a comedy writer. He has twice served as writer for the Grammy Awards, and created the opening numbers for the 1998 and 2000 Tony Awards shows.
With his quick wit, keen humor, and extensive knowledge of Broadway, Mr. Rudetsky makes the perfect foil for the stars he interviews, both on the radio and in his award-winning live series “Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway Chatterbox.” He has a way of disarming his interviewees and making his audience feel like they’re eavesdropping on a friendly chat between friends.
In an interview with The Times back in July, Mr. Rudetsky said, “If someone gives me a too-careful answer, I start digging for the real story.”
Ms. McDonald and Mr. Rudetsky have great chemistry onstage, owed, in part, to their shared history.
“We’ve performed together for years,” Ms. McDonald said in a recent phone interview. “Seth has been a friend of mine for over 20 years. I’m very comfortable with him. When he interviews you, it’s always fun.”
Mr. Rudetsky will likely throw his longtime friend a few curveballs between songs. “Seth decides in the moment,” Ms. McDonald said. “You really don’t know. It makes it a lot of fun.”
Ms. McDonald has an eclectic song list from which to select. She is known for her roles in Broadway productions of “Carousel,” “Ragtime,” “Porgy and Bess,” and for her critically acclaimed portrayal of Billie Holliday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.”
When asked if she might pull out something special in honor of the First Family, Ms. McDonald noted that she has performed for the Obamas a few times already, including a full concert at the White House. “I’ll have to make sure it’s not something that I’ve sung for them before,” she said. “I don’t want them to think, ‘Not that again.’”
It’s unlikely they would.