NEW YORK — At Ripley-Grier Studios, a cramped rehearsal space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, girls dressed in leotards dart in and out of the lobby to and from dance lessons, pretending not to notice the mighty star in their midst.
Tony-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth — all 4 feet, 11 inches and 91 pounds of her — sits patiently alongside the stage mothers, waiting for a pianist to arrive. If, like the aspiring performers around her, Chenoweth is a little anxious, it’s with good reason: Less than four months after a freak accident on the set of “The Good Wife” left her with a litany of head and body injuries, she’s returning to the stage.
Chenoweth is set to appear Nov. 5 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. She’ll follow that with concerts in Sacramento (Nov. 7) and Fresno (Nov. 9). Although the Orange County gig won’t be her first public performance since the accident, it will be her longest, by far — a 90-minute, two-act show spanning musical genres.
“I have never been so nervous in my life,” Chenoweth says.
The tumultuous saga began in July when, on her third day of work on the CBS legal drama, Chenoweth was planning to celebrate free Slurpee day with a visit to a nearby 7-Eleven.
Instead she wound up in the hospital with a 5-inch skull fracture, a broken nose, three cracked teeth, torn neck muscles and several cracked ribs after a piece of lighting equipment fell about 35 feet during the outdoor shoot, knocking Chenoweth onto the sidewalk.
“It was a life-changing event,” she says.
The injuries put a screeching halt to Chenoweth’s breakneck (no pun intended) schedule. Not only was she forced to pull out of a four-episode guest stint on “The Good Wife,” she also had to scrap plans to do two films and a performance at Royal Albert Hall in London.
For a consummate multi-tasker like Chenoweth, 44, who’s spent the last 15 years bouncing from Broadway to television to film roles plus concert performances with little time off in between, the accident was a rude awakening.
“I went from 200 miles per hour to zero. I’ve had to reevaluate my life, to be honest,” Chenoweth says, her soft, high-pitched voice fading almost to a whisper. It was especially painful that she’d been stopped in her tracks just as she’d come off a critically successful 19-city concert tour that she describes as one of the most artistically fulfilling experiences of her career.
“For a while it was why me, why me, why me?” she says.
Adding to Chenoweth’s disappointment was the recent cancellation of her controversial ABC series, “GCB,” which centered on a group of squabbling Southern churchgoers — a subject dear to the Oklahoma native, who cut her teeth singing in the church choir. “It killed me,” she says of the show’s end.
Chenoweth recalls a conversation with her neurologist shortly after the accident. “He said, ‘You won’t be back to work for a couple of months.’ I laughed at him. I’ve gone on with a broken leg, toes, the flu.”
For a while she had to wear a neck brace, and it took two long months before she was even able to sing again.
But now there’s little outward indication of the trauma, other than a faint scar on the back of her head.
On this miserable, rainy afternoon in New York, Chenoweth is decked out in a look that can only be described as “pragmatic glamour puss": gray leggings and an oversized sweater paired with towering high-heeled Hunter boots. Yet even with the vertiginous footwear, Chenoweth moves with decided ease, gesticulating dramatically as she belts out “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Chenoweth is perhaps best known for her work on Broadway, where she originated the role of Glinda in the musical “Wicked,” but the lineup for her upcoming show reflects the dizzying breadth of her repertoire: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander and Ebb will be included, of course, but so too will Offenbach and Bacharach. There’s even a little country. Chenoweth plans to sing one of her own numbers, “What Would Dolly Do?” — a.k.a. “W.W. Double-D” — a tribute to her busty idol, Dolly Parton.
The one thing she’s had to scale back is the sheer physicality of her performance. There won’t be any handstands or tap routines — not this time anyway — but Chenoweth promises the concerts will be far more than just her and a piano.
And although Chenoweth is consciously trying to slow her pace these days, she’s certainly keeping her calendar full. After her swing through California, she’ll co-host the American Country Awards with Trace Adkins. In March, she’s off to London for more concerts. In between, she’ll try on a new hat as a producer, trying to get several theater and TV projects off the ground. “I have ideas, and a couple of them some people think are pretty decent,” she says.
“I just keep looking for ways to make myself a better artist. That’s all I care about.”
Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5
Tickets: $37.50 to $139.50
Information: (714) 556-2787 or https://www.scfta.org