Ever since Kennedy burst on the Broadway scene in Sunset Boulevard (she was in the ensemble and stood by as Betty), she’s seldom been unoccupied–she stood by as Daisy Hilton in Side Show and drew tears as Fantine in the closing cast of Les Miserables. One of her best-known roles was inThe Last Five Years; she originated the role of the vulnerable Cathy in the Chicago premiere of the show. She has nothing but praise for Jason Robert Brown: “I think he’s the most talented human being on the earth! His music speaks to me, and I think my work with him has made me a better artist.” While she calls The Last Five Years “one of the greatest experiences of my career,” Kennedy withdrew from the New York production (the role would go to Sherie RenĂ© Scott) to headline Trevor Nunn’s high-profile London staging of South Pacific, but frequently performs in concert with Brown and has even devoted her solo CD to his songs. As for South Pacific, the relative unknown met the challenge of carrying a big-budget show in another country with aplomb: “I went over there to learn something, and I really did it. It was a beautiful time for me, and Trevor was so supportive.”

Zelda Fitzgerald is probably Kennedy’s meatiest role yet. A vivacious flapper who struggled with mental illness and creative envy (she was an artist, writer, and dancer), Zelda is hardly the average ingenue role. Kennedy, who calls the icon “fascinating and complex,” did a good amount of research, but spiked it with imagination: “Because the show doesn’t follow their lives so strictly, I still wanted to capture what made her tick.” Kennedy says of Zelda, “I find it so interesting that she was an early pioneer for independent women, but was also stuck in some traditional Southern roles.” Kennedy says that was able to find much common ground with Zelda–aside from the mental instability.