LAKE FOREST — Kathy Sparrenberger may not be a household name, but you’ve probably heard her voice.
A professional singer for 30 years and a Lake Forest resident for the past 20, Sparrenberger sings in commercials, movies and occasionally on stage.
Sparrenberger will offer one of those live performances at 8 p.m. February 25 at the John and Nancy Hughes Theater at the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest, giving the audience music from Dionne Warwick, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand, Karen Carpenter and more.
“They are my favorite pop divas,” said Sparrenberger. “I sing their music in their style. I’m not imitating them. It’s my voice but their style.”
On at least one occasion Sparrenberger’s job was imitation.
“I dubbed a few lines in a movie for Julie Andrews,” said Sparrenberger.
At the time she was working on the movie set of Unconditional Love in Chicago where Andrews was playing herself. At one point in the film Andrews was to sing “My Favorite Things” from Sound of Music. The problem was Andrews’ voice no longer sounds like it did when she played Maria.
Sparrenberger said she knew she could handle the task of dubbing Andrews’ voice. There was one problem. She did not know how to communicate it to director PJ Horgan. She also knew one rule about movie sets.
“You’re not supposed to talk to the director,” said Sparrenberger. She knew the musical director. “You can tell the director I can do Julie Andrews. They took a break and (the director) motioned me in.” Her work was perfect. “You couldn’t tell it wasn’t her.”
The scene never made it into the movie. Sparrenberger said it ended up on the cutting room floor.
The show at Gorton, dubbed “Viva la Diva! Encore” will not be about imitation but it will be about singing a lot of music performed by top female pop artists over the years. Sparrenberger has done it once before in 2015. Choosing to perform on state was not easy for her.
“If you don’t do something that makes you uncomfortable you’re not living your life,” said Sparrenberger. “I get nervous singing in church,” she added, referring to Christ Church in Lake Forest where she belongs.
“I had fun doing it,” said Sparrenberger of putting the Gorton show together. “I was not sure what I was going to do but I know what I can do.”
Accompanying Sparrenberger will be Rich Maisel, a Highland Park native and Mettawa resident. He is a studio musician who, like her, has done hundreds of commercials.
Sparrenberger comes by her talent naturally. Her great-grandfather, Otis Harland, was the voice of Happy, one of the seven dwarfs in the original 1937 Walt Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He did the singing as well as talking voice of Happy.
“He did over 100 musicals and movies,” said Sparrenberger. “He was the original Captain Andy in Showboat. He was the mole in Bambi.”
Sparrenberger said that in Snow White, Harland made history along with the six other dwarfs. While hiring well known actors to give voices to animated characters is commonplace today, she said, Show White was the first motion picture to institute the practice.
Among more than 1,000 commercials Sparrenberger has made, she said one of her favorites was providing the cat’s singing voice in the Meow Mix spot. Commercials have been one of the mainstays of her career. She has also done Double Mint Gum and Coca Cola.
And there have been brushes with famous stars when they come to Chicago and need local singers to supplement their shows.
“I’ve sung with Carole King when she was in town,” said Sparrenberger. “There was Michael Bolton too. I opened for Elton John at a private bash.”
The “private bash” was billionaire Sam Zell’s 75th birthday party, according to an Oct. 1 Crain’s Chicago Business story. Zell flew John into Chicago to entertain his 800 guests. Sparrenberger said she only knew she was the opening act but did not know about John.
“They took us there on buses,” said Sparrenberger. “They didn’t tell us much. We did our opening act. The next thing I knew Elton John was on stage.”