by Eric Andrews-Katz -
SGN A&E Writer
Kristin Chenoweth in Concert
Kristin Chenoweth stands only 4'11', but she packs a huge punch. Her career is as eclectic as her choices of material, and she has never disappointed. She is the triple threat appearing on Broadway (Wicked), movies (Stranger Than Fiction), and television (the hit series GCB), proving she is a force to be reckoned with. Whether it's singing Broadway, gospel, country, or opera, her gregarious personality and incredibly strong voice can't help but impress. In preparation for her first national concert tour - starting off in Seattle - this devoutly spiritual woman and long-time advocate of LGBT equality spoke to the Seattle Gay News about her career, her choices, and her upcoming national tour.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Kristin Chenoweth: I would have to say Sandi Patty - who was a Christian singer - Dolly Parton, Sally Fields, Madeline Kahn, and Julie Andrews.
Andrews-Katz: You made your Broadway debut in Kander/Ebb's Steel Pier. How did you come to audition for the dance marathon musical?
Chenoweth: My agent called when I was in Minneapolis doing Babes in Arms, saying I had the audition. They were looking for a tall chorine who sang high C. I thought, 'I'm not tall, but I'll go in anyway.' I sang a little aria for John [Kander], Fred [Ebb], and Susan [Stroman], and they had me come back and do some dancing. After that I didn't hear anything and so went through the mourning process of not getting the part. Two weeks later I got the call and was like, 'What? They cast me!' It was a dream come true. I had done a play in New York, but not a musical, and music was my arms and legs. I wanted to do this show. I got to sing an aria they wrote specifically for me. It was like the olden days of musicals when they wrote for a particular person. Now they just plug people into the role and it's not the same.
Andrews-Katz: For You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, you played Sally, a character who wasn't in the original production. How much influence did you have on creation of the character?
Chenoweth: I had a lot of freedom there because of the director, Michael Mayer (Smash). He just gave me free rein so I could find the part. We looked over the original drawings by Charles M. Schulz, and I got to try things out on different audiences out of town, to see how it worked. It's a rare and wonderful opportunity for an actor to get that chance. It will never happen in that special way again because it was a first kind of a big deal. I always thank Michael for that opportunity.
Andrews-Katz: Pushing Daisies won seven Emmy Awards, including two personal nominations, and an Emmy win for you playing Olive Snook, a waitress at the Pie Hole. Critics applauded it. It was popular. The storyline was consistently good. Why wasn't it picked up?
Chenoweth: It was a sacrifice from the writers' strike. We were finding our way, and it was a unique show and I wanted to be a part of it. But the strike interrupted us and when we came back, ABC didn't advertise it as much, and then it kind of was hard to sustain what we found. I understand unions have to take care of their business, but it was a sacrifice, and that's a real bummer. I think we would have found our fullest and most wonderful audiences if we were given the opportunity.
Andrews-Katz: In April of 2010, Newsweek ran an article that attacked your Promises, Promises costar Sean Hayes [among other Gay actors], saying he was too Gay to play a heterosexual romantic lead. You wrote a now infamous letter back. What kind of reaction did you see to your response?
Chenoweth: I remember reading that article between shows, and I tried to take a nap between the performances. I just couldn't. I wanted to write down my feelings. My goal was never to take on the magazine, because that wasn't my initial reaction. Anyone who has ever played a role that was different from who they really are knows what it means; it's called 'acting.' I got furious and wrote this letter. I talked to my manager about it, never intending to send it, but then I did. I never thought they'd actually print it. I wanted my feelings to be known. The next thing I know it was printed - to the credit of the magazine - and I was just so happy to hear that. Not just for Sean, but for anyone Gay playing a straight character. I've played a prostitute, and I'm not one! They were attacking the idea that we can't be one thing and play something else. I was glad it went out there. I never thought it would get so much press, but if it starts a discussion, then I'm happy. Also, I think something happens when you turn 40. You don't care as much. I will always care what people think of me because I'm human, but I just think you feel less about it when you turn 40, and start living in your own shoes. It's not backing down from who you are or the way God made you!
Andrews-Katz: You were twice Emmy nominated for your appearance on Glee. In what ways do you identify with your character, April Rhodes? And will we be seeing her again?
Chenoweth: I don't know if we will see her again, but I would love to reprise that role. She was very different from me. It goes back to the previous comment; we can play someone other than who we are. She's a drunk and says inappropriate things a lot of the time. I think the audience just loved her for that. There is a small person in there, and we are just humans doing the best we can. I feel that way and I make mistakes. I just hope I can be forgiven when I do those things. That's the part of her we identify with; her heart is in the right place.
Andrews-Katz: What is it about Carlene Cockburn of your new series GCB that made you decide this role was for you?
Chenoweth: I think I wanted people to see that you can be a person of faith - any faith - and still struggle with issues of good and evil. Are you going to choose the right path? Are you careful about the things you are you saying? Carlene gets it in her own way; she doesn't always make the right decisions. People can relate to her. She was bullied and not wanting to deal with it. She finds a place with a little axe to grind, and has guilt because of it. She's a little bit of a villain. And besides, I didn't want anyone else playing her!
Andrews-Katz: Do you think the affluent societies of Texas recognize themselves in the show, or is the humor lost on them?
Chenoweth: I think there's a little bit of both there. I've gotten some tweets that say 'That's not funny!' and 'I think you're taking yourself too seriously.' Then I get those that say, 'You nailed it! That's it exactly!' I love it. I think people generally understand the good sense of humor. After all, [GCB] is a comedy sendup, it's a screwball comedy. It's pure chocolate cake.
Andrews-Katz: Being this is your first national concert tour, how did you pick the music for the venue, and what can audiences expect to hear?
Chenoweth: Obviously I want to do music that people know me for - there's always a bit of a disappointment if you don't. It's like going to see Barbra Streisand and her not singing 'People' - I wouldn't be happy! We [performers] are responsible for challenging ourselves and doing work out of the box and making different choices. There will be some surprise things that won't be expected, and also some things off my latest album. I play instruments and dance, but one thing I love to do is entertain. There will be a little bit of everything - opera, country, Broadway. The biggest challenge will be for me to stay healthy so I can do all the things I want. Of course I will sing 'Popular,' but it might be done in a different way than what you're used to.
Andrews-Katz: When singing for your own enjoyment, is there a particular style or composer you prefer?
Chenoweth: That's a great question! Yeah, definitely. I love Jerome Kern. I have been drawn to his music since I was in college. My professor introduced me to a whole different style. It wasn't just Madonna, it was the music of the '30s and '40s, and Leonard Bernstein and Puccini - all the great classics. We have a lot of musicians and music choices today, but there is something that harkens back to that composer and lyrics that I just love. I will be doing some in the concert. I was sort of born to sing his music.
Andrews-Katz: What roles, regardless of gender, would you like to play?
Chenoweth: I've always wanted to sing 'Soliloquy' [from Carousel], but doubt I'll get that chance. I've also always wanted to play Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, but I have two strikes against me there.
Andrews-Katz: How do you feel about being called a Gay icon?
Chenoweth: It's such a big honor. There are a lot of things I want people to say about me after I die. But for me, that is the most important one!
Kristin Chenoweth originates from Oklahoma, where she received a master's degree in opera as well as being first runner-up for Miss Oklahoma. Since her Broadway debut in 1997, she has appeared in six Broadway shows and the Great Performances presentation of Candide in the role of Cunegonde, singing the classic 'Glitter and Be Gay.' The release of her latest CD, Some Lessons Learned, marks her fifth solo disc aside from her various cast recordings. Her autobiography, A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages, was released in 2010. This is her first national concert tour, beginning in Seattle and ending in her hometown of Tulsa.
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