Kristin Chenoweth :: Changed for the Better
I often frame my experiences with music, and preparing for this interview I
kept hearing, "This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine..."
I suppose it’s in reference to size for this particular story, though like many people who are shorter in stature (I can attest to this because my mother is one of them at 4’11") it isn’t really about height, it is really more about the light that shines through. One could suppose, perhaps, that the extra glimmer might be there to make up for a little of the toe to head distance. I prefer to believe it’s because so much brilliance is packed into such a petite frame.
Though, in the case of Kristin Chenoweth, it really isn’t just a little glow... her "shine" literally blows off the barn doors. There is so much talent packed into this spitfire, it really is hard not to get caught up in her exuberance. Some may dismiss her with the pejorative "perky," but when she opens her mouth to sing, there is no way to shutter the power of this classically-trained, yet atypical coloratura soprano, as attested to by her popularity and many award-winning performances.
Her skills are indeed so wide-ranging (pun-intended), be it opera classics, Broadway hits, live performance or acting for film or television, including her latest foray into country music, it makes for a bit of a challenge to know on which to focus. From her first years singing on Broadway through her many accolades and awards, this woman has pushed far beyond her Oklahoma roots, though is still anchored by them. Strong Christian roots that have helped weather many a storm and continue to guide - but in no way limit her.
As she has said, "I think it’s important to remember that Christianity was based in love and tolerance and forgiveness and acceptance." Something that has shown itself in her steadfast support of LGBT causes and the many other issues she puts her considerable talent behind.
The following is a bit of the conversation we recently had:
It’s been a crazy year for you this year hasn’t it?
Yes, it’s been wonderfully busy and exciting and full of artistic challenges and creative amazingness. And to top it off, now the Hollywood Bowl - I’m like, what? - Are they sure?
I’m excited to see you there, you will be my introduction to the Hollywood Bowl, I’ve never had the chance to attend a performance there.
Oh, I’m so glad that you’re coming to see the show! It’s going to be so amazing and I get to be inducted with The Go-Gos and Pink Martini, both of whom I love, love, love!
I am so very honored to receive the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame Award. I still kind of think to myself, "Is this for real? Did they make a mistake?" I am very flattered to be a part of it because of all of the amazing people who have come before.
I have to pinch myself often (laughs).
I’m curious about where you grew up. Broken Arrow, correct? I love the name by the way!
I know; it’s funny isn’t it? It’s just outside of Tulsa. It’s a farming town and I wouldn’t trade growing up there for anything in the world. It’s a place with a real sense of community; people are really there for each other. Even though sometimes they kinda get into your business (laughs).
It’s sort of "Friday Night Lights" land. It wasn’t filled with much of an art focus, it was mostly sports, but I loved it and still do. My parents now live in Norman, OK where Oklahoma University is, and I go back whenever I can. I’m very proud of being from Oklahoma.
What was the single most significant thing that made you decide to pursue music?
Hmmm, I always knew that I wanted to perform and loved being on stage. Though my original dream was to be a ballerina. I was cast in "The Nutcracker" at the Tulsa Ballet Company, which is our professional company there and I was too little to fit into the mouse costume. That was kind of the "fun" part. I ended up getting fitted into a rabbit costume, whose job really is to just sit by Clara all of act two - just sit there (laughs).
I was devastated because I thought I wasn’t going to get the chance to dance. During the show one of the Sugar Plum Fairies was dancing with her little vine and dropped it. The stage was clear for a second with that little vine right in the middle and I remember thinking, "What would a bunny do?" So I hopped out there, put it in my mouth and hopped back (laughs) and the audience went insane.
In mind at that moment, I thought, "I’m supposed to be on stage forever, this is what I am supposed to do!" That’s kind of how it happened. Music was such a big part of growing up too, obviously, I also always sang in church.
Religious music is the starting place for many isn’t it?
Church was a very big part of life for me and really still is.
I read that you studied with the Metropolitan Opera at some point. Is that correct?
I actually earned my master’s degree in opera at Oklahoma City University under Miss Florence Birdwell, who is very good and has had a lot of very famous students. At that time I auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera and I placed in the finals for that, back when I was 21.
I was on the path to become an opera singer, but I guess I kind of got sidetracked by Broadway (laughs). You know, I was always an actress first. It is what always made me the happiest.
That’s a question I often ask of performers, are you a musician first or an actor?
I will always be a musician because really that is how it all began, with church and all of those early experiences. I am a dancer as well, but I think in many ways I’m an actress first. The roles that I have played have been very different and quite diverse; I’ve been lucky that way.
You have had an extremely broad career, with many unique roles and challenges.
It’s been so interesting when I look back. Sort of "I didn’t see that role coming and I didn’t see that one coming." I feel very lucky about that because I haven’t been typecast in that way - thank God.
Of course, there are things that I am most known for in my career [hello, "Wicked"], but I haven’t been typecast, which is great.
That’s an achievement in the performance business. It seems like it is very easy to get pigeonholed.
I know, I know. People want you to be a certain way a lot of times and when you don’t stay in your lane, people don’t know what to do with it. But I really like not staying in my lane, (laughs) that’s what keeps it interesting for me.
That is so true, it keeps it challenging, a little scary at times, but that’s a good thing!
Exactly right. It’s the same with me in all aspects of my life. You can see it in my concert work too, that’s why there is opera, musical theatre and country western, it’s all in there in my show.
Your latest album reflects that as well -- it was much more country than your previous works. It was unexpected.
That’s really how it all started for me, country music, because of growing up in Oklahoma. People have said to me, "You do country?" Really, that’s where it all began, that is where it started. I have always said that I had to do a country album because those are my roots and I am so glad that I did. And I really don’t feel like I’m done there, I want to do more.
There are so many songs that I wrote that didn’t make the cut, enough for me to do another whole album. I’m in transition sort of right now; I’m trying to figure out what the next phase is and what the next album will be. I am looking for the next big thing that I wanna be.
Tell me a little about your charity work with ASTEP (Artists Sharing To End Poverty). It’s a cause whose work I find vital and amazing.
That is my conductor Mary-Mitchell Campbell’s charity and basically it’s artists who are trying to end poverty around the world. It began in India where she started an orphanage there after the tsunami. Now it’s grown into many different countries, and I am so proud of her for starting it and also to be a part of it. I’m on the board and we just want everyone to know, through arts and education, that people can really learn to come into their own and find their true passion - even if it’s engineering or science.
Encouragement through arts and music can really spark someone’s passion for what the’re supposed to do, their purpose.
I couldn’t agree with you more on that. We sorely need to focus more on funding music and art programs.
Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.
On a personal note, I wanted to say how much I appreciate all of your support of the LGBT community. It really does make a difference!
Oh honey, you are so welcome. Of course, I wouldn’t think of doing anything else. We sure have come a long way haven’t we? We’re going to do this one state at a time. We are getting there!
For more information on all things Kristin Chenoweth check out
The Hollywood Bowl Opening Night Gala and her Hall of Fame induction are on Saturday, June 21. For more information on her performance go to hollywoodbowl.com