Siren of the stage and screen—both silver and small—Kristin Chenoweth has been entertaining audiences since she started performing as a child in her native Oklahoma. A veteran Broadway per- former who originated the role of Glinda in the wildly popular show Wicked, she’s also appeared in several films and television shows, including turns on The West Wing and Glee. She was also recently announced to be joining the cast of Starz’s upcoming series American Gods, where she’ll reunite with show creator Bryan Fuller, whom she worked with on the acclaimed drama Pushing Daisies.
On the heels of her 48th birthday, Chenoweth’s summer tour will make a two-night stop at the Borgata in Atlantic City on Aug. 19 and 20. South Jersey Magazine got the chance to speak with her about some of her favorite roles, her desire to be proud of her work and why exposing young people to the arts will be her greatest legacy.
SOUTH JERSEY MAGAZINE: When did you first realize you could not only sing, but sing really well?KRISTIN CHENOWETH: I was in the third grade when I got my first solo—in church. I felt the spirit within me. I felt the audience reaction and I knew that was it. That was everything. I never looked back. I don’t know how to not be an artist. I honestly don’t.
SJM: You just celebrated your 48th birthday, did you do any- thing exciting to mark the occasion?
KC: Birthdays are fun and amazing. I had dinner with my nearest and dearest. I just [like spending] time with close friends. Life is short. I don’t need presents. I need time.
SJM: So what can you tell fans about the upcoming A.C. performances, what can fans expect?
KC: My fans will get everything they want from me. People that are drug along for the night will hopefully like the wide variety. I just want to have fun. If I do, hopefully the audience does.
SJM: Do you have to take a different approach to a show when performing for a casino crowd, is it a different vibe in the room?
KC: I’ve discovered that making the audience happy and entertaining is what counts, not the place. The audience will come along for the ride if we entertain. That’s always my goal. Whether a casino or an opera house.
SJM: You performed on stage and on screen, in what ways are they similar and how do they differ?
KC: Making a movie or TV show or a Broadway show is very close. Just play the character and it’s a win. Dialing back for movies or TV is the key. I love all kinds of work. I’m so honored and thankful to get paid to do what I love.
SJM: Is that instant reaction performing in front of a live audience something a stage actor feeds on?
KC: I’m a creature of the live audience. That’s my drug, if you will. Making music is the single happiest pleasure in my life. I am constantly changing my show and changing material. I consider that fun. I could never “phone it in” as they say. I simply don’t know how to do that. The audience feeds me. Hopefully I feed them and it keeps going, full circle.
SJM: What have been some of your favorite roles, either on stage or on screen, in your career thus far?
KC: [Some of] my favorite roles are Lily Garland in On the Twentieth Century on Broadway, as well as Cunegonde in Candide. I also loved playing Olive on the TV show Pushing Daises. Frankly it’s hard to pick. I never take on a role I don’t feel connected to. What would be the point?
SJM: Is there a role or type of character you haven’t gotten the chance to play that you would like to tackle?
KC: There are certainly roles I see in my future. I would love to play Mame or Hello Dolly. I also think maybe the greatest role for me hasn’t been written yet.
SJM: Growing up in Oklahoma, what was the arts scene like, how did you find your way into it?
KC: I had the rare opportunity to come to New York City with a job at The Paper Mill Playhouse. I didn’t realize how lucky I was way back then. Since then I’ve come to understand how cool that was. I got my first agent and never looked back to a world without performing.
SJM: You’ve won an Emmy and a Tony, how far off until you capture the elusive Grammy and Oscar as well?
KC: As far as any award I’ve won; I see now just how lucky I am. That hard work combined with the right roles has been rewarding. Now I just look to be “rewarded” by my work. Sure any awards are amazing, but I can’t even think of that when taking on a new album or role. It’s just simply about making something great and being proud of it.
SJM: You and Alan Cumming co-hosted the 2015 Tony Awards. What was that experience like being on the other side of the curtain so to speak?
KC: Alan Cumming and I were a team that banded together and it was a great experience. I’m honored they asked us. I couldn’t have done it without him. He’s a great talent and he makes me better.
SJM: Wicked has become such an iconic show, to have played such a big role in its rise in popularity, when you look back on it was its success something you envisioned back then?
KC: I kind of had this feeling that Wicked would be a hit. But I’m just happy it struck a chord with a lot of folks, and not just people in theater. I’m so happy I’m associated with such a juggernaut. I am proud of it still. After 13 years it remains up there with the highlights of my life. Thank you Glinda!
SJM: You’ve talked about being adopted before and your positive experiences, but I also read that you had a unique encounter with a woman who might have been your birth mother, could you explain?
KC: I don’t want to go into too much on my private adoption life. But it’s there and people know it. And all I will say is I have a great family. And I love that my birth mom loved me so much to try to give me a good life. I am a lucky girl.
SJM: You’ve been to A.C. before, any memorable moments or stories you can share?
KC: I wanted more than anything to win Miss Oklahoma when I was Miss OCU in college. I wanted to come to Atlantic City. I wanted to see the Steel Pier. I wanted to be there. Now I get my chance, just not as Miss America. I plan on having fun, if you catch my drift.
SJM: How excited were you to launch your own jewelry collection?
KC: Designing jewelry for HSN has given me yet another creative outlet. Obviously I’m a woman; we love jewelry [laughs]. I’ve been designing for a long time. I have my stamp of creativity on all the pieces. I have fun drawing and thinking about it. I hope to keep doing it. It’s fun. It makes me happy when I see people wearing it.
SJM: Through your partnership with Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center, you are bringing theater to your hometown. Why do you believe the arts are important for today’s youth?
KC: I know the arts changes lives, period. It certainly changed mine. I felt sort of singular in my love for musical theater. Now there is a theater with my name on it in my hometown. That comes with responsibilities of inspiring young people. And then of course, they inspire me. It’s my legacy and my greatest pleasure to see the growth.
SJM: Tell us about life with Meniere’s disease, what kind of difficulties does it present in your everyday life?
KC: Having Meniere’s is my greatest Achilles heel. An inner ear problem that causes vertigo and migraines, I feel for any person who battles it. I have good days and bad days. I wish there was a cure. But for now rest and watching sodium is my key, and sleeping on an incline, which stinks. There have been some days I can’t even walk. It’s those times that frustrate me because it stops me in my tracks. Those people that have it know what I’m talking about. A lot of people struggle with different things though so I guess it helps me remember everyone has their pain to deal with. I just hate it though. I hate it.
SJM: What upcoming projects are on the horizon, anything you can share with us?
KC: There are many things I have left to do. The main one? To keep singing and acting and creating. Living the life of an artist is a challenge, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything. Otherwise, I’m working on an album and upcoming tour dates and some TV. Lots of good stuff, lots of good times.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 5 (August, 2016).
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