Kristin Chenoweth: No Rest For The Wicked
You might know Kristin Chenoweth as popular girl Glinda the Good Witch in the original cast of Wicked, the long-running musical retelling of The Wizard of Oz. You may know her from one of her numerous TV roles. Maybe you've sung along to one of her seven albums. In a conversation with Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg at the Cullen Performance Hall in Houston, Texas, Kristin Chenoweth shares how her operatic plans turned into an award-winning career in musical theater and television.
The classically-trained singer's road to the big stage began in 1993, when she followed a friend to New York City to try out for Animal Crackers, a musical originally starring the Marx Brothers. Despite her choice to sing a tonally-incongruous opera piece in her audition, Chenoweth landed the role. That production jump-started a career in show business going on nearly 30 years. In 1999, Chenoweth won a Tony Award for her role as Sally Brown in the 1999 Broadway revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and was nominated in 2004 for Wicked, along with her co-star, Idina Menzel. In-between her work on stage, Chenoweth appeared on The West Wing, Glee, and Pushing Daisies, where she won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of Olive Snook.
Chenoweth's latest and seventh album, For The Girls, is an ode to women — the singers and songwriters that inspired her across popular music, including Barbara Streisand, Linda Rondstadt, and Dinah Washington. "Women are having such a revolution renaissance," she told Eisenberg on stage. "Though, I feel like we've always been strong — but that's another story." The album features duets with singers like Jennifer Hudson and Reba McEntire. Chenoweth described the album's origin to be somewhat accidental; she wrote down roughly 200 songs she wanted to put her own take on and realized, "a lot of them were female driven... This wasn't even on purpose, but maybe it's the universe talking."
For her Ask Me Another challenge, Kristin Chenoweth played a game called "We're Gonna Make You Sing Now," where she sang the titles of hit Broadway shows.
On getting cast in Animal Crackers:
In one of Chenoweth's first auditions in New York City, she waited outside for 8 hours, watching actors come and go. Finally, at 5 p.m., she got her chance.
"I went in, and auditioned. I sang an opera piece. Which is inappropriate for a show called Animal Crackers, about the Marx brothers. Welcome to my brain!"
The person running the audition asked her to demonstrate some more relevant skills:
"[He] said, 'Do you have something belty and up-tempo?' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Can you dance?' I said, 'yes.' He said, 'Can you act?' I said, 'I don't know. Maybe. You give me the scene and we'll find out.' I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't know that was probably un-cool to say. I did the scene, and got the part. [And then] he said, 'Who's your agent?' I said, 'My dad... I don't have one.'"
On getting stuck in the Bubble while rehearsing for Broadway's Wicked:
As Glinda The Good Witch, Chenoweth entered each show from the top of the theater in a giant bubble. Chenoweth recalls a time during tech-week when she was forgotten about inside the bubble, and had to use a show-stopping technique to get someone's attention.
"One day during the rehearsal, they forgot about me. And I thought, 'They're still rehearsing... hello?' And no one heard. So I went, [sings] 'Hellooooooo?' And then I remember one of our ensemble members... kinda looked around, and then looked up and goes, 'Oh my gosh...Kristin!' And then, slowly, the bubble came down. In fact, I'm still in the bubble, I'm pretty sure."
On singing "I Will Always Love You" with Dolly Parton on Chenoweth's new album, For The Girls:
Chenoweth originally asked Dolly Parton to sing "Here You Come Again," famously performed by Parton and written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Parton had another idea for the duet.
"She said, 'If I'm gonna do it with you, I'm gonna do a song I wrote.' Smaaart. Still learning, right? She said, 'Why don't we do 'I Will Always Love You'? And I did the ugly cry, my hair extensions fell out... and then we did it. Isn't that cool? I grew up loving her, and even still, she's it."
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