Kristin Chenoweth is nothing short of Broadway royalty. Having won both an Emmy (Pushing Daisies) and a Tony (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and most recently presented and performed at the Oscars, she flits between stage, film and TV work with apparent ease and boasts one of the world’s most distinctive (four-octave) voices. Perhaps best known for creating the rôle of Glinda in the original Broadway cast of Wicked, thediminutivestar is set to perform solo concerts in four UK cities this month. Lucy Thackray chatted with Kristin about her chameleonic career, mentors, family and grabbing life’s big chances.
Are you excited about coming to the UK?
I can’t wait, I’m so excited.
What can your UK fans expect from your concerts?
I am going to be performing everything from country music to pop to disco to Broadway, original things I’ve written, operatic things… I do a lot of different things!
Are you performing with an orchestra or a more intimate band?
It’ll be probably an eleven or twelve-piece, so bigger than your normal sort of quartet. I would love to have a full orchestra, but I have a feeling these guys are going to play like there’s 65 of ’em.
Who comes with you on tour?
I usually have my conductor and my assistant, but this time I’m actually going to bring my parents. When I was there nine years ago doing the Divas at the Donmar series that Sam Mendes started, they came to that and we had such a good time that, when this opportunity came, they wanted to come.
You straddle the worlds of musical theatre, film and TV better than most – how do you think you’ve achieved such a versatile career?
I think the main thing is that I’m willing to put myself in many different rôles. I’m also lucky that I can sing, so when I’m not working on a movie or TV show I can do Broadway or concerts – and that’s what I love the most out of everything, the concerts. I don’t want to be typecast, so I put myself out there in many different ways; each character I’ve played has been so different and, as an artist,I love that. I think honestly that’s why I love concerts. Though I am myself and not hiding behind a rôle, I’ve picked all the music and each song means something to me. I don’t just pick it randomly because I love to sing it or I like the way it sounds in my voice, but because it means something to me. The cost of doing all those types of music in two and a half hours is great, but it’s so worth it, vocally and artistically, to get to challenge myself. That’s what I aim for. A lot of artists say that, but I really, really do. I have not married and have not had children and people say, ‘Was that by choice?’ In some ways, maybe. Because I’m not obsessed with my career, but I love it and I love to challenge myself. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few years.
You have a phenomenal voice. Is it true that you started off singing in church and then studied opera before getting into musicals?
That’s exactly what happened. I started in church… my parents were hell-bent on me having a normal kid childhood – they’re engineers, they’re not in this business, thank God. They just wanted me to be me and I’m really thankful now; I don’t know that I would have stuck with it if I’d had pushy parents. So I was a regular kid, and then my dad said, ‘I don’t care what you do, but you have to go to college’. It was there [at Oklahoma City University] that I met my mentor and she opened up my voice operatically, which enabled me to sing whatever I want to sing. Her name is Florence Birdwell and to this day we’re very close. She’s older now, but still teaching on a very light basis, and I just love her. I feel so fortunate to have had her because she was a game changer for me.
You have a natural flair for comedy. It must be such fun working on shows like Pushing Daisies and Glee where you get to be a little playful.
I love the arc of a character anytime, whether its a TV show or a musical or whatever. Certainly with Pushing Daisies I loved playing the character that just can’t understand why she can’t get the guy… I know a lot of women who have felt like that at some point in their life! I loved the background to that show, which is that two people who love each other can’t touch. With Glee, it was something so very different for me. She was a drunk – I’m not sure why they thought of me! – but it was such a fun part. I miss it, I haven’t been back to Glee in nearly a year.
Is it really as fun to film as it looks?
It is, it’s so fun. I think there’s a misconception that it’s easy because, thankfully, the cast makes it look so easy but all the hard work that goes into rehearsing and choreographing a number… that’s a lot of time. It’s well worth it, for sure – people love it, and I loved it – but it’s not just showing up to film, you know? You rehearse and rehearse and rehearse before you ever get on set.
One of the things you’re best known for here isWicked. Tell me a bit about how you came to be involved with that.
Well, I got a call around 2001 from the composer himself, Stephen Schwartz, asking me to come and do a workshop of this musical. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do – I thought, ‘Is he asking me to play a munchkin, or what?’ because I’m not the tallest. But he explained it to me and I knew right there it was going to be special. And then I read it, and we began a two-year odyssey of workshops and refining the show. Originally, the story was very much about Elphaba and Fiyero and I think, over time, they realised the real love story was between these two women. The rôles began to grow and evolve and a lot of things were told from different viewpoints. I loved [Glinda]. I miss her. I’m very proud that the show is such a juggernaut and has reached so many people. Sometimes I forget that. When I was growing up, it was Les Mis and Phantom, and I realise that one of those shows now is Wicked. I’m very honoured and humbled by that and just so happy that it continues to this day.
Did you enjoy doing the Oscars this year?
I was very nervous about being a host – I did the red carpet before for two hours, interviewing nominees. I was scared and I didn’t want to do it at first because its not how I see myself, but I realised that it gave me a chance to talk to my friends and it could be a lot of fun, so I just embraced it and went with it. And I had a really good time. Singing at the end with Seth [McFarlane] was wonderful – I’m not sure how he was received over there, but he’s a wonderful singer and very funny. You know, any time you get to do something of that magnitude, you just have to go with it and have a good time, because life is short and it’s not every day you get asked to sing at the Oscars. At the end of the day, I’ve gotten to sing at the Oscars, I’ve sung for several Presidents and your Queen… and I’ve had a ball, I’ve had a great time.
Who would be your dream duet partner?
Right now? Josh Groban.
Kristin Chenoweth performs at venues across the UK from 11th – 17th March. www.kristinuk.com