Interview by Scott Dowd. Entire contents copyright ©2013 Fearless Designs, Inc. All rights reserved.
Kristin Chenoweth is cute. She just is, and she owns it. She makes no attempt to hide her native Oklahoma accent, her faith or her political views. At 4 feet 11 inches, she stands out in the New York/Los Angeles circles she frequents. But she has no trouble separating herself from her professional persona. Over the years, the Tony and Emmy award-winning actress has populated the internet with some funny, humble and highly intelligent commentary on life. These quotes put me in mind of another Okie of Cherokee extraction, and I thought that would be as good a place as any to begin our conversation.
Scott Dowd: Did you hear much about Will Rogers growing up in Oklahoma?
Kristin Chenoweth: Never met a man I didn’t like? It actually applies to me too, so Will and I are on the same page. We literally had a Will Rogers course in grade school when I was growing up, so we learned a lot about him. One of the things I liked about his attitude is that he seemed very “chill.” That’s a great lesson for all of us. I can get myself worked up easily – really I can! You just have to remind yourself that everything is going to be okay.
SD: That always comes through when I am reading about you. You also have a strong faith component that undergirds your world view.
KC: Yes, I do. Being in this business, I never thought my faith would be something that would come up a lot. I’m proud of it – I never try to hide it. But, especially in New York and LA, people find it so interesting that I’m a Christian. Because where I’m from, it’s interesting if you’re not. Now, that doesn’t make me perfect. I foul up and I do enjoy a drink or two. But my faith is part of who I am.
SD: Another thing that sets you apart in your industry is your size.
KC: Yes, I am all of 4 feet 11 inches. The interesting thing about us shorter, petite women is that people usually don’t know we’re short until we’re standing up against somebody else. So I like to stand alone.
SD: Did that limit you early on?
KC: You know, it probably did. I’m sure there were times I didn’t get parts because I was too petite. I don’t remember hearing that though. I think it has probably been more of an attribute than a hindrance.
SD: How so?
KC: First of all, when you’re petite, people don’t necessarily think of you as being your age. They also might equate height with mental ability though! And – let’s be honest – I do have an interesting speaking voice. All of those things make me different. But it is who I am and I think it has probably helped me in my career.
SD: The thing I admire is that you haven’t allowed yourself to be typecast by any of the characteristics that set you apart.
KC: Thank you! I work very hard at that. I don’t want to be typecast and I still continue to take very diverse parts. Not just to challenge myself – because as artists we have to do that or lose our minds – but to show what all I can do.
SD: That sense of artistic fulfillment is important.
KC: Definitely. The older I get, the more I realize it is really about what makes you happy. That’s the point I’m at in my life now.
SD: One recent example of you working against character is the role you created on the television series Glee. How does An Evening With Kristin Chenoweth compare with Crossroads?
KC: Poor April. I think that you’ll see a little bit of that. There’s some Madeleine Kahn in my show; there’s some Leonard Bernstein; there’s some Judy Garland – who, by the way, was also 4 feet 11 inches! There are homages to people I admire. But with that comes the challenge of being able to sing all of it: belt, sing operatically, sing musical theatre, pop, country. I was raised on country music, and this show has all of it in there. You know there’s nothin’ wrong with just goin’ out there and just singin’…but that’s not what I do. There are stories and dancing and acting – it’s a show!
SD: This particular performance will be just a couple of days before Valentine’s Day. Will you make any adjustments for the holiday?
KC: You know, I might a little bit, because I love special assignments and I know that it is a time for those people in love. But I do have songs in my show that I think work for Valentine’s Day. I just performed a new concert for the Hollywood Bowl in August and revisited part of it for New Orleans, so there will always be new material. I change it up all the time because I like to continually be trying new music and things that speak to me that I would not normally get the opportunity to do. So there will be new things that pop in there for y’all’s show as well.
SD: There is certainly no shortage of great songs in the world. It would be a shame to just sing a dozen of them.
KC: Thank you! I can’t remember who said “There’s so many songs to sing and not enough time.” That’s the way I feel. But I do get nervous whenever I touch a classic. Recently, I’ve been singing Mancini’s “Moon River,” for example. I was nervous because my parents love the Andy Williams version. I happen to like The Killers’ version, but I was scared to touch it. But thenI thought, “No, no, no. Make it yours. What’s it mean to you?” That song happens to be one of my parents’ favorite songs…it was their song. The other day they were telling me that they went to the grocery store but couldn’t remember why they went once they were there. But then one of them remembered and they got what they needed. They told me, “Apart, we can’t do anything. Together, we’ve got it all.” That song, believe it or not, makes me think of them when it says, “Two drifters off to see the world.” My parents have just had their fiftieth wedding anniversary and they are still experiencing the world. It’s kind of an emotional thing to talk about, but that’s why I think I was drawn to this song. Now I’ve made my mark on it.
SD: You have released a number of albums in different genres, including a collection of standards from the ’30s and ’40s.
KC: Yes, I love that music.
SD: How did the idea for Let Yourself Go evolve?
KC: When I signed with Sony Classical – it’s now called Sony Masterworks – my producers, Peter Gelb and Paul Cremo, who now run the Met, asked me what I wanted to do. There were a lot of different records I wanted to make and I chose music by composers like Rodgers & Hart, Kurt Weill, Irving Berlin that speak to me and show my training a little bit. I spent a lot of time with that music when I was at OCU [Oklahoma City University]. I used to wonder if I was born in the wrong time!
SD: Were you?
KC: No – I’m just supposed to do those songs now. I remember on Glee when I did “Maybe This Time” by Kander & Ebb from Cabaret, a lot of young people tweeted me with questions about it. They loved it and wanted to know more about who wrote it and where it came from. So I think one of my purposes in this life is to reintroduce things that people might not normally encounter or remember.
SD: That album was released in May 2001. The music industry has changed so much since that time. Has it affected your career?
KC: I think it has made a big difference in every recording artist. One of the things Madonna did better and, in my opinion, still does better than anyone else is her ability to stay ahead of the changes. That’s why she is still so relevant and beloved, and why she has kept her enormous fan base. One of the things that has been tricky for me is where to focus. Luckily, I had a label that allowed me to make four very diverse records. My second release was a Christian album; the third was a Christmas album, which I love; and the last one was country pop. I foresee an album of classical art songs and arias in my future. I enjoy showing that side of my voice and I love to challenge myself and find out all that my voice will do.
SD: What is the key to being a successful recording artist right now?
KC: The key is to get out on the road. I have not been able to tour like I’ve needed to because I do television, movies and Broadway as well. I finally did tour last spring and it was very successful. It really showed me that when you tour, you sell albums. I say albums, but it is really more about singles and making music available for download. The music industry is changing faster than I can spit out this sentence. My goal is to do the best I can to keep up and, more importantly, to do things that inspire me. If I’m inspired, audiences will be inspired.
SD: Most people may be unaware that you have a master’s degree in operatic performance and that you are a trained coloratura soprano. You have also been performing with quite a few symphony orchestras, so a classical album seems in line.
KC: I would love to do it. Many people thought it would be my first record. But if you go back and listen to the cast album for Steel Pier, the Kander & Ebb musical in which I made my Broadway debut, I sang a full-on aria. John Kander wrote an aria filled with vocal gymnastics. People thought I was lip-syncing! They thought maybe it was Jeanette McDonald singing. It was tough to do eight times a week and it was like, “Kristin, you can’t miss a show!”
SD: That will be quite a contrast with Some Lessons Learned (2011).
KC: I certainly loved my country pop album. I could see revisiting that. There are songs I wrote that I didn’t get to put on that CD. I’d also like to do another Christmas album because it’s my favorite time of year and I love, love, love Christmas music. I would also like to record an all-out Broadway album. As you say, there are many songs to sing and so little time. I really need to get busy.
SD: Yes, in those unfilled moments. I read somewhere that you are “good friends” with Quentin Tarantino. That is not the first name that would have occurred to me. Do you ever see yourself working on a film with him?
KC: I would. He is somebody that I admire. I think his filmmaking is my style – it’s really funny! Django Unchained made me laugh…made me cry. I also really liked Inglorious Bastards. It’s not what you might think Kristin Chenoweth would like, but it is my taste. If he asked me to do one line, I would do it. I would do anything that man wrote, because I think he is really, really, really a genius.
SD: Have you been working on any movies recently?
KC: I just did an independent movie where I played a very dark, agoraphobic mother; and the next movie I’m doing is a thriller. Again, I look for things that inspire me, and I’m lucky that I get to do them. I’m blessed that I get to keep challenging myself and do things that I know I can do. I’m an actor.
SD: It doesn’t sound like you have much down time.
KC: None. I prefer it that way. When I do have down time, I take full advantage of it. I enjoy the spa and just reading and hanging out watching movies. I probably need a little bit more of that in my life.
SD: You seem incredibly well grounded.
KC: Being from Oklahoma, my parents don’t let me get away with too much of the diva stuff.
SD: Are there any official duties that come along with being an Oscar Meyer “Good Mood Ambassador”?
KC: Not really. I get to ride on the truck sometimes. My dog Maddie is a big fan. We both love hot dogs. What can I say?
SD: Well, Louisville does have a lot of great restaurants. I’m sure you can both find something good to eat here.
KC: I am so looking forward to being in Louisville. It’s my first time, you know. I hope that people will come out and spend an evening with me. I always have a lot of fun doing the show and I would love to share that time with y’all.
“An Evening With Kristin Chenoweth” is part of the Kentucky Center Presents series. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 12, in Whitney Hall. Tickets are on sale now at the box office. Prices range from $35 to the $275 package that includes a “meet and greet” with Kristin. For more information, call 502.584.7777 or go to www.Kentuckycenter.org.