WASHINGTON — Her wicked talents have defied gravity for years on stage and screen.
Now, Kristin Chenoweth performs live at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland this Friday at 8 p.m.
“I have a pretty eclectic taste and my voice doesn’t just live in one place as well … It’s all over the map and I like it that way because I like to entertain. I also like people to leave feeling happy, like they’ve gotten a good meal. So there’s an appetizer, meat and dessert,” Chenoweth tells WTOP.
What can we expect to see her perform at Strathmore?
“We have everything from (Leonard) Bernstein to Charlie Chaplin to Jerome Kern,” she says.
Always flexible, Chenoweth is open-minded in tweaking her show, nimbly adopting some WTOP trivia that Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest — and finished third.
” Oh my gosh. That’s so genius. … I will be quoting you in my concert, because I love to talk to young people who want to do what I do, and I think it’s important for them to realize that you don’t always win. … The point is to keep being a creative artist, and that’s what Charlie Chaplin was, even though he came in third for his own self. That to me sums up show business beautifully,” Chenoweth says.
Few people know the ups and downs of showbiz like Chenoweth, who’s taken a number of risks since starting out in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. While getting her masters at Oklahoma City University, she performed in regional theater productions of “Gypsy,” “The Sound and Music” and “The King and I,” before being offered a full scholarship to the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.
She never went.
Turns out, Chenoweth was helping a friend move to New York City when she auditioned for “Animal Crackers” in 1993, and upon being cast, she turned down the scholarship and never looked back.
“I find myself in these crossroads a lot in my life. … I’m big on just praying about it, making the decision and not looking back. I know that I missed out on something great at AVA and I’m honored to say that I was even accepted, but I chose the other path, and it is the path that has been good to me.”
The gamble paid off. In just six years, she was offered a part across Bernadette Peters in “Annie Get Your Gun,” but again she turned it down to star in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (1999).
“I say follow your gut. Everybody else could be telling you, ‘Are you really turning that down? Are you really not gonna go do A, B or C to go to F?’ And you say, ‘Yeah. I’m gonna do it ’cause that’s my gut.'”
Her role as Sally in “Charlie Brown” earned her Broadway’s ultimate prize with a Tony Award, decades before she was tapped to voice Snoopy’s girlfriend Fifi in “The Peanuts Movie” (2015).
“‘Peanuts’ has just been such a huge part of my history. … I will always carry that honor of getting to be a part of anything that (Charles Schulz) created, because I do think he was a genius. … It was one of the best moments in my career. What can I say? I loved it.”
Believe it or not, her Tony win was just a warm-up to her most iconic career role. Chenoweth earned another Tony nomination for her role in the Original Broadway Cast of “Wicked” (2003), where she starred as Glinda the Good Witch across from Idina Menzel’s Elphaba.
“We were opening in San Francisco and I didn’t know critically how (acclaimed) it would be, but I saw how it struck a chord with the audience and then I knew I was going to be in for a ride of my life. … I am so proud to have been part of something that still touches people’s lives. I always wanted to be in a show that everybody knew it, and I got that. I got to be a part of that.”
While Menzel went on to sing “Let It Go” in Disney’s “Frozen,” Chenoweth went on to star as Annabeth Schott in NBC’s “The West Wing” (1999) and won an Emmy as Olive Snook in ABC’s “Pushing Daisies.” But the two “Wicked” alums try to keep in touch whenever possible, including an encounter after John Travolta infamously botched Menzel’s name as “Adele Dazeem” at the Oscars.
“Adele Dazeem! I saw her after that and I was like, ‘OMG,’ and she was like, ‘OMG.’ … Our lives have moved in different ways, but when we do get to see each other or stay in touch, we like that of course. We went through something that nobody else has. In that moment, in that time, it was her and I.”
Chenoweth says she might even work in an “Adele Dazeem” reference at Strathmore.
“There could possibly be an appearance of an Adele song. … I’m gonna dedicate it to Adele Dazeem.”
From Oscar night bloopers to Tony and Emmy wins, Chenoweth says it’s all a part of her history.
“It’s becoming more important for me, the longer I live, that word ‘history.’ My own history, our history, what kind of mark we’re going to leave on this world. The concert delves into that as well with a song called ‘I Was Here.’ You’ll see some young performers from the area join me on stage for the last couple songs, because I remember being them and I want to make an influence on young singers.”
Knowing her own history will help her to dress warm at Strathmore as Bethesda digs out of the Blizzard of 2016. After all, she grew up in Oklahoma “where the wind goes sweeping down the plain.”
“I think I love you even more for that reference,” Chenoweth laughs. “I will bring my big warm coat.”
Tickets cost $58 — $155. The show runs 80 minutes without intermission. Click here for more information.
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