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The mega-popular entertainer has conquered it all: film, stage, music and TV. She comes to South Jersey this month for an intimate performance at Rowan University.

Kristin Chenoweth is a lot of things, including a multi-talented performer who has, during a long and varied career, collected a trunk-load of awards including an Emmy (“Pushing Daisies”), a Golden Globe nomination (“Glee”) and a Tony (“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”). What she isn’t, however, is a party animal. At least not when she’s on tour.

“Your voice just doesn’t work properly, or it doesn’t work the way you want it to as an artist if you don’t have enough sleep,” insists the petite (as in 4’11”) blonde dynamo from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, who performs Dec. 9 at Pfleeger Concert Hall on the Rowan University campus.

“At least that’s what I find to be true for myself. Because I alternate between opera, musical theater and country, I have to be in very good shape and rested. That is the single hardest part about touring for me. Coming back from a show and going right to sleep and then getting up and going to the next town, and taking a nap and then going to warm up. I have to do just that when I’m touring.”
Her on-the-road regimen also includes a vow of silence, as it were.

Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray Live!” on NBC; Brian Bowen Smith/NBC

“When I have a day off, I can rest a little bit, and I try not to speak much. So this year has been a lot of vocal rest, and then vocal warmups and physical warmup,” she says.

As for the latter, Chenoweth admits she’s not as dedicated as she’d like to be.

“I wish I was in a little better physical shape – i.e. at the gym more – but I figure sleep is more important than having the perfect abs,” she says.

Whatever the formula, it certainly works for Chenoweth, who for years has been a popular concert attraction. One reason may be that, unlike so many entertainers, she doesn’t stick to the same script night after night, but tunes her gigs to the vibe she gets from individual audiences.

“Each town I come into I try to come in early and get to know the people,” she explains. “Usually if you’re looking at the signs they kind of tell you what they want to hear.”

“My show changes all the time, so I’ll put in new music a lot and switch it up. That way people who have seen the show before get a new show, and I continue to get better as an artist and learn more music.”

To illustrate, she recalls her recent gig at the famed Palladium in London, where the crowd included legendary composer Leslie Bricusse, whose credits include “Dr. Dolittle,” “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” and “Victor/Victoria.”

“I put in a song of his called ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes,’” she says. “I think it’s fun to change it up.”
That goes for costuming as well. “I don’t know about other people, but even in daily life I get a little bored if I wear the same thing over and over and over. The same with performing. I want the costume to represent the feel and the theme of the show, so that requires me to change. Unfortunately, it requires me to pack a lot, too.”

A regular presence in musical theater, TV and film, Chenoweth certainly doesn’t need to pay the rent by schlepping around the world singing for her supper. She does it, she notes, because she wants to, calling her live show her “favorite” type of performing.

“To me, it’s all the same: television, Broadway, movies, concertizing – it’s a piece of you. But there is a little more of yourself when you’re doing music you’ve chosen and you’re not hiding behind a role. It’s scarier, and it’s more challenging. But it’s probably the most pleasing for me.”

Although she’s been performing since childhood – her education included an early-’90s stint at Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts – Chenoweth’s career began in earnest 20 years ago when she landed her first Broadway role in “Steel Pier,” the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical set on Atlantic City’s iconic amusement complex during the Great Depression. The emotions that raced through her as she waited for the curtain to rise inside New York’s Richard Rodgers Theatre still remain vivid.

Chenoweth as Glinda in Broadway’s “Wicked”

“I remember my heart beat­ing outside my chest and wanting to make Kander and Ebb proud…wanting to sing well,” she recalls. “There was a rather tough aria called ‘Two Little Words’ in that show for me to sing and also constant dancing, since it was about marathon dancing in the ’30s. I just wanted to remember every single second; my parents were there, and my boyfriend at the time was there. It’s one of those memories in life that only happens once.”

Chenoweth also remembers that her Steel Pier gig resulted in some degree of culture shock because of her move to Manhattan.

It was, she says, “shocking. I’d only been there one other time on a school trip, and I just wanted to get to know people in my neighborhood. I remember walking around, saying ‘Hi!’ to everybody and smiling. But people were always growling and gruffing at me.”

“I came to understand that was just New York. Of course, now I’m a New Yorker and I completely get it. That was an innocent and fun time; just trying to figure out the subway system and having my friends in the show at the time teach it to me, because they knew I was new.”

“These are relationships you never forget. That’s why I think the theater and Broadway community is so strong.”

Although she took home the 1999 Tony Award for her role as Sally Brown in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” there is no question that, 14 years after the show’s debut, she is still best-known for creating the character of Glinda The Good Witch of The North in the beloved musical “Wicked.” She says she knew even before the show hit Broadway that she was part of something very special.

“I felt when we opened in San Francisco before we went to Broadway that the audiences were speaking to us and they were saying, ‘Yes!’ So I had a pretty good idea Wicked would become the hit that it is, but I wasn’t sure. Then we went to Broadway, and the people continued to say, ‘Yes!’ Fourteen years later, they’re still saying ‘Yes!’”

For the past few years, Chenoweth has also found a good deal of work in animated films. In 2014, she gave voice to Gabi, the poisonous frog in “Rio 2.” The next year found her doing the same for Fifi, Snoopy’s girlfriend in “The Peanuts Movie.” This year, she was the human behind Princess Skystar in “My Little Pony: The Movie” and also has a vocal role in the computer-generated, Christmas-themed movie “The Star.”

Chenoweth is quick to shoot down the suggestion that voice acting is a breeze because memorization is not an issue. “Not true,” she says. “It’s harder than most people think. When it’s just your voice, you have the feeling, ‘I can just relax.’ But the truth of it is, I always have to dress a little bit like how I might feel as a character. Even if it’s just in a color or a T-shirt, or the way I walk into a room. I think the reason they have video cameras while we’re working is so they can draw us. I just don’t stand there and say the lines.”

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC

Despite her concert appearances – including a limited series of dates this month and in February with opera icon Andrea Bocelli – and film work, the near future will find Chenoweth concentrating on television.

First, there’s the Dec. 3 CBS-TV special celebrating the 50th anniversary of “The Carol Burnett Show” in which she is a guest star. But far more exciting for her is “The Real Fairy Godmother,” a sitcom pilot she recently shot. It was purchased by ABC-TV and should air on its primetime schedule sometime next year.

According to the network, Chenoweth stars in the series as a “self-absorbed ‘real housewife’ who learns that she’s descended from a secret order of Fairy Godmothers and has an inescapable destiny to use her magical abilities to help those in need.”

“The best way I can describe it is a modern-day ‘Bewitched,’” she says. “I think we all want to see people instantaneously be happier by fixing problems very quickly – especially with the world of the Internet, how fast things are moving. It just takes a sort-of old-fashioned idea and updates it to today’s time. I just love it.”

Despite her intense work ethic, Chenoweth somehow finds time to devote herself to causes that have nothing to do with earning a living. One pet project is Artists Striving To End Poverty, whereby performing and visual artists work with underprivileged kids around the world, encouraging them to use the arts to engage their imaginations and talents as a means of escaping their impoverished lives. But it is the Kristin Chenoweth Arts & Education Fund that is dearest to her.

“I think the longer you live, the more you see what’s really important,” she says. “Feeling born to create, I want to leave my mark that way – I feel that’s the talent I was given, so I want to do it. The arts literally did change my life, and if I didn’t have choir and drama…in high school I don’t know what I would have done. I would have figured it out, but it would have been difficult.”

“When we did ‘Glee,’ it made so many people in schools want to be in glee club. That’s something I’m very proud of.”

And, she continues, something for which she’d most like to be remembered.

“In my little town of Broken Arrow, we now have a performing arts center, and the theater bears my name. I just did my third summer arts camp. It’s going to be my legacy. That’s what I want.”

All That She Conquered

Kristin Chenoweth is a member of one of show business’ most exclusive clubs, achieving widespread success in more than one aspect of the performing arts.

She may ultimately be remembered best for creating the role of Glinda the Good Witch in the beloved Broadway musical “Wicked,” but that is the mere tip of an iceberg that extends well beyond the musical-theater realm. Here’s a brief look at her glittering career:

Stage
In addition to her signature role in “Wicked” (for which she received a Tony Award nomination), Chenoweth earned a 1999 Tony – Best Featured Actress in A Musical – for her portrayal of the title character’s younger sister in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

In 2015, she was honored with a Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for her performance (as lead character Lily Garland) in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “On the Twentieth Century.” The part also earned her Tony and Drama League nominations.

TV
Chenoweth’s trophy collection includes a 2009 Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in A Comedy Series, which she copped for her work in “Pushing Daisies.” In 2011, her work as boozy April Rhodes on “Glee” got her a Golden Globe nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. Her many other TV credits include last year’s NBC-TV live staging of “Hairspray,” her own sitcom “Kristin” (on the USA Network) and two seasons as White House deputy press secretary Annabeth Schott on “The West Wing.”

Next year, ABC-TV is expected to air her sitcom “The Real Fairy Godmother.”

Film
On the large screen, Chenoweth has provided voices in the animated features “The Star,” “My Little Pony: The Movie,” “Rio 2” and “The Peanuts Movie.” She has also acted in such films as “Deck the Halls,” “Hard Sell” and “The Pink Panther.”

Recording
Chenoweth has released six studio albums including her most recent, 2016’s “The Art of Elegance.”

Concert stage
Chenoweth is a popular live act in the United States; she performs regularly at casinos and performing arts centers coast-to-coast. She is also a headliner abroad: BroadwayWorld.com reported that during her Oct. 2017 perform­ance at London’s famed Palladium, she “put on a spectacular show and simultaneously formed a heartfelt connection with her fans.”

 


Kristin Chenoweth performs on Dec. 9 at the Pfleeger Concert Hall on North Campus Drive at Rowan University. Show time is 7 pm. Admission is $100. For tickets, call 856-256-4545 or go to rowan.tix.com.

December 2017
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