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BWW Interview: Kristin Chenoweth on Bringing Lily Garland Back to Broadway- I Just Knew It Was Right'

Screen Actors Guild Foundation and BroadwayWorld have partnered for filmed Conversations Q&A series to recognize and celebrate the vibrant theatre community in New York City and the union actors who aspire to have a career on the stage and screen. The most recent conversation featured 2015 Tony nominee Kristin Chenoweth, moderated by BroadwayWorld's Richard Ridge, discussing how things are going at On the Twentieth Century, how she looks back on some of her past shows like Wicked and You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, and so much more.

Check out Kristin's thoughts on her demanding new role below and watch the full interview here!


Where did your love for this show begin, and why did you want this to be your return to Broadway?

Probably, when I was a freshman at Oklahoma City University, my voice teacher, Florence Birdwell, said to me, "There's this show you should do called On The Twentieth Century." And, you know, like so many times teachers tell us something, I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." And then I moved to New York and had some great experiences, and ended up meeting Comden and Green. I did a song on my first album of theirs called "If" from Two On The Aisle. And I invited them to the recording session. They were both alive at the time, and I thought, "When will you ever get the opportunity? They probably won't come." Well, here they come, to the thing. And I got to meet them, and we talked and laughed for a while, and then Adolf looked at me and he said, "There's this show we wrote, and it hasn't been revived because we can't revive it and we have to have the right person. And, it's your part." And I said, "What is it?" And he said, "On The Twentieth Century." And I said, "Yeah, my voice teacher told me that at OCU." And he said, "No, it's really your part." And then, over the years, he just kept saying it. And Betty said, "You just have to make us the promise that you'll do it one day."

And then three years ago the Roundabout said, "Do you want to do a reading?" And I thought, "Maybe I should do a reading and see what this is." Anyway, to make a long story longer, I finally, finally did the reading, went, "Holy crap, yes, I have to do this show." And it was so funny, because I did it with Hugh Jackman, we did the reading - I mean, come on? Right. He's so hot, and he can sing and he can act. And after the reading was over he goes, "You know Kristin, I don't have to do this show - it's a great part, but I don't have to do it. But you, you have to do it." And I just knew it was right. All of a sudden the puzzle went "click, click, click" and I knew that was going to be the next thing. If I could work it out, that's what I wanted, and Scott and I made a promise, the director, and we worked it out.

Tell me about living in the world of Lily Garland, and what you love about playing her.

Well, I love her clothes. I love, you know, there's certain aspects to her that I certainly can relate to. She's Mildred Plotka actually, and she is not really wanting to be a star, but she's skilled. And she comes from this little town and becomes a star. And that is a little bit my story - a little bit. And then, she's a little bit of a narcissist, so I'd like to think that that's not me, but, you know, I am an actor, and, let's face it, if you're actors in here, we're all needy, crazy, and we need constant - but there's a good crazy and bad crazy. I like to think I'm the good kind.

But anyway, she is in love with being a star. And she loves the glamour of it all. And what I also love about her is that she's really a theatre brat. So, she made it in the theatre because Oscar discovered her, and she's returning there. And I like the thought of her - she sold out. When I went and did kind of a string of those comedies for a while, people were like, "Why are you doing 'Deck the Halls,' 'RV?' All those silly - 'Four Christmases.' Well, because I'm a comedian and it's fun. But I always come back, search and come back to my roots, which is the theatre. That's what she's doing. Also, the love of her life is the one that discovered her. I think all of us probably have an Oscar Jaffe or a Lilly Garland in our life that we can recall. I certainly do. So I just, I love it. I love playing her. It's hard though.

This is a very demanding role. It requires physical comedy, operatic singing, strenuous dancing. I mean, it's nonstop. Where do you find the stamina to do this?

I'm going to speak really straight. I have to eat, I've had issues with that. I have to eat food. I have to eat protein. I have sleep constantly. I sleep, I eat, I take a shower, come warm up, do the show, go to bed, take a bath, get up. Don't speak till 3 or 4, warm up, eat. I mean, every time I turn around, I'm eating, it feels like. I have to, because i can't get through the show without food. Apparently you need it to live. This isn't L.A., people!

When I moved out to L.A. after Wicked to do Bewitched - that was a huge hit movie - again, I loved it - I got to work with Nicole Kidman and Michael Caine, so it doesn't get better than that. And Shirley MacLaine, who told me that I wasn't from this earth. And I was like, "Where am I from?" And she said, "You're from blah, blah, blah," and I have no idea what she said, but I really enjoyed working with her. I did, I loved her. She was just like. "It's a talent like no other, and you're form blah, blah, blah." Okay. But, anyway, I realized that apparently in L.A., I was not thin. I'm just going to speak truthfully. And I was ten pounds heavier than I am now - and I didn't know this was going to be the topic for me tonight, about weight. So I went on this sort of, for the last few years, sort of, "Oh, I have to be thinner." Cause in L.A., it's just a different thing.

So I did that, and honestly, it wasn't the healthiest choice for me because singing is very physical. Obviously the dancing is too. But, I've had to - I say this because, we have a lot of actors in the room, right? - I say this because it's really important for me to share what I've learned. I'm still learning. Especially women, hear me out. You have to, yes, lead with your looks sometimes, and I want to look cute and feel pretty and stuff, I do. I'm a girl. But, you have to be healthy. Whatever that means to you. So, whatever you battle, whatever that is - and mine has been that - this show has gotten me back to where I need to be health-wise, if that makes sense.

The comedy scenes are so brilliant in this show, especially the ones between you and Andy Karl. Did you perfect those once the audience was brought into the mix? It's all that split timing

Yeah, we did. You know, it's so hard without an audience. They tell us what they want, and we have to listen. I just, day one, after I figured out I could trust him, I just said, "Use me as a prop." And by day three, he was like, "So I can throw you up against the wall?" I'm like, "Absolutely." You just trust somebody and go there with them. But once the audiences came, he and I really found our rhythm. And we found what really was funny and what was too much.

One thing that we're learning now, it's interesting now, note even today, that I notice. You know how you judge the audience - maybe you don't, but I'm like, "I hate them." Sometimes they're quiet - really they're nice, but they're just quiet. And they were like church mouse, and I was like, "I'm trying not to judge." But I realized today, "Guess what Kristin: pace. Remember that word? You're now waiting for some of it. Stop that." And of course, at the end, they leapt to their feet.They were quiet, church mouses through the whole thing, and I thought, "See, you don't need all that 'Oh, they didn't laugh at that part.'" Forget that. First of all, that means you're not in the play. But it's just, you know how you start running a show for a long time, and it's so interesting.


Chenoweth's Broadway credits include: You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Awards); Steel Pier (Theatre World Award) Wicked;Promises, Promises; Epic Proportions; Scapin. Off-Broadway: A New Brain, Dames at Sea, The Fantasticks, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Strike Up the Band.

Films include: The Boy Next Door, Strange Magic, Rio 2, A Bet's a Bet, Hard Sell, Bewitched, The Pink Panther, RV, Running With Scissors, Stranger Than Fiction, Deck the Halls, Four Christmases. TV: "Descendants," "Pushing Daisies" (Emmy Award), "Glee," "The West Wing," "GCB," "The Good Wife," "12 Men of Christmas," "The Music Man," "Annie" and "Kristin." An Oklahoma Hall of Famer, Chenoweth has performed her solo concerts across the globe at legendary venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House. She holds honorary doctorate degrees from UNCSA and OCU.



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