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InDepth InterView: Kristin Chenoweth

Recently I had the delectable delight of talking to one of the sweetest and sexiest (and shockingly super-talented) stars of stage and screen who can currently be seen on the hit of all TV hits, GLEE, in her recurring role as April Rhodes, as well as in the new Disney comedy YOU AGAIN co-starring Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Bell, Victor Garber, Cloris Leachman and Betty White: the Tony Award and Emmy-winning actress and operatic chanteuse herself, Ms. Kristin Chenoweth! In this BWW exclusive InDepth InterView we talk about filming the first of several new episodes of GLEE for season two, working on Broadway with GLEE lead (and show love interest) Matt Morrison, what singing Sondheim means to her as a person and as a performer, what GLEE means to Broadway, as well as a thorough discussion of her new Disney film YOU AGAIN directed by Andy Fickman. We also touch on her early Broadway work in A NEW BRAIN and the words and music of William Finn. She has it all - and the success in each form of media to prove it - so it is a special treat to present InDepth InterView: Kristin Chenoweth.

Rhodes To Success

WICKED is the most successful musical in the world and she originated the lead role of G(a)linda in it. GLEE is the most successful new television show and she just received an Emmy nomination for her work on it and actually just won a Golden Globe for her last (but, sadly, canceled) series. Her YOU AGAIN co-star Sigourney Weaver is just coming off the biggest film of all-time, AVATAR, and YOU AGAIN is being produced by Disney who recently broke all of their own records (and most of the world's) with the jaw-dropping box-office behemoth that is Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Judging from all of this, it seems quite clear that YOU AGAIN is poised to be a phenomenon and so, too, is one of the dazzling stars of the multi-talented and eccentric cast of the film - which also includes her co-star in Disney's ANNIE, Broadway baby Victor Garber - the far beyond merely kind and the even farther beyond merely talented leading lady of stages worldwide and screens large and small, Kristin Chenoweth. Over the course of our discussion we touched upon her early work in New York - such as in the avant garde William Finn musical A NEW BRAIN at Lincoln Center, Kander & Ebb's STEEL PIER and Maury Yeston's PHANTOM - all the way up to her most recent stage appearance in the Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Neil Simon PROMISES, PROMISES starring WILL & GRACE alum Sean Hayes. After winning the Tony Award for YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN her career really took off and Hollywood came calling, so a significant portion of our discussion also focuses on her television and film work - such as her Golden Globe winning performance on PUSHING DAISIES, her Emmy-nominated appearances as April Rhodes on GLEE and the star-studded Carrie Underwood Christmas special she appeared in alongside Christina Applegate and Carrie Underwood - and all our bases are subsequently covered. In this exclusive InDepth InterView: Kristin Chenoweth we discuss working with the talented GLEE cast - including fellow Broadway hoofers Matt Morrison, Lea Michele and Idina Menzel (and when and if that proposed reuniting duet will ever happen) - as well as sharing the screen with the starry cast of YOU AGAIN, in addition to her sincerest hopes, insights and a few anecdotes from the sets of both projects. Certainly, both the present and future look blisteringly bright for Ms. Chenoweth, and in speaking with her you are immediately aware of why she is so beloved in the theatrical and Hollywood communities beyond her considerable gifts as a performer. As if all of these comments weren't enough, she also adds her insights into working with Matt Morrison, Lea Michele and Ryan Murphy on GLEE, as well as sharing the stage with Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti, Barbara Cook and John Doyle in her premiere Sondheim performance, and working with Christina Applegate and Carrie Underwood on last year‘s Christmas spectacular on NBC! She's a Spring breeze on a Fall day - April (Rhodes) in October after all!

PC: What a privilege this is talking to you today, I know you're booked solid.

KC: Oh, thank you. It's my pleasure.

PC: I was at The Westport Country Playhouse for their LADIES WHO SING Sondheim benefit with Patti LuPone and Barbara Cook...

KC: Yes...

PC: And Laura Benanti.

KC: Yes.

PC: That was one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

KC: Awww. (Pause.) Thank you.

PC: It came through for us in the audience that night, but how would you convey to this audience what Sondheim means to you?

KC: I just think he is... the Speilberg... of our music theatre. He's everything. He's opera. He's musical theatre.

PC: Like you!

KC: He‘s...(Pause.) He's a writer. He tells stories with his music.

PC: A true actress's insight if ever there were any!

KC: There is no one like him. He's an original.

PC: Precisely.

KC: I'm very, very sad to say that the only Sondheim show I've done is A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and it was when I was in college.

PC: Oh, I didn't know that! I bet you'd be a great Charlotte!

KC: Yeah, so that night [at Westport], those were two new songs for me that I had never performed before.

PC: It was incredible.

KC: So, I guess... (Pause.) I just hope and pray that before I die I get the chance to do one of his shows.

PC: An oath!

KC: It would be a real shame for me... it would be my loss... not to get to.

PC: And us all.

KC: I think he's pretty much it.

PC: Oh, yeah.

KC: I think he's pretty much it in our world.

PC: You'd be a such great Mary in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. I think you could really pull that off.

KC: (Gasps.) Oh, I do know it! You know, I know the score. That's something I would definitely be interested in doing.

PC: It would be amazing.

KC: But, then I look at A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and I look at what Bernadette [Peters] is doing and I'm thinking... you know, I watch Bernadette and I watch her career and - although the woman doesn't age - she's just... so good. At everything. But, in particular Sondheim. Particularly Sondheim.

PC: Originator.

KC: I think it's because she's so real. And I think, "That's who I want to emulate, that's the career that I always wanted!" You know, because she skips over to movies to television all the time.

PC: Right.

KC: But, she is always right on the money.

PC: A sure bet.

KC: She's someone that I really look up to.

PC: I'm sure that means a lot to her coming from you!

KC: Of course, Sondheim is her mentor. I know that they're very, very close.

PC: You and Bernadette are so authentic and real onstage.

KC: Oh, that's sweet. Thank you. Thank you very much. I try. (Laughs.)

PC: What was working with William Finn on A NEW BRAIN like?

KC: (Gasps.) Ah!

PC: (Sings.) "Calimari"

KC: Yes! I... again, William Finn is another original. I didn't know it then, but... remember, my degree was opera, so I had spent all these years working repertoire - you know, Puccini, Verdi (Laughs.)- I wasn't working on William Finn and Stephen Sondheim!

 

PC: Right?

KC: I had in my adult musician's life. But, now I realize, I was working with an insane, genius man!

PC: Totally! What a score!

KC: I miss him. I just miss him. (Pause.)

PC: He needs to write more!

KC: I long for him to write another show! Especially one that I can star in!

PC: That would be divine!

KC: I'm ready for him to get another show out there! Fast!

PC: LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is coming soon. It was just workshopped at Sundance last year.

KC: That, unfortunately, I'm not in. I hear it is... amazing! I have a really good feeling about that!

PC: Thanks for giving me the SUNSHINE scoop, sunshine!

KC: Yeah! Anytime.

PC: Did you ever work on Broadway with Matt Morrison? Maybe at a BC/EFA event or something?

KC: No! (Laughs.) Believe it or not! We had met I think... once... at a press event or something.

PC: Perfect strangers, then!

KC: I found him to be instantly delightful.

PC: "Fire"!

KC: Yeah (Laughs.) When we started working together on GLEE there was just a... I don't know... an instant chemistry that worked.

PC: Right from the get-go?

KC: It's such a wonderful friendship. (Pause.) I just really respect him. I respect the way he conducts himself on the set. He's a pro. Also, I love what he's doing with the role. And, I also love April and Will together...

PC: You're not... "Alone" in that!

KC: (Laughs.) I mean, of course I'm biased, but...

PC: You are great together.

KC: Yeah, but, I love how it's like, even though I'm older, she's like his little sister or someone that he's always looking out for.

PC: It is!

KC: Because she's always in trouble! (Laughs.)

PC: And he gets her out of it!

KC: So, yeah, I just love that relationship.

PC: My dream duet for you two is "Somethin' Stupid" - you know, the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet?

KC: Oh! I love that song! I think that's a great idea!

PC: It would be so great.

KC: Put it out there! Put it out there! (Laughs.)

PC: What songs would you love to do on GLEE?

KC: I would love to see April break into an opera aria.

PC: Wow! (Laughs.)

KC: Just because... what the hell? I mean... you know?

PC: Oh, I know.

KC: Who knows, maybe she has a little opera in her!

PC: You certainly do!

KC: I do.

PC: From opera to Heart, were you a big fan of Nancy Wilson? It came through in your duet with Matt on "Alone".

KC: Yes! I was a big fan! And that was my era. I mean, you know them all: the Go-gos, Belinda Carlisle, Heart... the whole thing. That was my thing. I also love country music.

PC: Of course.

KC: That was always my thing, too.

 

PC: You have eclectic taste.

KC: When Ryan [Murphy] said "Alone" I said, "I don't deserve to sing that song!" and he said, "Shut up and sing!"

PC: Speaking of country, what did Carrie Underwood think of your "Last Name"? You did that Christmas special together...

KC: Oh, no! I don't know! She's never said... I never ever get to speak to her. What I try to do, because I respect her so much - and she's also from Oklahoma...

PC: Of course.

KC: I just try to put my spin on the song and not do any form of imitation. You can't imitate Carrie, she's her own!

PC: Damn right.

KC: I just tried to do it justice.

PC: I loved that Christmas Special you did with her.

KC: Oh, it was so fun! We had a blast! She's adorable. And so sweet.

PC: It was such a slick and hi-tech show.

KC: It was Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman.

PC: AMERICAN IDOL and HAIRSPRAY the movie!

KC: Yeah, it was a great night!

PC: Have you seen REEFER MADNESS, the last movie musical your YOU AGAIN director Andy Fickman directed?

KC: Of course I did! And I think he should do more movie musicals!

PC: Without question.

KC: I'm trying to get him to do more musicals on Broadway, too.

PC: Oh, really?

KC: He just had a great musical reading of the movie HEATHERS. It's out there. I'm really looking to start to get producing a little bit and other things.

PC: Yeah, we've been featuring it a bit on BroadwayWorld!

KC: I know, I know!

PC: You read us?!

KC: I'm so excited to be on there!

PC: Oh, please.

KC: I'm serious! I'm honored!

PC: Tell me about the Bacharach ala Streisand "One Less Bell To Answer" Medley with Matt Morrison on GLEE, that's one of the greatest GLEE moment ever and made my Top Ten list.

KC: Isn't it great? I wish that was... I mean, that's just the genius of Ryan Murphy.

PC: Total effing genius.

KC: That's why he's so good at GLEE: it hits a chord with people of all ages.

PC: Few do like GLEE does.

KC: I just feel so honored that I can even be a part of it.

PC: As are we!

KC: And I love those kids. They're like my kids! I just love them.

PC: What do you want to do next on GLEE?

KC: I just want to do a scene with Jane Lynch. That's what I really wanna do. (Pause.) And Jayma! I want to do a scene with Jayma Mays, who, by the way, let's talk about her talent!

PC: Let's!

KC: She is so funny on the show.

PC: And sang "I Could Have Danced All Night"!

KC: She's so hilarious. She's darling.

 

PC: Are you ever going to do a duet with Idina Menzel? A WICKED reunion, at any point? Ever?

KC: You know... they don't tell us! Ryan, I'm sure, knows I have a big mouth. You know, I'm going in two weeks to shoot a new episode and I don't even know what I'm singing yet!

PC: No way!

KC: I don't! (Laughs.)

PC: I thought you'd be able to give me the scoop!

KC: I don't know what he's making me do. But, I can assure you it will be very... April. (Laughs.)

PC: So, is it true it's a strip tease number? That's what I heard.

KC: That's what I heard. But, then I heard it's not. So, now there are all these rumors so I don't even know anymore.

PC: Poor Kristin caught in the middle!

KC: It's making me nervous!

PC: I can't believe how much GLEE has changed the landscape of Broadway and everywhere else. All over the world. Theatre is cool again.

KC: Whoa... If GLEE had been on when I was in school I would have been so killer popular. It would have been the best ever!

PC: Wouldn't it!

KC: I was a big Gleek back when I was growing up. I mean, I loved Julie Andrews. I loved Madonna. I loved Count Basie. I was very a weird... I had a lot of different tastes, as I do now. I mean, I love Eminem.

PC: So do I - and so does Sondheim, I hear.

KC: Yeah. So, to me, GLEE has made all music accessible. And that is what music is for.

PC: You just mentioned Julie Andrews, and she just participated in this column a few weeks ago.

KC: She's the reason I became a singer. You know, because of "The hills are alive..."

PC: You're part of that pantheon now!

KC: I'm so honored!

PC: Tell me about YOU AGAIN and working with Victor Garber - who you previously worked with in Disney's ANNIE-...

KC: Of course!

PC: ...as well as Sigourney Weaver and Betty White and everyone involved in the movie.

KC: You know, it always starts from the top.

PC: Always.

KC: I have to say that Andy made it like theatre camp.

PC: Like CAMP.

KC: So, like theatre camp, we did two or three weeks worth of rehearsals. I had a ton of work ‘cause I had a big dance number to do.

PC: Oh, so we're in for a treat!

KC: Yeah, I had a lot of dance rehearsal.

PC: So we get a musical number in YOU AGAIN after all!

KC: We went back in time to the way things used to be. You know, where we actually rehearsed and played around. And got to know each other and had dinners. And laughed!

PC: How great!

KC: Yeah, and we talked stories and spent time together - and some of it ended up in the play...

PC: Broadway baby slip!

KC: Movie! I've haven't slept in days!

PC: No apology necessary. Give me an example, if you can.

KC: (Clears Throat. Imitates Victor Garber's stoic presence.) Victor is always just like, (Clears throat.) "Hm, really? I have to move? I have to get up?"

PC: Perfect imitation!

KC: I think there's like a quick moment in the movie where he says and does that!

PC: That's great. What else?

KC: And there's lots of other things. There's moment where I say - and I always say -, "He's a side of crazy with a cup of cuckoo cachoo."

PC: So you!

KC: I think that's in there, too!

 

PC: Fickman gave you guys lots of character detail and stuff to work with and from, it seems.

KC: We were all given our opportunities to be ourselves. A little bit of ourselves.

PC: What a great work environment.

KC: And we could also play and adlib and make it our own.

PC: That's important for real actors like those in this cast. It's a great ensemble.

KC: Because of all that, I think this movie will be a big hit. Because you can see the joy!

PC: Totally. And you know joy!

KC: I have to give it to our director Andy. It's big ups to him.

PC: Define collaboration - both, in terms of this experience and in general in your career.

KC: I think... you know, collaboration, in general - no matter movies, television or Broadway - is offering of what you can bring to the table and also fighting what you think the important battles are. Not everything is going to make it in there. Not everything is going to work. You have to collaborate. And you have to be a good listener.

PC: A great answer, a great star. This was great.

KC: I'm very happy and very honored that I got to speak with you today!

PC: It's mutual. Check out the article when you surf on over to BWW next time.

KC: I'm so going to! I can't wait!

PC: I have a feeling I'll be writing about you a lot in the future. Your star rises higher every minute, it seems!

KC: Thanks sweetheart! Bye bye for now.

 



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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)

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