Kristin Chenoweth 'Comes Home' For Trio of Concerts With the Nashville Symphony
There's just something about Kristin Chenoweth. It's almost undefinable, perhaps even undescribable, yet as with any writer's efforts to put into words how remarkable the woman behind the image is, I'll give it my best shot, attempting to encapsulate the wonder that is Kristin Chenoweth in 2,000 words or less (but if I go over, don't judge too harshly - I'm simply stating the facts that prove the folly of my initial hypothesis).
Heading back to Nashville - Music City USA - for a series of three concerts with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra for the FirstBank Pops Series at the city's gleaming Schermerhorn Symphony Center September 27-29, it's almost like a homecoming. In Music City, where artists are oftentimes venerated for their talent, Kristin Chenoweth is considered one of our own, so frequently has she spent time here and so effortlessly has she stolen our hearts and captivated us with her charm.
Whether it was at Opryland USA (where at 19 she performed daily shows in Way Out West), the theme park long since torn down, where countless Broadway stars and recording artists began their professional careers; on the expansive stage of Andrew Jackson Hall at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where she appeared in concert before a crowd of 2,000 or more loyal and adoring fans; in the recording studio, where she committed her tremendous range of talents to creating a critically acclaimed album; or in concert in the more intimate confines of the aforementioned Schermerhorn Symphony Center where she has delighted new fans and longtime admirers with song choices that defy sometimes explanation, yet are so intriguingly attuned to our spirit. Kristin Chenoweth, in myriad ways both tangible and fleetingly ethereal, is - to put it simply - one of our own.
"Nashville is my most favorite city ever," she exclaims during a phone conversation while traveling from one city to the next. "Just like my beloved Oklahoma."
Born and raised in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where she is likewise considered a living, breathing treasure and entertainment legend, an individual who has never forgotten her upbringing or the support and love of all the people who are complicit in her becoming the woman she is, Chenoweth appreciates Nashville for its friendly people and the less frantic nature of life in a smaller city that's still growing at an exponential rate.
"I always forge relationships with people I meet in Nashville," she claims, offering up stories of random folks she's come into contact with, whose openness and graciousness have changed her "for good."
"I think about buying a second home there, so I could come to Nashville and just be myself," Chenweth says. "That's how much I love Nashville - but can we keep that between us? - I mean, I don't want everyone else moving there and ruining it for the rest of us."
Looking ahead to her trio of concerts with the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony, Chenoweth says she is planning a program of songs, some of which are new to her fans, a few that continue to resonate deeply with her audiences after years of performing them and other classic tunes chosen from the great American songbook that offer her younger fans an opportunity to be exposed to songwriters they may be hearing for the first time and which will undoubtedly thrill her "more experienced" audience members with an ability to evoke sentimental, even nostalgic, memories.
"I just can't wait to come to Nashville and sing in that beautiful hall again," she says. "I want to tell people in your state that they have the greatest symphony orchestra and for me to be able to stand in front of them in that hall is amazing. I can't wait to get there."
The thing about Nashville, for Chenoweth at least, is that she "know[s] where to find the best barbecue," is certain she'll be wearing beautiful dresses and performing for an audience that appreciates music and composers as much as she does and that she will find her people waiting to embrace her while she engages them from the stage.
"I've been on tour for a year and a half, doing songs from my album [The Art of Elegance, released in 2016], doing some new material and singing some of the great American songwriters like Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael," she predicts. "There will be some surprises, some special guests coming with me - there are a couple of different people that I've asked to come sing with me - and I have a choir joining me again this year."
"One thing about me," Chenoweth admits, "is that people come through the doors of that great hall and they don't necessarily know me - the real me, I mean - they know me from seeing me onstage or on TV, whatever, but they leave [a concert] definitely knowing who I am and what I believe."
Because, as she continues, "On that stage, you see the real me": "I am not a good faker, I'm an actor, but if I'm onstage and faking it, it just doesn't work. "
As a result of her desire to be totally authentic for her audiences, "the music is chosen by me, for me, for a specific reason."
Her upcoming concerts in Nashville "will be entertaining," she promises, "but the thing is, though, I'm going to sing 'Popular' and 'For Good,' songs that people expect me to sing, want me to sing. There are some songs that come with me when I come into the room."
"I would like to leave Nashville alive - and not on a stretcher," she jokes. "So, I'll be doing those songs that people love."
Yet any trepidations she might have about planning her song list for a Nashville audience admittedly are short-lived: "People in Nashville love music and they know when it's good, so as long I give them a good show..."
Not to put too fine a point on it, if Kristin Chenoweth builds it - and if she sings it - they will come.
Sharing her love of music through song, particularly the ones she features in her concerts, paralells fittingly with one of her passions: encouraging new talent and aspiring artists by offering support for young performers she meets throughout her travels and in her day-to-day life.
"That's what I love about performing in concert - and, to be honest, I love concertizing more than anything," Chenoweth admits.
"For me, concertizing is like finding water in the desert."
Likewise, introducing young people to classic America songwriters, like Mercer, Carmichael and Stephen Foster, for example, is similarly gratifying: "I will have kids come up to me after a show and say, 'It was so great that someone wrote that song for you! Who wrote it again?' and I'll explain that Hoagy Carmichael wrote it, but not for me, that it's been around for a while.
"It encourages them to find out who Hoagy Carmichael is. Now we can go on the internet and find out everything, but remember how we used to have to go to the library to look up people and things we didn't know about? Now we can look up anything on our phones, so wherever we get that information is good."
"I love being a mentor/teacher and I love watching kids discover things," she says.
Therefore, performing a song her audiences might not be familiar with has its merits: "I love bringing a song back they've never heard or to perform an original song by Jason Robert Brown which they may not have heard before," she says.
By that same token, she muses: "I love to sing songs for people in the audience who have been together for 50 years, who have made that commitment to each other and have had ups and downs, but for whom a song can help them recall a moment in their lives."
"Once during a concert, I sang 'Maybe This Time,' a song that I performed on Glee, and afterward this gaggle of young girls came up to me, so excited that [John] Kander and [Fred] Ebb had written that song for me, and I was like, 'No, honey, they wrote it for Liza,' but I'm so glad you like it!"
"Whatever it takes, I like when people find out about the DNA of a song," she contends. "And obviously, I do new stuff, too. It's an interesting thing that songs written in 1932 and songs written in 2016 can have that effect on people and that's the beautiful part of doing a show like this."
Opening up new entertainment vistas via an untapped world of music for younger audiences is a satisfying, even inspiring, endeavor for the young woman from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, whose first ambition was to become a ballet dancer.
"My original dream was to be a ballet dancer and that didn't work out," Chenoweth says, with just a hint of wistfulness in her voice. "But it led me to theater and that led me to understand that I was ultimately a singer."
In fact, as a student at Oklahoma City University - the school known throughout the world for its musical theater and vocal performance curricula -she was advised to change her major and to focus on her most intrinsic talent and God-given instrument: her voice. She credits her voice teacher Florence Birdwell with guiding her to the right path.
"She's really the one who got me to understand my voice, but more importantly, she asked me, 'What do you have to say?," Chenoweth reflects.
"And let me tell you, I never got away with anything in that master classroom - she never let me!"
As a result, her experiences at Oklahoma City University set the tone for the career which followed: Kristin Chenoweth describes it succinctly as "singing my truth."
"Never could I have ever thought that my career would be what it has become," she says. "I thought maybe I'd end up in the chorus of some Broadway show, but I never imagined it would be like this."
However, now that she's won acclaim on Broadway - in some of musical theater's best known works ranging from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, for which she won a Tony as the irascible Sally Brown; Wicked, for which she was nominated for a Tony for her performance as Glinda, the Good Witch, in the musical adaptation of Gregory Maguire's novel that offered an alternate telling of L. Frank Baum's characters from The Wizard of Oz; the Broadway revival of The Apple Tree; the 2010 revival of Promises, Promises, playing Fran Kubelik; or as the mercurial and temperamental diva Lily Garland in the Tony Award-nominated revival of On The 20th Century - and made a name for herself on the opera and concert stages and with a string of successful roles on television and in film, she realizes she made the right choice.
"You know how it is when you're growing up or just starting out, you go to auditions and get rejected - for whatever reason - but you just keep going back," she says.
Chenoweth is the first to admit that her height (she's 4'11", though you scarcely notice it onstage, what with her outsized personality and the megawatt intensity of her stage presence and command of her audience's attention) has had an impact on her career.
"I'm sure there are times when I didn't get cast because someone thought I was too short. But I think that just as often, I was cast because I am short."
Because of that, because of the physical attribute that sets her apart from the crowd, she encourages aspiring youngsters to stay the course, to pursue their dreams whatever they perceive their own differentness to be - height, weight, color, personality - and to embrace that which sets them apart from the thousands of others striving for the same goals.
"That's what makes you special," Chenoweth intones, the wisdom of her own experience informing her every word.
"The work might not have been consistent, but being 4'11" and having this voice is originally what set me apart," says the woman whose Cunegonde in Leonard Berstein's Candide is a thing of beauty (Unfamiliar with her exquisite performance of "Glitter and Be Gay"? Why else do you think YouTube exists, if not to allow you to marvel in the wonders of Kristin Chenoweth's infinite musical skills?).
The last time she appeared with the Nashville Symphony, she came into two town two days early, without an assistant, friend or family member to accompany her - instead she came alone, so that she might soak up the atmosphere, to enjoy a town she loves and where she always feels welcome.
"I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum across the street from the Schermerhorn and people were very friendly and genuine - these are my people - and I walked over to Broadway, not my beloved Broadway in New York City, but to Nashville's Broadway, because I wanted to her some live music. I walked from bar to bar to bar and I was in this one place and there were four boys from Indiana sitting there and they saw me, and one of them came over to me and asked, 'Are you who I think you are?' and I said yes, so he said, 'well, we're gonna be your protectors because you are here by yourself' and that's what they did. They were so kind, considerate and gracious. And since then they've all come to my concerts with their wives and girlfriends.
"That's just the kind of experience I always seem to have while I'm in Nashville. I always find my people."
And so, too, is she ours: Kristin Chenoweth is just good people.
To purchase tickets to Kristin Chenoweth's concerts with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra - part of their 2018-19 FirstBank Pops Series - call (615 687-6400, or get them in person at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center Box Office.
About Kristin Chenoweth
Emmy and Tony Award winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth's career spans film, television, voiceover and stage. In 2015, Chenoweth received a coveted star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2009, she received an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role in Pushing Daisies. In 1999, she won a Tony Award for You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and she was also nominated for her original role of Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked in 2004. Chenoweth has been nominated for two Emmy Awards and for a People's Choice Award for her role on Glee. In 2009, she wrote an upliftingly candid, comedic chronicle of her life so far, A Little Bit Wicked, which debuted on the New York Times Hardcover Non-Fiction Best Seller List. Chenoweth is set to star as "Madeline" in the upcoming musical comedy Death Becomes Her, an adaptation of the 1992 film directed by Robert Zemeckis.
In 2015, Chenoweth earned a Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for her lead role in the Roundabout Theatre Company's On the Twentieth Century. She also earned nominations for a Tony Award and a Drama League Award. Chenoweth has performed to sold-out audiences across the world, including performances at Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall. In 2014, she released a CD and DVD of her own live concert performance, Kristin Chenoweth: Coming Home. Notable television roles include appearances in The West Wing, Disney's Descendants and The Muppets. In film, Chenoweth voiced the role of Gabi in the hit animated film Rio 2, and Fifi, Snoopy's beloved French poodle in The Peanuts Movie. She starred in the indie teen drama entitled Hard Sell; and additional film credits have included The Boy Next Door, Deck the Halls, Twelve Men of Christmas, Four Christmases, RV, Bewitched, The Pink Panther, Hit & Run and Family Weekend. She also starred in NBC's Hairspray Live! as Velma Von Tussle in December 2016. She was recently seen in the Starz original series American Gods, where she has reunited with executive producer Bryan Fuller in the role of Easter.
In addition to her film projects, Chenoweth recently starred in the second season of NBC's hit comedy series Trial & Error. The second season returned in July 2018, with Kristin receiving critical acclaim for her performance as Heiress Lavinia Peck-Foster.
Chenoweth released The Art of Elegance, her first album of American Songbook classics via Concord Records. The album debuted at #1 on Billboard's Current Jazz and Traditional Jazz charts, and #1 on Amazon's Vocal Pop chart.
Chenoweth also returned to the stage in her limited engagement My Love Letter to Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, receiving rave reviews. Kristin is currently working on her next album, set for release in 2019.
Chenoweth is a graduate of Oklahoma City University with a Master's degree in Opera Performance. She formed a charity partnership with the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center (BAPAC) Foundation in her home state of Oklahoma.
Chenoweth's accomplishments were honored by her hometown with BAPAC naming "The Kristin Chenoweth Theatre" in 2012. Partnering with the BAPAC in a labor of love, Kristin launched an annual Broadway Bootcamp in 2015, providing young Broadway hopefuls with the opportunity to take classes, hold performances and learn from top mentors in the entertainment industry including Kristin herself. Kristin is also a passionate supporter of charities which dedicate their time and efforts to helping those in need. She is an inductee into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, as well as the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.