Kristin Chenoweth is one of those rare talents who does it all — Broadway, TV, movies and a recording career. She snagged a Tony in 1999 for her role as Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. But it was 2003 when she skyrocketed to stardom for originating the role of Glinda in the smash musical Wicked. Since then, she’s been in a slew of TV shows and movies, she’s toured the country singing with orchestras and now she's back on the small screen starring as Lavinia Peck-Foster in the second season of NBC’s true-crime parody, Trial & Error. Chenoweth returns to Nashville Sept. 27 - 29 for a three-night concert appearance with the Nashville Symphony. The Broken Arrow, Okla., native — who is graciously charming, polite and fun – is most "at home" on stage where she can just be herself. "Being on stage in front of a live audience is my favorite. I love getting behind a good role on television or in a movie ... or especially on Broadway," Chenoweth says. "But when I'm in front of a concert audience, and I've picked the music for a reason and get to make music with orchestras like the Nashville Symphony, I feel happiest, because I'm just me. I'm Kristin. People who don't know me who come to my show definitely know who I am when they leave," she adds.
Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda in 2003, the role she originated in the hit musical "Wicked."
As is the case with many stars, Chenoweth’s first brush with the stage was in childhood. For her, it was in the Tulsa Ballet’s Nutcracker. Her aim was to be one of the mice, but she couldn’t fit into the costume. “The director told me I’d be creating the role of the rabbit,” Chenoweth reflects. The rabbit’s job was to just sit still next to Clara during all of Act II, but then the inevitable happened. “One of the dancers dropped a big piece of vine, and I thought, ‘What would a bunny do?’ So I hopped right out there, put that prop in my mouth and hopped back. The audience went insane, and I was in it!” Chenoweth began singing in church when she was young. Her early influences were gospel singers Sandi Patty and Amy Grant. As far as who she admires in adulthood, "it's all over the map," she says, listing talent like Dolly Parton, Carol Burnette, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Madonna, Rihanna and Ariana Grande.
Chenoweth's parents gave her lots of encouragement from a young age while instilling in her the value of a solid work ethic. “I grew up with chemical engineers who never sang ... and shouldn’t sing!” she laughs. “They encouraged me a lot and said, ‘If you want to do this, you gotta work hard,’” she says. Her father insisted she study hard and obtain a degree. Chenoweth's first Nashville experience was in 1988 during a summer break from Oklahoma City University. She was hired as a singer and dancer at Opryland in a show called Way Out West. "I was young, so I had to get special permission. I didn't want to leave Opryland and told my parents, 'I'm not going back to OCU, I'm going to stay here and be a singer in Nashville and a recording artist,'" she recalls. Her father wouldn't budge. Although Chenoweth had a dream of becoming a country and gospel singer in Nashville, her dad persisted with the conversation that she get a degree. He even drove all the way to Nashville to take her back to school. "My dad said, 'NO! I'm coming to get you, and you're going to finish your degree,'" Chenoweth says. "I'm so thankful for that because there are a lot of good singers as you know. For me, it was the right decision to hone my craft to become a better actor and artist," she adds.
VALUE OF CLASSICAL TRAINING
It was at OCU where Chenoweth was classically trained. One of her vocal instructors instilled in her the importance of interpretation and how being an actor influences the delivery of a song. “A lot of people can sing, but interpreting a song is a different deal. That’s what I want, to interpret a song,” she says. Chenoweth is a proponent of classical training because it yields longevity. "Classical training teaches you how to use your voice properly so you don't burn out, don't lose your voice and don't have issues," she says, comparing it to ballet. "Ballet gives you the core to do tap, jazz, modern, musical theater dance, lyrical dance ... it's the basis of dance." "That's the way I look at operatic training, or just training. It gets you ready for all kinds of music. There are no rules anymore. I sing country in my shows, I sing standards, I sing musical theater, I sing pop radio, I sing all of it," Chenoweth says. "That training will keep you. It's perseverance and longevity. If you want to have a 5- to 10-year career, then blow it out. But if you want to have something to say until the day you die, which is me, then you have to take care of that voice."
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING KIDS
Chenoweth has a big heart for children. She mentors kids through her Kristin Chenoweth Broadway Boot Camp in Oklahoma, and she doesn’t sugar coat a thing. “I tell them, ‘If you want a participation award and be told how great you are, forget it; this isn’t the camp for you.’ I reiterate that if this is something they want to do, it takes dedication, hard work, training ... the whole process of it. If you want to be famous, then you should go do something different. If you want to be GREAT at what you do, then you should TRAIN,” she says. “I still want to be GREAT!” Chenoweth laughs. “Train. Learn. Dedicate. Take care of your body. Take care of your voice. That’s the biggest advice I give them,” she adds.
Kristin Chenoweth's latest album, "The Art of Elegance," features her incredible interpretation of American standards.
COMING TO NASHVILLE
Chenoweth has loved Music City ever since her summer stint at Opryland in the late ’80s. She’s hoping to do something permanent with the Nashville Symphony someday. “I dream of making an album with the Nashville Symphony,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite orchestras and one of my favorite concert halls,” she adds. Her show will include a mix of American standards and Broadway numbers with a few surprises thrown in. She has a deep appreciation for the standards. "The melodies are the greatest from the greatest composers, but everything to me comes down to the lyrics," Chenoweth says. "It's one of the things I love about country music and Broadway music — they both tell stories. That's why I'm drawn to both so much. Talk about experiences of life and love and heartbreak and all that stuff. I sound like an old curmudgeon here, but I really think it comes down to words, always" she adds. Without giving too much away, Chenoweth's show will be a little different each night, including the introduction of a young new talent she'll bring on stage. "I like to keep things different, and that's the beauty of live music," she says. Having kids in the audience is important to Chenoweth. Her unparalleled talent and high-caliber performances are inspiring a new generation of young artists to achieve a high level of excellence in their craft. “One of the things I want kids to take away is that there are no rules anymore. I want them to see that if you train and work hard, you can sing anything. ANYTHING!”
IF YOU GO:
FirstBank Pops Series: Kristin Chenoweth with the Nashville Symphony Sept. 27 - 29; All ages Schermerhorn Symphony Center 1 Symphony Place, Nashville 615-782-4040 | nashvillesymphony.org Showtimes: Thu 7 p.m., Fri - Sat 8 p.m. Tickets: $40 - $152