An interview with TV and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, who will kick off a tour at the Paramount in Seattle on May 9, 2012.
Kristin Chenoweth has a voice that’s clear as a bell, note-perfect and Broadway proven.
So why does she sound like she’s underwater?
“I’m packing,” Chenoweth said, the phone apparently pressed to her cheek while she raced around her Los Angeles home the other day.
The petite Chenoweth — she stands just 4 feet 11 inches tall — is not just packing clothes but appearances, songs and rehearsals, all in a matter of days.
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Her ABC television show, “GCB,” just wrapped (the finale airs Sunday night). She was appearing on “The Tonight Show” that evening and would then catch a flight to New York to rehearse a stage show that she’ll kick off at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre Wednesday.
Chenoweth wanted to start the tour somewhere unexpected. “Someone said ‘How about Seattle?’ and I said, ‘That’s it!’
“I had a great time with the Seattle Men’s Chorus (when she performed at its “Sing for the Cure” event in June 2001), and I have been trying to make my way back since.”
Chenoweth, 43, has a deep bag from which to pull a song list, having starred in multiple Broadway shows. But her tastes have always run to an earlier time, to singers like Barbara Cook and Blossom Dearie; and comediennes like Betty White and Carol Burnett.
“I feel like I was born in the wrong period,” she said. “I vacillate between the Thirties and Forties. So I introduce these classics to a new crowd,” she said.
“I love that the kids ask me, ‘What is that?’ It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”
She’s also doing something a little wrong as one of the stars of “GCB,” which is based on the book “Good Christian Bitches.” Chenoweth plays one of a trio of women who welcome the protagonist — played by Leslie Bibb — back to their Dallas community after her divorce.
They are beautiful and mean, Christian and evil, pampered and cutting, and walk a thin line between sinner and saint.
“It’s the devil in the angels of the world,” she said. “It’s so wrong, it’s right.”
Chenoweth is not trying to make any political statement about the state of things, or her own Christian background, she said. She considers herself a “nonjudgmental, liberal Christian,” and sees the characters’ religious pretense as “a sendup.”
“I would never do anything that would make fun of my God, my Christianity,” she said. “The show is funny, it’s silly. It’s chocolate cake.
“It’s not trying to be Shakespeare.”
Surprisingly, Chenoweth hasn’t seen much of “Smash,” the NBC hit that chronicles the drama — onstage and off — surrounding the launch of “Bombshell,” a fictional Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe.
Maybe that’s because Chenoweth has lived that drama already, starting with the musical “Steel Pier” in 1997. Two years later, she won a Tony for her performance as Sally in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
But it was her performance as Glinda in “Wicked” that made Chenoweth a household name, with her puny-yet-precise voice that sounds a bit like Minnie Mouse until she really gets going.
After “Wicked,” she did a (brief) sitcom called “Kristin” and had roles on TV’s “The West Wing,” “Pushing Daisies” (for which she won an Emmy in 2009), “Glee” and now “GCB.”
Chenoweth has always kept one foot on Broadway; last year, she starred in “Promises, Promises” with Sean Hayes of “Will & Grace.”
All that behind her, and Chenoweth can still feel the full-frontal rush of landing a part.
“You’re floating on air for a week and then the reality hits that you actually have to do it and make it wonderful,” she said. “There is a window there of pure enjoyment, and then you have to get at it.”
Keeping it fresh
Chenoweth was adopted as a baby and raised as Kristi Dawn in Broken Arrow, Okla., where she was a “popular, geeky girl” in the choir and a pom-pom girl. She worshipped Madonna, taught aerobics and delivered singing telegrams.
In 1993, she helped a friend move to New York City and auditioned for and won a role in “Animal Crackers” at the Paper Mill Playhouse. She hasn’t stopped since.
“None of it ever gets old, and I think it’s because I love what I do,” she said. “I am really lucky. When I am onstage, something occurs that you can’t describe, and I think people who have that feeling in front of a live audience always do better.”
So what happens up there? What is she thinking?
“Just the song,” she said. “All I think about is the lyric. I do ‘Popular’ in concert in a different way (than in ‘Wicked’). You have to figure out ways to keep it fresh for yourself.”
Chenoweth, who “BeDazzles everything” in her free time, just finished Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography and is listening to a lot of Blossom Dearie, Ava Cassidy and Adele, who she says is “better than wonderful.”
“If it ended tomorrow, I would be so thankful, and blessed,” Chenoweth said. “I am in love with this business, and people say not to be. They say it will disappoint you and hurt you and let you down, and that’s all correct.
“But I keep things in perspective. I hope I get paid to do it for a long time.”
Nicole Brodeur: 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.