Kristin Chenoweth wants to defy your expectations
The Emmy winner on playing darker characters, finding a legacy role and appealing to her grown-up ‘My Little Pony’ fans
Kristin Chenoweth suffers from a kind of attention deficit disorder called showbiz. She feels preprogrammed, on a biological level, to go all out, all the time. But she’s looking for a cure.
Since making her Broadway debut in 1997, she’s converted every speck of her 4-foot, 11-inch figure into a genre-allergic dramatic dynamo, stacking up hits in music, television, film and onstage.
She’s dropped a diverse array of studio albums including show tunes, opera, country, American standards and gospel music; played television roles in “The West Wing,” “Glee,” “American Gods,” “Pushing Daisies” and “GCB”; performed in the movies “Bewitched,” “The Pink Panther,” “Running with Scissors,” “Stranger than Fiction,” “The Star” and even “My Little Pony: The Movie”; and appeared onstage in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “On the Twentieth Century,” “My Love Letter to Broadway,” and of course, “Wicked.”
Yet most still think of the Emmy-winning performer somewhat narrowly, as a perky, pint-sized Broadway actress with disproportionately gigantic vocal chops (let’s get technical for a second: Chenoweth is a rare, classically trained coloratura soprano with a vocal range of E3 to F6). In all, she’s starred in eight Broadway shows and more off-Broadway performances than can easily be counted. That reputation as a Broadway star certainly speaks to the quality of her performances as Glinda, the good witch, in the original cast of “Wicked” and her Tony-winning role as Sally in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” But in a recent interview with LLNYC, Chenoweth, 49, said she is working to expand her range further still with more breakout roles that eclipse even her Broadway successes.
“I think people just expected me to do Broadway after I won the Tony,” Chenoweth told LLNYC from the back of a car in Beverly Hills, on her way to the airport to return to her Manhattan apartment just north of the Theater District. She said she is “coming home” to “clean and sing” in preparation for concerts at the Colosseum in Rome with Andrea Bocelli and the Palladium in London.
“I think I have taken a little hit in the Broadway community for not being a good girl and staying there,” she adds. “But I had things to do and roles to play … I just really like doing all kinds of things, and I work very hard at doing it all very well. I don’t just sit around and hope things come out well.”
But after years of working a triple-threat career and living full-time on the road, Chenoweth is looking to focus her talents into a legacy role.
“I work very hard at doing it all very well.
I don’t just sit around and hope things
come out well.”
“I could definitely cash in and do something that everybody wants me to do,” she says. “But then I look at Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ career and her show ‘Veep,’ and in my opinion she is at the top of her game and has found her legacy role. I am looking for that. Olive Snook [her character in ‘Pushing Daisies’] certainly was a beginning of that. ‘American Gods’ Easter could also turn into something really scary that you’ve never seen from me.”
The effort shows. More and more, Chenoweth has begun popping up where you’d least expect her. Just look at her part in Netflix’s hit animated show “BoJack Horseman”— which takes an unflinching look at the darkest of the dark side of show business — and Starz’s “American Gods,” an adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel that blends Americana, fantasy and mythology. These are roles that aren’t exactly playing to her traditional fan base: the gay piano bar crowd and happy-go-lucky musical theater obsessives. She is hoping to show the world a more multilayered version of herself, and it’s working.
As far as are dream roles are concerned, Chenoweth says Dolly Parton and Tammy Faye Bakker are at the top of the list — roles that coincidently would please the guys and gals back at the piano bar.
“They are two entertainers that I really relate to. Growing up in Oklahoma, loving Dolly and listening to her and then listening to Tammy Faye, I’m like ‘Oh! Yeah, that sounds familiar. That’s me!,” Chenoweth says, adding that she once wrote a song for Dolly called “What Would Dolly Do,” or “WW Double D.”
But lately that seems like a question Chenoweth could be asking about herself. Chenoweth recently opened up about her desire to start a family, telling Closer Weekly magazine that “I’ve sacrificed having a family and being married because, at the time, it didn’t seem possible. Now, of course, I’m ready for that time to come in my life.”
But speaking to LLNYC, Chenoweth clarified that her life is already complete (if not overbooked) and that she doesn’t have any plans to settle down.
“I thought a lot about it, and the truth is that I have a family,” she says. “I have kids that I take care of and mentor, and when I started to really think about it [I realized] I have a full life.” She runs a Broadway boot camp in her hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. “I have big stars that are younger than me that I mentor. I kind of feel like I have kids. I have cousins and nieces and nephews that I take care of. But if it ever did happen, I can tell you that while I love the idea of having a biological child, I am adopted and so I would probably adopt.”
While that may sounds a little less than traditional for a self-described Christian conservative (as a bit of a gay icon, she’s quick to clarify that she is socially liberal), but there’s a reason she’s never auditioned for the role of a wife: She says she just doesn’t know how to play the part.
“I’m not saying that I’m not having fun. I just haven’t made that choice to be settled down and be married and live that life. That is a lovely life, a wonderful life. I just don’t know how to do it and sing all over the world, film and write music. I just can’t figure that out,” she says. “I don’t have any kind of social life. All I do is work. That is by choice. But I am getting to the point where I would like to be back on Broadway or on TV, and just doing one thing … have just a little more of a social life.”
Chenoweth added that if she did ever adopt a child, she sure as hell wouldn’t be a show mom.
“No! Uh-uh. I would really want my kids not to be in show business,” she says. “Well, if they were really passionate and passionate about nothing else, then of course I would encourage them and give them anything I could to help them along the way. But it is a hard life. It is a fun life and rewarding life and I love it, but you have to really want to do it.”
“I don’t have any kind of social life.
All I do is work. That is by choice.”
Despite the hard work and sacrifices, the “shitty days” and bouts of “low-grade depression,” Chenoweth says she is ultimately a happy person who lives each day without bitterness. Looking at her life as it is now, and where she sees it heading, Chenoweth is optimistic — but not in some fuzzy, cosmic way. She’s optimistic because she knows how to put the time in and the kinds of rewards that work brings. That’s her long-term antidote to showbiz ADD.
Chenoweth’s message to the Bronies
In October, “My Little Pony: The Movie” will be released in theaters across America.
In the animated film, Chenoweth plays Princess Skystar, the princess of the “sea ponies.” As you might be aware, “My Little Pony,” a children’s cartoon popular with little girls, has another, more unusual fan base: young adult men who call themselves Bronies (a portmanteau of “bro” and “ponies”). It sounds a bit creepy — okay, it is a bit creepy — but adult fans of the show maintain that it features outstanding writing. They obsess over every detail of the program like comic book fans at an X-Men movie. They are also known for dressing up as ponies and buying body pillows featuring the rainbow-colored characters. Anyway, you get the picture.
Chenoweth said she has yet to encounter a Brony in person and that the prospect makes her “a little nervous.” Fair enough. But to our surprise, Chenoweth had a message for all the Bronies out there. Here is her communiqué to the Brony community:
“I am a little nervous if I am being honest with you. I don’t want to be trampled or gotten mad at because I wore the wrong color mane. I think the Bronies could be nervous about me, too. I could be wrong, but I am fixing to find out.
“So I have a message for the Bronies: I am really honored to be a part of this history. This is ‘My Little Pony’ history, okay? And I am not out to do anything weird. I am trying to stay right on their brand. I am honored to get to be in it, although I am in it pretty briefly. But I hope I do you proud.”
On the Westboro Baptist Church
Kristin Chenoweth is Christian, a bit of a rarity in showbiz these days. And before you start, she knows what you are thinking.
“First, the word ‘religious’ makes people very nervous. It makes us go, ‘Oh, crazy person.’ And honestly today, if you say you are a Christian, it could mean you are a crazy person. I don’t like that. I want people to know that not every Christian person is the same.”
But unfortunately, Chenoweth has been faced with crazies several times now, as her shows have frequently been targets of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Kansas-based fundamentalist sect known for protesting soldiers’ funerals, Jewish institutions and anything remotely gay. They are known for their slogan, “God hates fags.”
Chenoweth said that the first time she was attacked by the church for her pro-LGBT activism, she burst into tears. But by the second time, she said, she couldn’t help but laugh “because it was such the antithesis of Christianity”
“Every time I play Kansas they come after me,” Chenoweth says. “They are playing music and saying that ‘God hates fags’ and ‘Chenoweth is the devil.’ The problem is that they are playing a Sam Smith song while they are doing it, and I just really want to yell out, ‘Hey guys, if you are really going to picket and really let me have it, don’t be playing a song by a gay man. Come on now. Get with the program. Do your research!’”