If the expression "sings like a bird" fits anyone, it's probably most apt for Kristin Chenoweth, the Tony Award-winning star of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown who will star in the upcoming television adaptation of The Music Man as well as Stephen Schwartz's newest Broadway musical, Wicked. Chenoweth possesses one of the smoothest voices around, and when she opens her mouth, the sounds seem to flow out effortlessly. I was flipping channels this week and happened upon the final minutes of an interview with Chenoweth on Isaac Mizrahi's talk show for the Oxygen Network. The chat concluded with a Chenoweth-Mizrahi duet (!) on The Fantasticks charmer, "Soon It's Gonna Rain," and I was reminded of just how beautiful Chenoweth's tones are. And, who would have thought that the diminutive diva would draw some of the biggest laughs in last month's all-star Funny Girl benefit concert? Chenoweth not only amazed the crowd with her amazingly high coloratura, but she had the audience roaring with her great sense of comic timing during the production number, "His Love Makes Me Beautiful." Tonight (Oct. 11), Chenoweth brings her acclaimed one-woman concert (plus a few back-up "boys") to Lincoln Center's "American Songbook" series with a two-act program directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. I had the chance to chat with the charming singer actress earlier this week about her many projects, and excerpts from that conversation follow.
About the program for her "American Songbook" concerts:
"I've added some new songs [since the Donmar Warehouse engagement], one of which was written specifically for [these concerts]. It's a surprise. If I tell you the title, it gives the joke away, but it's really cute. Andrew Lippa wrote it, and he's done right by me in the past [laughs]. I'm really thrilled with it . . . There's a possibility of my next album being turn-of-the-century music, so I've been investigating some of that stuff, and I found a Stephen Foster song that I've added to the program . . . [There will also be] a couple songs that are more contemporary. Act One will be a lot of stuff from my album ['Let Yourself Go']. Act Two will be the album and some new things. I'm kind of excited about it . . . I'll also be doing 'The Girl in 14G,' which is one of the bigger hits off my album that Jeanine [Tesori] and Dick [Scanlan] — the people who wrote Millie — wrote for me. I'll be doing 'Let Yourself Go,' 'If,' 'Stranger Here Myself.' I'll be doing a Kern medley that's not on the album, a composer I feel really fits me very well. There's also going to be a song that was cut from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party. I'll be doing 'Taylor, the Latte Boy,' which is a contemporary number. I'll be doing a little opera. Hopefully when people come, they will like something! [Laughs.]"
About how she picks songs for her concerts:
"It's kind of a little bit of everything. People bring them to me. For instance, 'Taylor [the Latte Boy],' Marcie [Heisler] and Zina [Goldrich] brought it me to sing at a benefit a couple years ago, and it was a bit hit. I did it on 'Rosie,' and it's just a great song. They are brilliant songwriters, and they wrote a song that everyone can relate to . . . The song that was cut from The Wild Party — I took part in that workshop. That song was not my character's song, but I've never forgotten it. It really, really touched me, and I've always wanted to do it. [Andrew Lippa] helped put it in my key and made it more suited for a concert version. All the '30s and '40s music — I've been cast a lot in that era, and I've always felt that I kinda belong there, which was the reason I did the album . . . I really like all kinds of music. I love country music. I grew up singing country and gospel music. You'll hear flares of that, too. I just look for things that move me, that speak to me, like most singers do. That's kind of how I choose."
About performing in concert versus in a musical:
"That's funny. I was just talking about this last night to somebody. I love playing a character. It's so much fun. It's such a great process of growth. [Singing in concert] is a totally different animal, [but] I love it. It's actually been extremely rewarding for me since I haven't been on Broadway. It fills that need [laughs] of being onstage, and, also, I can just be myself, and people can get an aspect of who I really am as a person instead of relating to me as Sally from Charlie Brown or On a Clear Day or whatever they've seen me in. I like it, and I think it's a venue that works for me, too."
About performing in the recent Funny Girl concert:
"I had so much fun. I had to rehearse for that number three weeks before we did it because I had to go do some concerts. I came back in town that morning and was so tired and, you know how you get — 'I can't believe I agreed to do something else. I'm so tired!' And then I thought, 'Why are you doing this? You're doing it for a great cause.' And it ended up being great — all of us girls. Somebody said, 'Were there a lot of divas backstage?' There weren't. We just had so much fun. I was with my friends. A lot of those girls I know — Jane [Krakowski] and Julia [Murney]. I got to know Spencer [Kayden] a little bit. I just enjoyed it. I really had a good time." About some of her co-stars in the Funny Girl benefit:
"I have to tell you I am a huge Judy Kuhn fan, and I was especially moved by her. I'm always moved by her. And, I gotta tell ya, Carolee Carmello — when she sang that last song ['The Music That Makes Me Dance'], we were getting ready to enter, and I was just a ball of tears. Her voice, something about her voice makes me want to cry. I don't know what it is. She was amazing. I was actually relieved they gave me that funny number. I would hate to have to do 'People' or 'Who Are You Now?' because they're so regarded as Barbra Streisand's music. But I thought all the women took [the songs] and did their own takes — like Lillias [White]. What she did with her song — it was amazing!"
About her experience filming the upcoming TV movie of The Music Man:
"It was amazing! It was so much fun to work on that and work with Matthew [Broderick]. Debra Monk played my mom, and we're very close. She played my mother on my TV show, too. I have to tell you I'm so glad that I got to do that part because it's not necessarily a part people would see me in . . . [The casting made] more sense once they told me who was playing Harold. And, it was fun to get to do a different take on the role, more how I see her. Obviously, they cast it younger — the whole cast — than normally you see. And, I didn't want her to be an old maid. I wanted it to be that she had not found the guy, that she was picky and that she was not going to settle, which makes sense. And, I think a lot of women today can relate to that. I know I can! [Laughs.] So I had such a great time playing an actual adult. I've gotten to play a lot of different characters like Sally in Charlie Brown, but I've also played young ingenues. I've played the comedic parts. I've not really been pigeonholed, which is nice, but this part is going to be special to me for so many reasons, because I got to play not just the comedy. Certainly Marian has a little more spunk to her than normal, but it's also a more dramatic part for me."
About the score for the TV Music Man:
"It's definitely the [Meredith Willson] score. The arrangements, some of them, are different — for example, for my character, the song 'My White Knight.' Disney wanted to make this song more heartfelt, more that she's grown, that she's really becoming a woman and that she's fallen in love with this guy. To do that, to make it more accessible to today and to make it more relatable, we lowered the key. And, I have to be honest, I fought it at first because I was like, 'I'm a soprano, and la-la-la...' [Laughs]. And, they said, 'Just work with it.' And I thought, 'Okay, think about the character. How does this make sense?' And it does, it actually works. Now, it's very hard for me to do it in the key that it is written. And, in the concert, actually, I will be doing it the way I did it in the movie. I think this movie is going to look beautiful. I think Matthew Broderick is going to really surprise people. He is absolutely amazing in this part. All I know is I had a great time working on it, and I felt guided very well by the director and by Kathleen [Marshall], who choreographed it."
About her return to Broadway in Stephen Schwartz's Wicked:
"About a year-and-a-half ago, Stephen Schwartz called me and said, 'I've got this show, and there's a part that I kind of wrote with you in mind, and I can't imagine anyone else doing it.' And I was just so overbooked. I was in the middle of finishing 'Kristin.' We had just done 13 episodes. And I said, 'No, I can't. I'm tired.' And he said, 'I'm going to send it to you anyway and you can read it.' I read it, and I went, 'Oh, okay!' [Laughs.] I called him back and said I wanted to do it. That was the beginning. I kinda see [my role] as a really strong supporting character, but it is a great part. It's a great show — his music is fantastic . . . I have a really great comedy song. There's a great duet at the end of the show with me and Idina [Menzel]. I took the role for the acting, to be honest. Yeah, I wish that I had more to sing, but I took it more for the journey that this character takes."
About the new musical Earth Girls Are Easy, which she recently performed, in workshop:
"The response was excellent. I really want to try to work this out in my schedule. It's along those same lines as Little Shop of Horrors . . . It's really cute, and it's really entertaining. Just the way I pick my music, I pick roles the same way. This role is really fun, and it gives me a chance to show the comic skills and sing some really guilty pleasures! I sing 'Eternal Flame' and 'Heart of Glass.' Those are the songs I remember growing up with . . . I'm just praying and hoping it works out. I do have next summer off because we're taking a hiatus from Wicked, and there's always after Wicked, but I don't know what my life will be like after that!"
Chenoweth's "American Songbook" concerts will be held at the John Jay College Theatre, which is located in New York City on Tenth Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets. Tickets are priced at $45, and show time is 8 PM. For ticket reservations, call CenterCharge at (212) 721 6500; for more information, go to www.lincolncenter.org.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Rosie O'Donnell, the star of Broadway's Grease! and Seussical, will sit down for a chat with Isaac Mizrahi on his talk show for the Oxygen Network, "The Isaac Mizrahi Show." The former talk-show host will discuss her decision to leave her acclaimed program, "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," as well as her battle with depression. About the former, she says, "The temptation was to stay at the job even when the thrill of doing it was gone. That was just money, and you know what Isaac, I've got enough money." "The Isaac Mizrahi Show" airs Monday, Oct. 21 at 10:30 PM on the cable channel Oxygen. Check local listings . . . Former A Chorus Line star Priscilla Lopez and Rent's Manley Pope and will join a host of Japanese performers for a concert to benefit The Japanese Community WTC Relief Fund. Hosted by NY 1 News anchor Roma Torre, the evening — entitled "Thank You, Broadway!" — will be held Nov. 6 at 7:30 PM at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Among the Japanese stars who will fly in to perform are Takuya Kon, Yoko Kon, Kunio Murai, Ran Ohtori, Kaho Shimada and Koji Yamamota. Tickets are available by calling International Cultural Productions at (212) 265-1613. Alice Tully Hall is located at 1941 Broadway at 65th Street . . . The six-track sampler for Liza Minnelli's "Liza's Back!" recording — due in stores Oct. 29 — features these songs: "Liza's Back," "Something Wonderful," "City Lights," "Never Neverland"/"Over the Rainbow," "Cabaret" and "New York, New York." Minnelli and new husband David Gest made a brief appearance at the recent New York media event to promote her new J Records CD. Executive producer Clive Davis was also on hand to introduce the starry couple . . . On Oct. 10 Jerry Herman presented his Hello, Dolly! star, Carol Channing, with the first star for the upcoming Broadway Walk of Stars in the Times Square area; expect the stars to make their debut around Tony time. During his introduction, Herman said that Channing "was the sister he never had." When Arlene Dahl, who spearheaded the Broadway Walk of Stars campaign, asked Channing if she knew why she had been selected as the first recipient, the star quipped, "Yes, because everyone else is dead." Channing said she accepted the award on the behalf of the many stars who were no longer with us, including the late, great Ethel Merman, Mary Martin and Gwen Verdon.
Betty Buckley in Concert: Oct. 22-Nov. 9 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 16 at the Performing Arts Center of SUNY Purchase in Purchase, NY
Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC
Liz Callaway in Concert
October 14 in Broadway: The Concert in Konzerthaus Dortmund, Germany
October 21 in Other Voices 6! at Caroline's on Broadway in New York, NY
October 26 in Divas: Simply Singing in Los Angeles, CA
May 16, 2003 in "Broadway Showstoppers" with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops in Philadelphia, PA
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Oct. 19 at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA
Nov. 2 at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn, NY
Nov. 7 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Nov. 9 at the Harriman Arts Program of William Jewell College in Kansas City
Nov. 22 at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT
Dec. 3-16 at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 20 at the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 31, 2003 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Long Island, NY
Feb. 14-16 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, PA
Linda Eder in Concert:
Oct. 12 at the Union County Arts Center in Rahway, NJ
Oct. 25 and 26 with the Charlotte Symphony in Charlotte, NC
Nov. 1-3 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, PA
Nov. 8 in Providence, RI
Nov. 20 at the Community Theatre in Morristown, NJ
Nov. 23 at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, CT
Dec. 1 at the Bass Hall in Austin, TX
Dec. 3 at the Verizon Wireless Theatre in Houston, TX
Dec. 4 at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, TX
Dec. 12 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota, FL
Dec. 16 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 17 at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL
Dec. 18 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 20 and 21 with the Atlanta Symphony at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 3 and 4, 2003 with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore, MD
Jan. 25 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
Jan. 30 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, CA
Feb. 1 at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, CO
Feb. 14 at the Proctor's Theatre in Albany, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert
March 27, 2003 at the East County Performing Arts Center in Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Maureen McGovern in Concert:
Oct. 24 at the annual Cabaret Convention in New York, NY
Oct. 30-Nov. 3 at the American Music Therapy Association Conf. in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 2 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 9 at the Landmark Theatre Gala in Port Washington, NY
Nov. 10 at the Hanford Civic Auditorium in Hanford, CA
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 14 at the Boca Pops Big Band Series in Boca Raton, FL
Bernadette Peters in Concert:
Oct. 24 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, IN
Oct. 26 at the Kleinhans Auditorium in Buffalo, NY
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!
—By Andrew Gans