In less than a decade on Broadway, Kristin Chenoweth has gone from a standout performance in a short-lived show (Steel Pier) and a Tony-winning featured performance in a musical revival (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) to the star of one of the biggest hits of the past few seasons (Wicked). During that time, the comedic actress with the limitless vocal range has also starred in her own television sitcom as well as two made-for-TV musicals. Now, Chenoweth seems poised for even more accolades and greater stardom with three film projects in the works: "The Pink Panther," "Bewitched" and the movie musical "Asphalt Beach." And, on Sept. 10, the Tony-winning actress will add one additional entry to her ever growing resume when she makes her solo Carnegie Hall concert debut at the famed New York landmark. That evening, which will include a mix of Chenoweth staples and new tunes, will boast a special opening number penned by composer Andrew Lippa as well as a surprise guest star. I recently had the chance to chat with the good-natured Chenoweth about these many projects and her upcoming second solo recording. That interview follows:
Question: Are you excited about your Carnegie Hall concert?
Kristin Chenoweth: I am. We've finally settled on the program. The problem is there are so many great songs! For me, it's like, "Which ones do you not do?" [Laughs.] It's been a really hard decision. Also, I wanted to do some works by some younger composers. Some of the material will be stuff that people have seen me do that was on my first record, and some of it will be new stuff for me. I've also written a song called "The Ride Home." There's a new song that Diane Warren wrote that will be on my new album, which I'm doing this week. [Laughs.] I started it last Friday, and we're working through this Friday, and I'm almost done.
Q: What's the name of the new recording?
KC: It's going to be something like "Songs I Grew Up On." It's an inspirational record. There will be a couple of Jesus songs on there [laughs], but mainly it's for anyone who just wants to be uplifted. . . . Sony Classical [will release it] in March. Q: Will "Taylor, the Latte Boy" be on the CD? Is that song inspirational enough?
KC: Well, it's a surprise. You'll just have to keep listening to the record to find out! [Laughs.]
Q: Getting back to Carnegie Hall — I know this is your first solo concert there, but have you ever performed there?
KC: Yeah, I did two concerts with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, which I'm an honorary member of, very proudly. And I did a Lerner and Lane tribute that Elaine Stritch was in.
Q: What's it like stepping on to that stage?
KC: It's scary as hell — your heart drops to your feet. In fact, when I'm doing it, I try not to think about where I'm at because I would get totally intimidated. I just try to think about the work at hand and have fun.
Q: Is your family coming in for the concert?
KC: Yes, oh yes. It's really kind of special because my aunt and uncle, who live in a town called Noble, Oklahoma, are going to get to come in, and I'm really close to my aunt. I have six aunts who are all just like my mom, but this [aunt] is like the matriarch, so I'm really excited. She's like the steel magnolia. Hopefully she'll like it.
Q: Will there be a full orchestra?
KC: It'll be a small orchestra, 14-15 pieces. I also have two back-up dancers — Seán Martin Hingston and David Elder. Seán and Vince Pesce were with me [at the John Jay College concert]. Vince has been unavailable because he's doing "Once Upon a Mattress" with Kathleen [Marshall], but I got David, who I've had such a long relationship with, and I love him so much. We worked together at Opryland when I was 18 years old. We've known each other for a long time. We've done Encores! together. I just adore him.
Q: You have so many movies in the works. Let's go through them, and tell me about the different roles.
KC: I've actually done "Pink Panther." It's finished. [I play] a French tart. She's witness to a murder, and all my scenes are with Steve Martin and Jean Reno, the French actor. It was really fun, and I did it while I was doing Wicked. It was awesome because Steve Martin is a genius, and he's very serious, too, about his work, which I am, too, so I liked that. People think that I'm just fun all the time [laughs], that comedy comes so easy to me. It really is actually a science.
Q: I think comedy is extremely hard to get right.
KC: That's why Wicked took such a toll on me physically because it was so difficult. It's hard to be funny, and it's also hard to be dramatic at the end . . .
Q: and sing up into the stratosphere at the same time. . .
KC: [laughs] and then belt. It was awesome, but it was just hard. Working with Mr. Martin [on "Pink Panther"] was awesome. I really had a good time, and I think it will be released by the end of next spring or early summer. And, in a couple weeks, right after Carnegie Hall, I start "Bewitched," which is the new Nora Ephron movie. She's also directing it, and it's with Nicole Kidman, and all my scenes are with her. It's a bigger part, her best friend basically.
Q: So, it's a role that's not in the TV series?
KC: I do live next door to her, but I'm not Miss Kravitz. There's a misconception out there that I'm playing Gladys Kravitz, but I'm not. [Laughs.] Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine [are in the cast]. And, then, after that I'll do a movie musical that's an original piece by Peter Spears called "Asphalt Beach," and it's a black comedy. It's very, very twisted, and it'll be good for me to do because [the role is] what people think I will do, and then it's not at all — she's kind of dark and has some bad habits. I'll just leave it at that. [Laughs.] I'm excited about it though. The guys came to see Wicked, and they asked me to read the script. I look for things that are very different. It's going to be Parker Posey and me playing the leads. Then I go on tour with the Boston Pops, and then I have concerts, and then I do Alice in Wonderland in a year-and-a-half for the L.A. Opera.
Q: Have you heard the score yet?
KC: No, it's actually being written right now. So, it's a busy time, but it's all good. Of course, there's always — "When are you going to come back to Broadway?" I really want to do that, too. I have a piece that I'm actually going to produce and work on myself. It's called Boots, and it's about an ex-Vegas showgirl, who moves back to Texas to teach a college drill team. [They are] kinda like losers. It's really sweet and funny.
Q: Is it a musical?
KC: It's going to be. Lamar Damon wrote it for screen, and it's been owned by several studios, but then "Bring It On" happened and all these movies that were like it. I just read it and fell in love with it and said I'd really like to make this as a musical. It would be another opportunity to do something original.
Q: So, you'll be the producer?
KC: Well, I would produce it and star in it, but I would not direct it and write it and all that. [Laughs.]
Q: Do you have a time line for the project?
KC: Surely not next season, but I'm hoping for the next season [after that]. I'm also really interested in Young Frankenstein if [Mel Brooks] gets that done. That would be a big priority for me, too. There's a lot going on, and I'm really excited about this album. I just recorded yesterday the track that Diane Warren wrote. The song is incredible — it's so moving. It's called "Borrowed Angels" — anyone who's ever lost anyone will be able to relate to it. There will be other stuff on there, a crossover song that Faith Hill did that wasn't ever released as a single called "It Will Be Me." It's kind of like no matter what you do, if you turn around, I'll be the one standing there for you. I'll be the one helping you. It's really a good song, country-flavored.
Q: So, you're very busy. Did you ever think you'd have this much movie work so quickly?
KC: No, no, no, I never did. In fact, I never thought I would do film. I just thought I'd do TV. I never really auditioned for stuff, and then it just started happening. I went in for "Pink Panther" for one part and didn't get it because I looked a little young. Then Steve [Martin] said, "I really want you to be in the movie though," so I got this other part. . . I'm really in a precarious position in a way because I do a lot of different things, but I think that I would be remiss in not exploring all of them.
Q: You have to. And the truth is, the bigger your star is elsewhere, the more you can decide what you want to do on Broadway.
KC: And, my first love is always going to be theatre. It's just how it is — when I'm onstage I'm so happy and I'm most comfortable. I thought Candide was probably the highlight of my career so far, but I think [Carnegie Hall] might top it. When [Clear Channel] came and said they wanted to do a concert with me, I was just beside myself, so happy.
Q: Last topic — tell me about your final night in Wicked.
KC: I never really understood what bittersweet meant until that night. I have to tell you, the ensemble of that show, especially, we were like family. They always say that, but we went through a lot of stuff this group. And, I just miss them. I miss them so much. I knew I was going to miss them, and it was just going to be incredibly difficult. I miss doing the part; the actual role is so fun. It's so much work, but it's so rewarding. [The final night] was hard, but because I'm moving on to other things, I kind of just think about it with a smile in my heart. I'd love to actually go back some time. They talk about doing a movie.
Q: What's happening with the movie?
KC: Well, they have to use me or pay me off. [Laughs.] . . . I feel like I really grew a lot as a comedienne and also personally. I went through a lot of stuff while doing it, and I grew up. I got a clue, I guess you can say. But the main thing is I really miss the ensemble. They make our show. Looking down at them when I was in the bubble every night, with their arms up to me and just looking up at me with hope in their eyes, is something I'll never forget, ever. It was like that every night, too.
[Kristin Chenoweth will play Carnegie Hall's Isaac Stern Auditorium, Sept. 10 at 8 PM. Tickets, priced $35-$75, are available by calling (212) 247-7800 or by visiting click here. Carnegie Hall is located in Manhattan at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue.]
Good news, diva lovers — the wait is finally over! The sensational solo debut recording from Little Shop of Horrors star Ellen Greene, "In His Eyes," is finally on sale. Those interested in purchasing this terrific vocal recording should head to Greene's new official website, www.ellengreene.com. The 13-track recording is available for $20 (autographed) or $15 (unsigned) by clicking here. Last week I reviewed "In His Eyes," Greene's collaboration with musical director Christian Klikovits. That review can be read by clicking here.
During the recent Empty-Handed concert at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, Avenue Q co-star Jennifer Barnhart joked that although she is the understudy for the roles of Kate and Lucy, she never gets to sing "I Wish I Could Go Back to College" because Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who created those roles, "never misses a performance." Well, Barnhart, will finally get the chance to strut her stuff as the boyfriend searching Kate and the man-obsessed Lucy next month: On Sept. 7 (8 PM), 8 (8 PM), 10 (8 PM) and 12 (2 and 7 PM), Barnhart will fill in for the Tony nominated D'Abruzzo.
The North Shore Music Theatre — located in Beverly, MA — will be among the first regional theatres in the country to produce the hit Disney musical Aida, which ends its run at Broadway's Palace Theatre Sept. 5. Directed by Stafford Arima, the North Shore Aida will co star Montego Glover (recently seen as Lorrell in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's production of Dreamgirls) as Aida with Brad Anderson (Hugh Jackman's understudy in The Boy From Oz) as her love interest, the ill-fated Radames. Completing the love triangle will be Seussical's Janine LaManna as Amneris. Also in the cast is John Schiappa, recently seen on Broadway in Assassins, as Zoser. Featuring choreography by Patricia Wilcox, Aida will play the North Shore Oct. 26-Nov. 21. Visit www.nsmt.org for more information.
Christiane Noll, who starred as Hope Cladwell in the tour of Urinetown, has landed the role of Mabel in the upcoming Goodspeed Musicals revival of Mack & Mabel. A spokesperson for Noll told me earlier this week that the actress will play the role originated on Broadway by Bernadette Peters. As previously announced, Scott Waara, a 1992 Tony Award winner for The Most Happy Fella, will play the other title character, Mack Sennett. The revival of Jerry Herman, Michael Stewart and Francine Pascal's musical will also feature Donna McKechnie as Lottie Ames, an actress-pal to the silent screen figures. For Goodspeed Musicals information, call (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.
A host of theatre favorites will pay tribute to Cy Coleman at the annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (S.T.A.G.E.) concert in Los Angeles. This year's concert, which benefits the Actors' Fund of America, will be held Nov. 6 at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the Campus of Cal State University Los Angeles. Among those scheduled to take part in The Best Is Yet to Come: The Music of Cy Coleman are Christine Andreas, Lucie Arnaz, Liz Callaway, Keith Carradine, Joy Claussen, Carole Cook, Tyne Daly, Tonja Walker Davidson, Nancy Dussault, Ilene Graff, Ken Howard, Bill Hutton, Jane A. Johnston, Jane Lanier, Michele Lee, Marin Mazzie, Rod McKuen, Brian Stokes Mitchell, James Naughton, Valarie Pettiford, Charlotte Rae, Alice Ripley, Chita Rivera, John Schneider, Christopher Showerman, Mark Smith, Sally Struthers, Lillias White, Patrick Wilson and Jo Anne Worley. Coleman will be presented with the Nedda Harrigan Logan Award during the evening, which will feature direction by David Galligan and musical direction by Ben Lanzarone. For ticket information, visit www.actorsfund.org. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Diva Talk" will be on vacation next week, but will return Sept. 10.
(Look for a condensed version of "Diva Talk" in the theatre edition of Playbill Magazine.)