Kristin Chenoweth was born with a song in her heart—and on her lips. "I've always sung, from the time I was small," the 30-year- old, Tony Award-winning performer recalled in an interview with Playbill On-Line. "I started singing in churches and by the time I was twelve I was singing all around the country on the Baptist circuit, just doin' what came naturally, because my parents certainly weren't musical in any sense. I didn't have lessons either, not until I went to Oklahoma City University."
Chenoweth's voice, a high coloratura, had an astonishing range, one that could reach F above high C, a gift that seemed to lead her toward a career in opera, but the summer she spent in a stage revue at Opryland in Nashville changed all that. "I just fell in love with theatre and consider it my home, the part of show business that's closest to my heart," she said.
After a turn opposite Bill Irwin in a Roundabout Scapin, Chenoweth made her Broadway debut in Steel Pier. Such shows as Strike Up the Band, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever followed, culminating in the 1999 revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, for which she received Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. She then got top billing in the ill-fated comedy, Epic Proportions.
Despite such recognition, Chenoweth's name was not known in the hinterlands, but all that is about to change, thanks to her lead performance in a new NBC sitcom, "Kristin," which is being aired for thirteen episodes this summer. The diminutive (4' 11") blonde bombshell with the high-pitched voice ("which sounds as if she's just inhaled helium," said the New Yorker's John Lahr) plays a character not too unlike herself, a conservative girl from Oklahoma who comes to New York with dreams of making it big on Broadway, but ends up working as the personal assistant to a Donald Trump-like womanizer and playboy.
"Kristin Yancey isn't me in every regard," Chenoweth said. "She's a bit of a goody-two-shoes, very spiritual and moral, someone who's a bit of a fish out of water in fast-paced, sinful New York. But she does have talent and is determined to succeed in show business." The part was shaped for her by Emmy Award-winner John Markus of "Cosby" fame. "The series idea was his, not mine," Chenoweth said. "We had met a couple of years earlier, when I tested for a series called `Blind Men,' which didn't sell. He pitched me the idea of `Kristin,' and we refined it a bit together before he took it to Paramount, which in turn sold it to NBC.
"I've learned a lot in television," Chenoweth said. "Being something of a perfectionist, I had to adjust to the reality of shooting a show a week. You can win some battles, but not all of them. I'm proud of the overall series, though, and with my own work, which gives me room for comedy and singing. I'd say I'm really happy with eight of the thirteen episodes."
Chenoweth could win even more national attention when her first CD "Let Yourself Go" is released by Sony Classical early this summer. The focus is on show and pop tunes of the 30s and 40s. "These tunes just come naturally to me," ChenowEth said. "I sometimes have the feeling I was born in that era." Besides the title song, the CD contains such golden oldies as "My Funny Valentine" and "You'll Never Know," but there are also three new songs which the likes of Jeanine Tersori, Dick Scanlan and Richard Dworsky have composed for her.
"I'm sick that I'm not on Broadway right now," Chenowith said, "but I feel that if my TV series succeeds, it will enhance my stage career and bring me expanded audiences in future."