Kristin Chenoweth’s gravity-defying career brings her to San Diego this week
In the 21 years since she made her Broadway debut in the musical “Steel Pier,” Kristin Chenoweth has won both a Tony Award (for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”) and an Emmy (for TV’s “Pushing Daisies”), earned dozens more stage and screen credits, even launched her own sitcom.
And … let’s see, are we forgetting anything?
Well, there was that one show about the witches and the wizard and the specter of a falling farmhouse.
And if you think Chenoweth might have grown tired by now of fielding questions about her signature turn as a bubbly but conflicted witch in the smash-hit musical “Wicked,” she’s here to correct you quicker than you can say “Glinda.”
“Oh, I love talking about ‘Wicked,’ because it’s part of my history,” says the Oklahoma-born singer-actress, who comes to San Diego on Friday for a one-night-only performance at the Music Box.
“I’m thankful I was in a show people have heard of!”
Even though the still-running “Wicked” hit Broadway four years after Chenoweth won her Tony for “Charlie Brown,” it was the show that launched her career into the stratosphere — and made the kind of broad cultural impact she’s still hearing about 15 years later:
“Truck drivers will come up to me and they’ll be like, ‘I liked “Wicked.” ’ I’ll say, ‘It’s OK, you can say it loud and proud!’
“You know, when you’re in something and you’re doing it, sometimes you don’t understand — pardon the pun — the gravity of what it is,” Chenoweth adds, playfully name-checking “Defying Gravity,” one of the biggest numbers in the show.
“I knew it was special. But I didn’t understand what it would become, the juggernaut that it is.”
Chenoweth notes that “Charlie Brown” closed just days after the 1999 Tony Awards, and “Steel Pier” — scored by the ace songwriting team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb — ran just four months in 1997.
“Just the heartache (of) being in shows that, for whatever reason, didn’t get what I felt they deserved,” as she puts it. “But ‘Wicked’ did, and I’m so proud it’s part of my tapestry.
“I learned a lot. It wasn’t always easy. But it was definitely a time when I was stretched and I grew so much. And I wouldn’t replace it for anything in the world, you know what I mean?”
So you can bet Chenoweth will perform material from “Wicked” as part of her San Diego set: “I get in really bad trouble when I don’t!” she says.
She’ll also be singing selections from her latest album, 2016’s “The Art of Elegance,” and a range of other tunes.
“If I can, I’m always going to have a little Dolly Parton in there; I have some Don Henley in there,” she says of the show, presented by the San Diego Symphony (with proceeds going to the symphony, La Jolla Playhouse and the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center in Chenoweth’s Oklahoma hometown).
“It’s a very eclectic program — it’s all over the map. It’s musical theater, country. I’ve got an original song by (“Parade” and “13” composer) Jason Robert Brown in there. So I’m really excited to get to do it.”
While Chenoweth’s Tony-nominated turn in “Wicked” (her co-star, Idina Menzel, wound up winning the lead-actress award as Elphaba) opened up plenty of television and film opportunities, live performance is something she continues to treasure and pursue.
“I love the live audience,” Chenoweth says. “I love the aspect that we’re sharing an experience together at the same time, and we’ll experience it in that way just once. Live theater is always changing.
“I’m not a robot. I have to listen to (the audience), and they tell me what they want, what they’re receiving, what they’re not receiving.
“I’m just a creature of that. That’s where I really live.”
One of Chenoweth’s next big projects is a starring role in a musical-stage adaptation of the 1992 black-comedy film “Death Becomes Her” — another show that pairs two women with extraordinary powers.
“I think it’s hilarious,” Chenoweth says of the piece, which she guesses is about two years away from fruition. “I think also, with the tricks and the magic that have to be achieved, it might be one of the first things people have seen on Broadway with (those sorts of) effects.”
And are there certain dream roles out there that she still hopes to step into someday?
Chenoweth mentions Desiree Armfeldt from “A Little Night Music”; the title roles in the classic musicals “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame”; maybe such real-life figures as Dolly Parton or Tammy Faye Bakker (a role she has actually read in a workshop version of an in-development musical about the late evangelist).
But, always looking forward, Chenoweth adds: “I think some of them are being written now.”
San Diego Symphony Presents Kristin Chenoweth
When: 8 p.m. Friday. Doors open at 7 p.m. (Age 21 and up only.)
Where: Music Box, 1337 India St., downtown
Tickets: From $100 (standing room) to $1,500 (includes VIP seating, hosted bar, sound-check reception and post-show photo with Chenoweth)
Phone: (619) 795-1337
Catching up with Kristin
The “Wicked” song “Popular” may have helped make her, um, popular, but Kristin Chenoweth has become a familiar face (and voice) for plenty of other reasons. A small sampling of her additional credits:
Broadway: “Promises, Promises” (2010); “On the Twentieth Century” (2015); “My Love Letter to Broadway” (2016).
Television: “The West Wing” (2004-06); “Pushing Daisies” (2007-09); “Glee” (2009-2014); “Kristin” (2001).
Movies: “Bewitched” (2005); “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006); “Hard Sell” (2016).
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