Whoever said good things come in small packages must have been thinking of Kristin Chenoweth. At 4 feet 11 inches, the singer/actress best known for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in the original production of Wicked has a height inversely proportional to her towering talent on the stage.
On Oct. 4, the Tony Award-winner will blend personal stories along with those powerhouse vocals during her first-ever Madison appearance at Overture Center.
Chenoweth, 47, an adopted daughter and native of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, received a bachelor’s degree in musical theater and master’s in opera performance at Oklahoma City University, studying with famed vocal coach and mentor Florence Birdwell.
Chenoweth rarely slows down these days between stage, screen and television roles. Her Overture Hall appearance marks an infrequent departure that allows her to get up close and personal with fans while singing some of her favorite songs to audiences old and new. She stopped long enough to fill in WiG on her personal impressions and favorite projects.
I know you started singing at an early age. How and when did you know that you would sing professionally? I began singing in church at a young age and felt I would never leave the stage. I fell in love with ballet and theater and spent most of my extra time doing that. I also did all the normal childhood things, like the school plays and choir. I was a cheerleader and in the French club. I wanted to grow up in a normal high school environment, but I think I felt somewhere down deep I was going to work the rest of my life in show business, so I just wanted to learn and grow and have fun.
You have a wide-ranging career onstage, in film, in the recording studio and on television. Which medium do you most enjoy working in and why? I love the feeling I get from being with an audience. There is nothing better. It’s my drug of choice. (My other one is Coca-Cola.)
I can’t imagine not being an artist. Sometimes I think how lucky I am to get to do what I love, because so many people don’t do that and are miserable. I have a true passion for what I do and it’s never waned. If anything, that passion has grown and become more intense over the years.
What factors do you consider when choosing new material or a new role to perform? Any role I agree to play must be multi-layered. Playing a one-note character isn’t interesting to me. I am really a “character woman.” I love playing interesting women who seem OK, but are slightly off. But the aspect I like best in a role like that is making the audience understand why someone is the way she is. It’s more complicated, but more fun.
In the same vein, how do you define “good music?” Is it based on clinical or technical criteria, or is there a distinct emotional characteristic that must been present? I love so many types of music, so many genres. I love opera, as it was my training and I train that way still. It’s like an Olympic athlete staying in shape. Singing everyday in some capacity is so important to me.
I adore country music because those are my roots. Obviously, Broadway and American standards are big with me. My parents love all kinds of music and I think that influenced me. All of this and more are part of my concerts, because it represents who I am. Well maybe not rap, although I do love Eminem. There is a new rap Broadway musical called Hamilton that I’m obsessed with.
Who had the greatest influence over you and who do you most appreciate for the life lessons you received? This is a loaded question. (Ha ha.) I hope the life lessons that I continue to learn are passed through to all my kids who I am close with. They know who they are. I hope to always be a good influence by giving positive feedback, but also telling the truth! I want all the kids I work with to follow their passion, whatever it is! A kid with self-esteem who has passion for their art is unstoppable.
My teacher Florence Birdwell showed me that. I learned a lot of my core singing technique while I was under her teaching. I learned how to prepare a song, and what songs were right for me. I also learned about some songs that weren’t right for me, just so we could work on them.
What do you consider your breakthrough performance? The role I look back on and feel happiest about was Cunégonde in Candide, the operetta by Leonard Bernstein. I worked on it throughout my whole college life, and I finally performed it with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at age 33. I was doing Wicked at the time and took a week off to do this role, which the producers had filmed for the PBS series Great Performances. I feel like all my training came into play at the exact right time with the right role. The role itself is vocal gymnastics and very hard. I also had to be a comedienne, so I loved performing it.
An entirely new audience was introduced to Broadway and its stars through Glee. What was it like performing as guest star April Rhodes on the show? I’m just glad (Glee co-creator) Ryan Murphy made the glee club cool. It never was cool in my school. I loved getting to sing a (John) Kander and (Fred) Ebb piece, a Carrie Underwood song and song from the band Heart, all on one show. So many people of all ages learned what the musical Cabaret was and introduced that era to a new era. And now kids want to learn. This is amazing.
If you could only sing only a few songs for the rest of your life, which songs would those be? There are a few songs I will always sing, for reasons well-known to me.
“Till There Was You” (from The Music Man) is finally back in my repertoire. I had to stop singing it for a few years and heal a broken heart.
“Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables to me is a prayer. It applies to me in a different way, a desire to bring people that were once close to me back into my life again.
Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter” is self-explanatory, and so is Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow.” And “All The Things You Are.” Jerome Kern is one of my favorite composers, if not the favorite.
Finally, what can Madison fans expect from your Overture Center performance? I have never played Madison so I’m truly excited! I want to give it all to them. I want to sing everything, but I can’t! I may sing something written by someone from there.
Kristin Chenoweth will perform at Overture Hall in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., on Oct. 4. Tickets are $40 to $150 and can be ordered at 608-258-4141 or overturecenter.org.