Few Broadway-bred stars these days have reached the level of divadom that Kristin Chenoweth has. She is an enigma of endless charm and honest-to-goodness star power, with a gift for delirious comedy as acute as her ability to break your heart.
She has been exhaustively touring the country in support of her latest album, The Art of Elegance, and will arrive at Boston’s Symphony Hall on April 30 for a one-night-only concert, An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth, presented by Celebrity Series.
Here, she talks about her crossover success, touring, the role that got away, and what Broadway classic she has her eye on.
It is not all that common anymore for true Broadway-born stars to achieve the level of fame and crossover success that you have. What do you attribute that to?
I really don’t know. I think it just has a lot to do with timing, and a lot to do with what kinds of parts you want to play and how you view yourself. I’ve never put myself in a box, so I’m willing to play any kind of part. I don’t know if everyone is, you know? I don’t know how people think about what kinds of roles or how they want to be seen, but I think I’ve played a diverse cast of characters because I feel like I can. I always want to keep getting better and that’s the only way to continue to get better, so I think that’s part of it. But, you know, sometimes it’s luck, knowing the right people, and timing. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so it certainly wasn’t for me knowing the right people. I think it’s a God thing, to be honest with you, and it happened the way it was supposed to happen.
You won your Tony for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1999 and your Emmy for Pushing Daisies in 2009, exactly 10 years apart from one another. 2019 is right around the corner… might it be time for a Grammy? You’re halfway to that EGOT!
Oh, that’s sweet. Look, what am I going to say, no? [laughs]
The Art of Elegance is gorgeous. I’m curious, how did you come up with the title?
My producer, Steve Tyrell, asked me to make a list of songs, and I made a list of about 800 songs. I finally cut it down to about 50 and I saw that most of them were classics. It kind of told the story and it told me where I wanted to concentrate, what I wanted to say. That was such great advice from him. He’s been a great guide for me, I hope we do more together.
What is the art of elegance?
There’s an art to a lot of things. The way a woman dresses, the way she presents herself, a shoe, a piece of music. I think “classic” and “standard” and “elegant” are words that I gravitate to. I think maybe I was born in the wrong time.
You are touring the country right now at a very complicated time, and there is a lot of division. How do you view the role of an artist in these times?
I think it’s important that you speak your truth but remembering that there’s also a real part of audience that just want to come to be entertained. I think about all our past history and during wartimes in the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s, people wanted to get away, and I want to honor that. I want people to think about what binds us and not what contradicts us, what keeps us together and not what divides us. That’s the goal of my concert. However, I do have strong opinions, so I think by my choice of music, what I have to say, it kinds of speaks for itself.
Can you talk about how you put together your concert repertoire?
It’s always about what’s inspiring me. That night I always go over with my music director what I’m going to sing because it changes. There’s a group of songs that I do … but depending on what’s happening in our world and, boy, as you said, our world is ever changing, so I sometimes add new music, too, just for the heck of it. Try something new. I think as live performers, as live singers, part of our job is to keep pushing ourselves and keep introducing music and keep getting inspired.
In terms of your stage career, do you have a role that got away?
Well, I think a lot of people would say Thoroughly Modern Millie. I had to make a decision between that and doing a sitcom, and I chose to do the sitcom because I wanted to take that opportunity to learn and understand television. I’d never done television and I wanted to have the chance. That was a painful decision because I love that musical, but my best friend Erin Dilly got to take over the part, and then Sutton Foster got to take over the part from there, and she had great acclaim for that role, so I think, again, everything happens for a reason.
Which of your performances are you most proud of?
I’m definitely going to have to go with Lily Garland in On the Twentieth Century. It was hard in the best possible way. It’s basically an operetta with highbrow comedy and physical prowess that requires me to be at the top of my game. I didn’t really have much of a life outside the show, but it was worth it because that role felt like it was written for me, though it was written for Madeline Kahn. I hope she’s looking down and proud of me.
You breathed new life into The Apple Tree; Promises, Promises; and On the Twentieth Century—three shows that were crying for revivals. What other chestnut would you like to blow the dust off of and return to Broadway in?
I don’t know if you’d call it a chestnut, but there’s Mame.
What’s next for you?
Oh, to have a crystal ball. I have a couple of shows in development for Broadway that I’m very passionate about, and we’ll definitely see what happens with the CBS pilot Perfect Citizen. Obviously I want to continue to make music at my highest level, and so those are my three priorities.
AN INTIMATE EVENING WITH KRISTIN CHENOWETH. 4.30 AT 7 PM. SYMPHONY HALL, 301 MASS. AVE., BOSTON. CELEBRITYSERIES.ORG