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Stage and screen star Kristin Chenoweth remains an Oklahoman at heart


October 14th, 2010

Kristin Chenoweth's triumphs stretch from Hollywood to the Great White Way. She received a Tony Award only two years after debuting on Broadway, and last year won an Emmy.

HeadShot_7-06x10-83cm
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic featuring Kristin Chenoweth
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker
www.okcphilharmonic.com
297-2264
Sold out

Kristin Chenoweth's triumphs stretch from Hollywood to the Great White Way. She received a Tony Award only two years after debuting on Broadway, and last year snagged an Emmy for the critically lauded but ratings-challenged series "Pushing Daisies." She's won fans for everything from TV's "The West Wing" to a 2009 memoir that spent a couple of weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.

But Chenoweth's greatest honor, she insists, will come early next month, when the Broken Arrow native and Oklahoma City University grad is inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

"I am still pinching myself," she said. "This is a big deal for my family, for me. My Oklahoma roots are what made me who I am " a real person living a somewhat crazy life, yes, but still just a girl from Oklahoma. I miss home."

She won't have to soon. On Friday and Saturday night, Chenoweth will perform with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic at the Civic Center Music Hall. She said the visit will give her an opportunity to make pit stops at some of her favorite haunts, such as Sonic and Chick-fil-A, as well as catch up with her beloved Oklahoma City Thunder.

"The best part about Oklahoma is that it may get bigger, fancier in some ways," she said. "But when I get back, it's the people who have stayed the same. It brings comfort. It's my roots."

Those roots include OCU, where she received a master's degree in opera studying under renowned voice instructor Florence Birdwell.

"I thought maybe I'd go to OU with my buddies or maybe even try out for Juilliard," Chenoweth said. "But my choir teacher in intermediate school said, 'You must meet Florence Birdwell!' My dad took me to audition for her and the school. I got a scholarship, but, more importantly, I knew this was the lady that would change my life. She could have been in Calcutta and I would have gone."

The 4-foot-11 performer credits Birdwell and OCU with helping prepare her for what is already a towering career. In 1999, she earned a Tony for her role as Sally Brown in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," and later garnered another nomination for her role as Glinda, the Good Witch, in the smash musical "Wicked."

A slew of mostly middling films followed ("The Pink Panther," "Deck the Halls"), as well as a recurring role on "The West Wing," created by her onetime boyfriend, Aaron Sorkin. Despite such successes, Chenoweth said she refuses to be consumed by show business.

"The true meaning of success for me is striving constantly to be great at what you do, but not be obsessed by it," she said. "Don't get me wrong: I couldn't do anything else with my life. I was born to do this. But I have other people, things in my life that make me happy, too: my dog, my family. Walking in the sun. Singing in the car. Bedazzling shirts, listening to music."

Chenoweth won an Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy in 2009 for "Pushing Daisies," in which she played lovelorn pie-serving waitress Olive Snook. Although the show " a quirky, visually lush romantic comedy " was a critical darling, ABC had canceled it by the time Chenoweth received the award.

"'Pushing Daisies' didn't make it due to politics," she said. "ABC didn't like the expense of the show and they didn't own it. Warner Bros. did. So much politics ... but I'm so happy it made it as long as it did. It was too good."

Nowadays, the 42-year-old Chenoweth is in the Broadway revival of "Promises, Promises." Penned by Neil Simon and featuring the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the show concerns a corporate flunky who falls in love with an elevator operator who's having an affair with the boss.

Chenoweth recently made headlines offstage, too. In May, she lambasted as "horrendously homophobic" a Newsweek essay in which writer Ramin Setoodeh posited that gay actors are unconvincing when they play heterosexuals. The piece rankled Chenoweth, whose "Promises, Promises" co-star, Sean Hayes (TV's "Will & Grace"), is gay.

"The Newsweek article incensed me," she said. "I didn't mean to take on the journalistic world. I found it offensive. I also wasn't going to stand by and allow my true feelings to not be heard, for all of our sakes, not just Sean Hayes. We are actors. I played prostitute in a movie once. Does that mean I am one? No."

Chenoweth isn't one to shy away from letting her considerable voice be heard. A devout Christian who speaks often about her faith, she also has railed against fellow Christians who she says practice intolerance.

"Unfortunately, the word 'Christian' has been tied to so many things that Jesus himself didn't stand for," she said. "I am a Christian, no doubt. It is a huge part of me. But we as Christians need to learn to be more accepting of those who don't believe like us, or those who aren't considered 'normal.' Something tells me if Jesus were alive today, those are the people he would be hanging out with." "Phil Bacharach
 
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