Kristin Chenoweth comes back home 

click to enlarge © JOHN RUSSO 2014
  • © John Russo 2014

Kristin Chenoweth never lets much time pass before she comes home. In November 2015, the Tony Award-winning singer and actress lent her voice to Celebrate Pink OKC, a fashion show and fundraiser in which she led the crowd of 400 in a chant demanding “a world without breast cancer.”

Four months later, she’s back to bond with her extended Oklahoma family again. This time, she wants to blow the roof off Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.

Chenoweth headlines the venue she helped reopen following the hall’s renovation nearly 15 years ago. At 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, she delivers a show renowned for its variety, audience engagement and stagecraft.

For her 2015-’16 concert tour, the actress and singer pulls from each stage of her career. Her setlist constantly evolves.

“I am constantly picking songs, and the show is ever-changing,” said Chenoweth, who performs this weekend with Oklahoma City Philharmonic, conducted by maestro Joel Levine. “That is what so fun. I have been doing a lot of Don Henley and Dolly Parton, and of course, I sing things people want to hear from me, too.”

Finding definition

That covers a lot, as the Broken Arrow native’s career spans two decades of Broadway, film and television work, but Oklahoma City audiences were early to the party.

Chenoweth attended Oklahoma City University (OCU) in the late 1980s and early ’90s. She earned a bachelor’s degree in musical theater in 1990 and a master’s degree in opera performance two years later.

Her studies under OCU vocal instructor Florence Birdwell prepared her for a wide range of performances with Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and other area theater companies, including roles in productions like The Sound of Music, The King and I and Gypsy.

“She is in my singing head every day,” Chenoweth said of Birdwell. “‘Consonants are your friends! If no one can understand your words, the beautiful sound doesn’t matter!’ ‘Only sing from your place of truth!’ I think of her every day, and I miss her all the time. She is a master — she is my master.”

Birdwell’s instruction guided Chenoweth through her post-OCU career as she became an in-demand performer in regional theater, a five-year period that culminated in her 1997 Broadway debut in Kander and Ebb musical Steel Pier. Two years later, she won a Tony for her performance as Sally Brown in the revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, eventually leading to her iconic performance as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in Wicked.

That 2002 production helped define Chenoweth for a generation of theatergoers, and her performance of “Popular” from Wicked is now a setlist mainstay.

“For sure, ‘Popular’ is the most requested song, as is a song I’ve done for years called ‘Taylor the Latte Boy,’” Chenoweth said. “Those will be represented on my setlist.”

‘Complicated truth’

Her undeniable stage presence quickly converted into success in film and television. Following the short-lived 2001 NBC sitcom Kristin, Chenoweth occupied The West Wing for two years and starred with fellow Oklahoman Lee Pace in ABC’s Pushing Daisies, earning an Emmy for her performance as Olive Snook. A few years later, she merged her musical and TV personas when she made a recurring appearance as April Rhodes in Fox’s Glee.

She recently completed work on the indie comedy-drama film Hard Sell.

“It is about the complicated relationship between mother and son,” Chenoweth said. “And the mother has a host of mental illnesses, so of course, you see who is [doing the] parenting.”

The exuberance and range that serves Chenoweth so well in stage plays, film and TV results in a concert performance full of interesting stylistic twists and surprises, some of which only Oklahoma City audiences will see.

“Maestro Levine and I are discussing some cool ideas now,” she said. “I think no matter what I sing, the energy from me is off the charts. I could never be the type of artist who just phones it in. I’m always exhausted when it’s done; it’s a marathon.”

And she is ready to run this marathon in OKC.

“I get the feeling of complete and utter safety when I come to Oklahoma, that no matter what, I’m with folks who love me,” she said. “I’m one of theirs. It is a beautiful thing to attach yourself to your home state. I miss Oklahoma. I miss church and the general kindness that Oklahoma exudes. I miss my family. I miss the red dirt!”

Print headline: Wicked homecoming, Kristin Chenoweth mines her extensive musical career for her performances with Oklahoma City Philharmonic.

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