by Nancy Rosati
If you were told that an actress starred in two Broadway shows that closed within the same year, you would probably assume that it hadn't been a very successful year for her. In Kristin Chenoweth's case, you'd be wrong. Although she made her Broadway debut in Steel Pier two years earlier, 1999 was the year in which Kristin achieved attention on a national scale. It was a year of ups and downs for her, from winning the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her adorable portrayal of Sally Brown in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, to the closing of that show a week later. From the opening and closing of Epic Proportions, to the announcement by NBC that they're developing a sitcom just for her. Through it all, Kristin has remained as unaffected and as normal as the girl next door.
Kristin grew up in Oklahoma with a voice that was developed beyond her years. She didn't exactly plan to become the toast of Broadway - it just sort of happened that way. And through it all, she's had the support of her family and her fiancÚ, Marc Kudisch, who has just completed his own run as the villainous Chauvelin in The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Nancy Rosati: I understand you grew up in Oklahoma.
Kristin Chenoweth: Yes, I did.
NR: And you were a little bit of a child prodigy?
KC: Yeah, I was vocally. I had a voice that was much more mature than my age. My parents are not musical people at all so they didn't really know how to help me. Basically how I began was singing in churches. I sang in church and then I was invited to sing at others. I just had a very, very high soprano at age ten. I was lucky because my parents didn't really push me but they let me explore it and enjoy it more, so I got to have a childhood as well. For me it was the right decision.
NR: Did you want to act too or just sing at the time?
KC: That's a good question. Nobody ever asks me that. I really did want to just sing. I was into contemporary Christian music and country music (said with a definite twang), because I was raised in Oklahoma. I thought that I wanted to be a recording person. I was really into ballet too. I went to college and got my undergraduate degree in Musical Theater and that's when I started doing plays. I did a drama in high school, but really it was in college where I gained so much experience and started getting hired to do summer stock. I was very lucky because I got roles. That's the best teaching tool that you can get - by doing it. That's sort of what happened to me.
NR: I understand you started in opera?
KC: Yeah. When I was in school my voice really started developing more and more, and I ultimately got my Master's Degree in Opera Performance. I felt that I was going to end up doing that. I started doing all the operas and actually went to the Met auditions and (sheepishly) won the Met auditions.
NR: Good for you.
KC: Yeah, it was really a neat thing and totally unexpected for someone so young. They have several awards. They've got five major awards nationally and mine was the Most Talented Up and Coming Singer Award at the Met auditions. Ultimately, what happened was I just had to decide, "Do you really want to do that or do you want to do Broadway?" I knew that my heart was ... I loved training and singing arias, but really and truly what I wanted to do was Broadway because I'm a dancer as well, and I'm an actor. When you're in opera, the voice is the very first priority and everything else is second, as it should be. But in my heart and my soul, the acting was the most important, so I decided to do this.
NR: I read in an interview with you that you came here and you just happened to get into a show in New Jersey. How did that come about?
KC: What happened was I was actually headed to the Opera Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. Two weeks before the program started my best friend, Denny, was moving here and I was helping him. I went to an audition with him - he was auditioning. We were both non-union. He went in to audition and I thought I would audition with him just for fun, to see what a New York audition is like. I waited for eight hours to be seen because I was non-union and they finally said, "OK, we'll see you." I went in and I sang and read and they asked me who my agents were and I said, "I don't have one. I'm just here for fun." So, I got a callback and I went back the next day thinking, "What am I doing? I'm supposed to be going to an opera conservatory in two weeks." But I went back and ended up being offered the supporting lead in a show called Animal Crackers at Paper Mill, so that's when I really had to decide what I was going to do. It was funny because I didn't have an agent so my dad negotiated my contract. But, it was the best decision for me, so I basically came with a job.
NR: That's great. Marc (Kudisch) told me in his interview that you two met on a blind date.