When my marvelous friend, Kate Sterling, called me a few months back and asked me to see Kristin Chenoweth at the Boston Opera House with her, I squealed like teenager with Justin Beiber tickets. Ms. Chenoweth originated the role of Glinda in Wicked on Broadway. It’s a role that requires the voice of an angel and the voice of a seasoned belter and you need great comic timing. She played it to perfection. If you’ve never heard her sing you should watch this. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Most recently she was a part of the short-lived series GBC. I take full responsibility for the show being cancelled. Any time I enjoy a television series, it gets cancelled. I should have waited for it to run a couple of seasons. But I adore Kristin and I couldn’t resist. Plus, Annie Potts was in it and I love her too. I was weak! I watched it. I loved it. It was cancelled. Sigh. For the record, it isn’t my fault that her gloriously quirky and adorable series Pushing Daisies was cancelled. I didn’t discover that until it came out on video.
So Friday night I found myself with my best friend at a sold out Boston Opera House. I knew Kristin Chenoweth could sing from her recordings. I knew she was funny from television. I knew she was genuine and humble from her memoir A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages. But I did not expect to be absolutely inspired by Kristin Chenoweth. She performed with grace, humility, gratitude, and love.
The program for the evening was eclectic. She sang Broadway classics, patriotic ballads, country tunes, and spiritual music. She even paid homage to Madeleine Kahn with “I’m so Tired” from Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles. It seems there is no style Kristin can’t sing.
The highlight of the evening came when Ms. Chenoweth called for a volunteer to help her sing “For Good” from Wicked. She spoke to a handful of teenage girls in the audience, asking them their names and ages. When she came to a sixteen-year-old named Karen (if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll understand why I decided this was some kind of sign from above), she asked her, “Do you really know the song?”
“Are you kidding me?” Karen said.
“Come on up here. You’re it.”
The young woman was thrilled to be on stage with her idol and it looked like her idol was happy to have Karen there. Not only did Karen know all the words, she harmonized, which Kristin, visibly impressed, pointed out to the audience. By the end of the song, I was in tears. Having been a singer myself for most of my life, I knew what that moment meant to that young woman. Not that I had that kind of chutzpah at sixteen to be able to pull it off. I’d have fainted if a Tony and Emmy award-winning actress called me up on stage. I probably had the vocal chops back then, but not the guts.
As we were leaving the theatre, I overheard some older women suggesting that the whole thing had been staged. They couldn’t imagine that a girl that age could possibly get up and do what Karen had just done without rehearsing. But I believe it was real. A number of young women I know through community theatre and through their parents could do just that. The Mollies, Noras, Gabbies, Allysons and Morgans of this world could all step up to the mic and make their dreams come true. Those are the girls I was thinking of when tears rolled down my cheeks at the Opera House on Friday night. Girls with talent and guts. Girls who are fortunate to grow up with great role models like Kristin Chenoweth.
When I was in my early twenties, a voice teacher told me, “You have the voice of a leading lady in a character actor’s body.” I wasn’t offended. Like Kristin Chenoweth, I’m four feet eleven inches tall. I had never seen a leading lady my size. I was always been cast as the sidekick, the comic relief, or chorus girl number six. Around that same time Kristin Chenoweth arrived in New York with a big voice and a huge stage presence in a little body. Her big break came when was cast as Precious in Kander and Ebb’s Steel Pier. Kander and Ebb wrote a song for her. Two years later she won a Tony for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Kristin Chenoweth has taught the musical theatre world a very important lesson: you can be a leading lady and a character.