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Kristin Chenoweth

kristinchenoweth

“When I am so tough in my professional world, what made me put up with the abuse, drugs and alcoholism, and basically Jekyll and Hyde [behavior]?”

It’s rush hour in Los Angeles, possibly the worst time to be on the Sunset Strip, but Kristin Chenoweth isn’t bothered. She’s letting the whole thing pass by while getting her blond highlights touched up in her favorite salon, Argyle, in the trendy Sunset Towers hotel. Coincidentally, Chenoweth is actually getting ready for a weekend trip to Las Vegas with best friend Denny.

“I’m staying at the Venetian, I’m going to see Celine Dion, I’m going to lay by the pool under an umbrella, getting a massage, probably go to TAO, and play some blackjack,” she says. “We’re going to hit the outlet malls, because we’re a little white trash, and we’re going to hit Sonic Drive-In.”

If that sounds like a pretty packed 48 hours, it only reflects Chenoweth’s typical level of activity. In fact, using the word “overachiever” to describe Kristin might actually be an understatement. Within the last year, she’s completed five films, finished a recurring role in the final season of “The West Wing,” and performed a “mini-opera” with Placido Domingo in Washington, DC, while developing her first starring film role (playing ‘60s singer Dusty Springfield) and working on her third CD for Sony. In January, she’ll perform in concert at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.

“I’m such an enigma,” Kristin says, agreeing with a hearty laugh that she’s undoubtedly the only Southern Baptist who’s worn lingerie on the cover of a men’s magazine (FHM) and worked with Elmo on “Sesame Street.” Just as far flung, her movies this season include Running With Scissors, a drama in which she has a lesbian love affair with Annette Bening; Stranger Than Fiction, a largely improvised story where she plays a “Katie Couric” style interviewer against Emma Thompson; and Deck The Halls, a “complete family movie” with Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick.

Chenoweth knows “Scissors” will likely raise hackles among a portion of her fanbase more comfortable seeing her in wholesome fare like 2003’s “The Music Man” or hearing her “inspirational” CD, 2005’s As I Am. “Yeah, some people, even some of my relatives, will say “why’d she do that?” But  you just can’t please everyone all the time. I’m sort of graduated from the class of giving a crap anymore.”

Born in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Chenoweth (who is 1/4 Cherokee) was adopted into her family as a second child, and has never felt less than complete support from them. Particularly when she chose to follow the arts rather than the family profession (chemical engineering), getting her Masters degree in music at Oklahoma City University , While at school, she placed first runner up in the Miss Oklahoma pageant, and decided to add an ‘n’ to the end of her given name Kristi (Her mentor Florence Birdwell having convinced her that no one would rush to hear someone named “Kristi” sing arias) before winning a scholarship to Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts.

But two weeks before going, she was helping Denny move to New York and, while there, decided to go to an audition, “just for fun, and to see what it was like.” Those of you making the rounds and reading Backstage religiously may be just a tad envious to know she hit a home run her very first time at bat: a lead role in Moliere’s “Scapin,” followed quickly by the Kander/Ebb musical “Steel Pier,” “Strike Up The Band,” You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” (for which she won the Tony and Drama Desk awards), and ultimately the role of Glinda the Good Witch in the 2003 smash stage hit “Wicked.”

“I was never a chorus girl,” she says, with an air of amazement still in her voice. “I always got the part!

Now, if you’re beginning to wonder about her and Denny – “We’re like Jack and Karen on Will & Grace,” she says – Chenoweth, 38, does have other men in her personal life, having dated violinist Josh Bell and West Wing writer/creator Aaron Sorkin, and even been engaged to actor Marc Kudisch. Which one of those she’s talking about when the subject of her greatest regret comes up, we wouldn’t hazard to guess.

“Don’t we all have one relationship that we wish we’d never had?” she laughs. “As a woman, you have to go, ‘When I am so tough in my professional world, what made me put up with the abuse, drugs and alcoholism, and basically Jekyll and Hyde [behavior]?’”

Chenoweth bounced back from that, just as she did from “Kristin,” her short-lived 2001 sitcom (13 episodes shot; 6 aired) which, again, grew from her first shot at a TV pilot. “I’ve often thought it was ahead of its time,” she says now. “Maybe once every two years, I pull out [the tapes] and watch and laugh.”

It was in “Wicked,” though (so the story goes) that Nicole Kidman saw Kristin and suggested her for a role in the Bewitched movie, which started an avalanche of film roles ever since. But Broadway fans shouldn’t even suspect that she’s turned her back on the stage. A dedicated philanthropist, she says she wouldn’t trade her Tony award (the Broadway revival of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown) for anything short of a cure for cancer or AIDS. “Breast cancer has been in my family, and I’ve had many friends who’ve died of AIDS.”

Her next album, she promises will be “very different” from her previous discs; there’s practically nothing she wouldn’t try, though she promises. “There will be no hip hop coming from my mouth!” Chenoweth also has more film releases to look forward to in the new year, will undoubtedly work in a healthy amount of charity work, and is already scheduled to appear in a proper Met opera production the season after next. But she’s most looking forward to the Dusty Springfield project, “Ready Steady Dusty.”

“She was very different from me, but also a very petite woman, and very ambitious,” the 4’11” powerhouse explains. “It’s a sad story, but also inspirational. The nails, the makeup, and the dresses … that’s going to be fun to recreate.”

Now finishing up under the hair dryer, Chenoweth says she steers clear of most Hollywood obsessions. But she will admit to one indulgence – Slurpees. “Love ‘em. Have one every single day.” Wow. Wonder where she finds the time.

–FF–

Copyright 2006 ECG

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