As Kristin Chenoweth prepares to take the music from her new album, For the Girls, to Broadway for a limited concert engagement in November, the award-winning entertainer reflects on the surprising similarities between country music and Broadway songwriting, plus offers insights on some of her most-anticipated projects.
(Editor’s Note: Read part one of our interview with Kristin Chenoweth.)
CMT: Over the years, you’ve stepped into the Nashville scene several times, by doing your own country album and hosting country award shows. How does country music fulfill you in a different way than other types of music?
Chenoweth: I’ve always felt…and don’t anybody get nervous when I say this, but I’ve always felt that country — because that’s what I was raised on, that’s what I sang — went with Broadway very well. I think Trisha Yearwood is a perfect example of it because she’s a storyteller and these songs are stories just like on Broadway. Now we might have jazz hands when we do ‘em. But a lot of times we don’t.
I say that when musical theater’s done well, it’s because it comes out of this conversation and it flows and we sing it because we can’t speak it anymore. To me, country music does that very thing. Y’all sing it because we can’t speak it. It’s not enough to just speak. That’s why I always felt like the two go together. You know, gosh I just remember Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When” and “On a Bus to St. Cloud.” These are story songs. They could go in a Broadway show, if you think about it.
There have been several country stars like Reba and Jennifer Nettles who have done the Broadway thing. Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 has gotten the Broadway treatment. Who’s a country star that you think would really excel on a Broadway stage, or even their story would make a great Broadway story?
Well, there are two things I want to say here. The first one is I’ve actually told Reba that she needs to have a Broadway show called Fancy. The score is already built, it’s her life. You’re welcome Reba… I’ll take 10 percent! [laughs] I want to produce it.
The second thing I want to say is that though I’ve been a fan of hers and I’ve worked with her — I think on stage as a performer and a singer, Tori Kelly would be a great addition. Now, she stays in a lot of lanes. I think she could do it. Yeah, I can definitely see that. I’d like to see her play Alphaba in Wicked on Broadway. Why not? She’s got the voice.
I read somewhere that you said when you were little, you saw yourself when you saw or heard Dolly Parton. You could relate to her. What about her connected with you so young?
She has that with a lot of people, right? I thought, even in mannerisms, she feels like me. Then when I met her as an adult, I was singing at the Capitol and so was she. Everybody knew I wanted to meet her. The producer, Walter Miller, was like, “I’m gonna introduce you.”
I was like, “You think so? I don’t wanna bother her.” So when she met me, I was like “I can’t believe I’m meeting you Ms. Parton. Thank you so much.” And she said, “You’re me! I’m…I’m you!” I’m like, “I know, I already know this.”
You also have two Christmas movies coming up, one on Hallmark and one on Netflix. Tell us about those.
The Netflix one is called Holidate. I play Crazy Aunt Susan and I apologize to my parents now for what I do in the movie. It’s really, really fun. It’s a rom-com that stars Emma Roberts, another one of my little nuggets. The other movie that I’m also really very proud of is a Hallmark movie. They chose it as their Hall of Fame movie this year — it is called A Christmas Love Story starring myself and Scott Wolf.
It is a subject matter that I can’t bring up because it gives the movie away but it’s very close to my heart. It was an idea I had with a producer, Jennifer Aspen. We brought it to Hallmark. They bought it. And then I wrote the title song, the song that’s in the film, and used a lot in the film because I play a choir director. It’s called “When Angels Land.” I wrote it with Miss Chely Wright.
It sounds like a Pushing Daisies type of role where you’re using a lot of your skills…so you get to sing, you get to act, you’re doing all of it.
Yeah, but I never got a movie to accept a song that I wrote. So it’s a first.
Thank you, Hallmark!
Yeah, Hallmark, thank you very much! I go there every week anyway. They owe me!
You’re going back to Broadway in November for a series of concert engagements to promote the new album. But you also have a couple other shows in the works: a Tammy Faye Bakker musical and a stage adaptation of the 1992 film, Death Becomes Her. What updates can you provide on these projects?
I can tell you that for Tammy Faye we now have a new book writer. It’s Robert Horn, he just won the Tony for Tootsie. Henry Krieger wrote the music which is why I’m so attracted to the piece. He wrote the music for Dreamgirls and many other shows. In my world he is a god. I am currently waiting for the script and I’m like, “Tick-tock, tick-tock….”
I just really want to play her. I don’t see it as a big Broadway show. I see it as a more intimate Broadway piece. More of a play, with music. I’ve heard the music and there’s a song in there that I can’t even, like, when she’s literally asking God, “Are you there? I’ve given my life to you, but are you there? I can’t hear you.” It’s a real truth moment for Tammy Faye. Anyway, she loses her lashes. And let’s be honest, we want to see me with running mascara down my face!
The second show, Death Becomes Her, Universal brought to me and they’ve asked me to attach myself to it. I’ve read act one. Let’s just say that I’m ready…but I need to start doing some yoga because of what will be required of me. I’m kind of worried about The Exorcist head spin and getting shot in the stomach with a hole missing. Ya know, my gut will be missing! But they are consulting with a lot of illusionists, Broadway will have some trickery that hasn’t been done before.
You’ve done so much in your career: theater, music, movies, TV…and one thing I’ve heard you say several times is that you always tried to lead with kindness in whatever you’re doing. I think that has to be incredibly challenging at times in this exhausting, sometimes brutal industry. Talk about how you’ve managed to keep that outlook.
Well, I want to say first of all, I’m not perfect. I’m human and I’ve had my moments. I haven’t had full-on meltdowns. I mean in my personal life, I’d be like “Where’s my phone?” and I’m holding it! But as far as when I am in a working environment, I really am the type of person that wants to have fun, even if I’m doing a drama. I still want to bond with the cast. I still want to be with each other so that what we create, especially on film and TV, is authentic.
When you lead with kindness, most of the time it’s actually a selfish thing because then kindness comes to you. So, when you put it out there, it does come back. Also, especially now at this point in my life, whenever I’m in concert I invite young talent to join me on stage. I want them to see me tired, sometimes I’m sick, sometimes I have a neck pain…the full picture. But I want them to still see that the music, or the art, is still what brings us together. And it doesn’t have to be mean.
It’s probably part of why people like working with you, because it is refreshing, and maybe that’s why you feel at home in Nashville, because that feeling is a part of the country community, too.
I think on Broadway we have a similar feeling. Like, once you prove yourself, you’re one of us. You know what I mean? But you gotta prove yourself. And sometimes Broadway we can be a little catty. [laughs]
But one thing is, you’re always going to get the truth. One thing that I appreciate about Nashville is you’re going to get the truth, but always in a kind way. It does feel like home to me. You know, I could see myself being here, easily.