If all you know about Kristin Chenoweth is her perky performance as Glinda in Wicked, or her Emmy-winning turn in the beloved TV underdog Pushing Daisies, it’s safe to say you don’t know her at all. Certainly not the sheer breadth of her work, which crosses from stage to TV to movies.
But no matter. You’ll get to know her plenty when she takes the stage as part of Brilliant Lecture series's ongoing conversation with luminaries. In addition to a moderated discussion about her experiences, audience members will have the chance to pepper the pixie star with questions of their own.
“Oh, I love events like this,” she says, her voice lighting up. “It’s crazy! I never know what I’ll get asked. Someone wants to know something about Wicked. Or someone asks about The West Wing. It’s great.”
But when asked what she wants to talk about, Chenoweth is unhesitating: “I’m going to talk about what it’s like to be a person of faith in show business.”
Chenoweth has made no secret of her Christianity. She explored the topic in depth in her autobiography, A Little Bit Wicked, and her faith was the inspiration for the character of Harriet on the Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
"The Christianity that I come from is a world of acceptance and love. Not just tolerance, but acceptance,” she said in an interview with Bustle last year.
But Chenoweth said that she’s “been judged” for being a person of faith, both by people who don’t share her beliefs, and by those who do, who question her commitments and decisions. The GLAAD-honored actress has made it a mission to share her ideas that people of all walks of life should be accepted.
“I think it’s important for people to know that as an actress and a singer, I’m still an artist," she says, "and not every Christian makes the decisions that I would make, and just what’s that been like for me.”
Chenoweth said she finds that topic interesting right now because “everything is so hot topic, just where we are in our country. And I want to talk about judgement and how that’s made me stronger.”
She believes we can have what she calls “grown-up” conversations about differences in our lives, and that she’s always tried to operate from a place of love. The Oklahoma native has spent nearly 30 years performing, after earning a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre and a master’s in opera performance, studying with her beloved voice instructor Florence Birdwell at Oklahoma City University.
After a stint in regional theater in Oklahoma, she made her Broadway debut in 1997’s Steel Pier, a flop that closed after about a month—but not before critics took notice of the petite performer’s (she’s 4 feet 11 inches) great big voice and stage presence. She’d go on to win a Tony Award for her work as Sally in the 1999 Broadway revival of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. She worked steadily after that, releasing a solo album and performing in concerts and cabarets, before landing a role that would define her career: Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in 2003’s Wicked. Chenoweth followed that up with a recurring role on TV’s The West Wing.
It was hardly her first TV outing (she’d had an NBC sitcom in 2001 that aired for six episodes, and appeared in a 2003 TV version of The Music Man as Marian the Librarian opposite Matthew Broderick’s Howard Hill). But it was a bona fide hit and Chenoweth was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.
“I felt like I was among my tribe in a way,” she says of the experience. “And though I was there just the last two years, I felt like I got to have a part of my DNA—my showbiz DNA—be in one of the best shows ever written for television.”
Over the last decade and a half, Chenoweth has worked steadily, appearing in Pushing Daisies, landing a recurring role in Glee, and another on The Good Wife, co-hosting the 69th Tony Awards, appearing in NBC’s Hairspray Live! and in last year’s Starz’s American Gods. Earlier this year, she joined the cast of Trial and Error.
It’s been a busy life, and Chenoweth emphasizes that she’s been guided through it by faith.
“I really want people to understand that we have to speak our truths.”
Kristin Chenoweth in coversation, September 14. UH Cullen Performance Hall, 4800 University Dr. 713-974-1335. More info and tickets at brilliantlectures.org.