A Very Nice Witch
Sometimes it seems like Kristin Chenoweth would fly away if we didn’t strap her to the stage. The Oklahoma native and outspoken Christian has sailed to the rafters as Glinda in Broadway’s Wicked, sold out concerts at Carnegie Hall, and pined over a piemaker in ABC’s brilliant-but-cancelled drama Pushing Daisies. Gosh darn it all, fans of the actress are even called Glitter Girls. Recently, Chenoweth serenaded Jay Leno, took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, charmed the morning-show circuit, and still managed to breathlessly chat with The Daily Beast about her new memoir, A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages.
Chenoweth’s scene-stealing turn as Sally in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was christened by Ben Brantley of The New York Times as “one of those breakout performances that send careers skyward.” After winning a Tony Award for the role in 1999, she began to conquer everything in her path with her residual pageant girl zeal, leftover from winning Miss Oklahoma City University. (“You can take the girl out of Oklahoma, but you can’t take the Oklahoma out of the girl,” she says.)
As waitress Olive Snook, she was the picture of unrequited longing in the sumptuous Pushing Daisies, and is now filming the courtroom pilot Legally Mad under the tutelage of David E. Kelley. The fluidity with which she moves from the Great White Way to the back lot of a television studio may seem effortless to the outsider, but she says it was no cakewalk. “I worked my butt off, and when I came [to New York], I worked my butt off again,” she says. “I still work my butt off, train, and study. You have to continue to do things to improve your craft and hone it.” In A Little Bit Wicked she describes hopping futons and bunk beds around Midtown Manhattan—the closer to Broadway, the happier she was.
After her crackerjack start in the Peanuts ensemble, the four-foot, 11-inch star transformed into Glinda the Good Witch in the debut performances of Wicked. Rumors that she left the smash because fellow nominee and co-star Idina Menzel won the Tony are “crap,” she says. “I’m not a hater, for one thing. It takes too much energy.” She confided to me, however, that not every moment is as flawless as a front-page rave: “There’s a misconception about me, that I’m just happy and perfect all the time. I’m the most imperfect person I know, and I have my really bad days.”
One of those bad days, a misguided appearance on The 700 Club with Pat Robertson, is detailed in the book. The quick visit alienated many of her gay fans and eventually became fodder, with her blessing, for the TV series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sarah Paulson played an improv actress and singer—complete with strong religious convictions—loosely inspired by Chenoweth. In reality, she’s equally passionate, but not nearly so polemic. “When people judge me and say, “How can you believe in God?” I say, “How can you not?” she said. “I think it takes a lot of faith to not believe in something, just as much as it takes faith to believe in something.”
She still harbors respect for Aaron Sorkin, creator of Studio 60 and The West Wing and one of her high-profile “First Four Great Loves.” How did the über-liberal man of TV, “one of the best writers we have alive today,” she told me, woo the Broadway princess? By donning a sport jacket and Gap khakis on their first date, “looking like I’d just been elected co-captain of the Andover debating team,” writes Sorkin in an unexpected contribution to her book.
Oh, and their relationship is “off-again,” in case you were wondering. “We’re like the Green Eggs and Ham of breakers-up: in a box. With a fox. On a train. In the rain. Down at Mel’s. On our cells. Over a martini. In a Lamborghini,” writes a playful Chenoweth. Regardless, she says, “I will always love him. He’s a very special person,” and when he says she’s “charming and beautiful….funny and feminine and irresistible,” readers want to script a storybook ending for the pair.
Despite appearing in dozens of projects, Chenoweth still gets mistaken for fellow actresses Kate Bosworth and Cameron Diaz. Her versatility, however, is more along the lines of a PG version of Amy Sedaris. “I think she’s a lovely girl, and she’s funny!” she said of Amy. “We should go on SNL as sisters.” Lorne, are you listening? There’s a recipe for one hell of a musical number.
Kara Cutruzzula is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast.