The Fascinating Phenomenon of Kristin Chenoweth

Two Thursdays ago, on the 24th of May, I went with my parents and my sister to see Kristin Chenoweth in concert at the Winspear Opera House (hello, the high life!) in Dallas, Texas.  I’ve known of Kristin Chenoweth since she was in Wicked, but that great musical’s soundtrack is really the only experience I’ve had of her.  So I can’t claim to be a huge fan. But I do think she’s incredibly talented, and I was looking forward to the show (even though there was a crucial Heat-Pacers Game 7 on TV).  When we arrived, it was immediately apparent that I was totally underdressed in a casual button-down shirt with nice shorts and nice flip-flops (whether or not you think flip-flops can qualify as “nice” isn’t the question- I think they’re nice).  The majority of the people there were in dresses or nice slacks, not to mention the men wearing ties, and it seemed as if everyone who looked at me was thinking, “Ugh, doesn’t he know he’s at an opera house?”  Which, in my defense, I didn’t.

Anyway, I knew going into it what the crowd would consist of.  I figured you’d have your standard middle- to upper-class families and couples, both straight and gay, and they were there by the score.  I expected some tweeners to be there with their parents, ready to bask in Glee/Broadway stardom, and sure enough, in the row in front of us were two girls in their lower teens with one of their moms next to them, who obviously didn’t really know much about Chenoweth.  What I didn’t expect was the group of men sitting in front of me and to the right: four well-muscled men wearing cargo shorts and Nasty Pig T-shirts*.  Needless to say, you can’t pigeonhole Kristin Chenoweth fans.  More on that in a second.  On to Kristin Chenoweth herself.

Kristin Chenoweth is a bubbly but grounded star.  She grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and every now and then throughout the concert you could hear her Okie accent.  She studied vocal performance at Oklahoma City University under the famously stern Florence Birdwell.  Chenoweth has been wildly successful (if not exactly wildly famous- she’s not quite a household name) as a performer, finding great roles in the theatre, good roles on TV, some work in the movies, and some success with her music albums.  She’s probably most famous for her Tony-nominated role as the Good Witch Glinda in Wicked in 2003, though she first garnered attention in 1999 as Sally in the Broadway revival You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, for which she won an Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.  Chenoweth’s also won an Emmy in 2008 for her role as Olive Snook in the much-loved but short-lived Pushing Daisies.

Chenoweth has an interesting sort of fame, which shows in the different kinds of people who were at this show.  She appeals to all kinds of fans- Gleeks, families, showtunes lovers, strange men who wear Nasty Pig.  She attracted both the evangelical and the gay communities to this show, and she’s managed to court controversy with both Christian and homosexual fans.  When Chenoweth announced her Christian faith at this particular event, the crowd responded with scattered applause and cheers, which built into a standing ovation following her performance of the Christian hymn “Upon This Rock”.  And strangely, the show was rather racy, with an appearance by the Bad Idea Bears and Lucy the Slut from Avenue Q and a joke about changing the name of her recently canceled show, GCB, to GCBJ**.  She also dropped an F-bomb while quoting her mother.  And this never seemed to faze the crowd; if there were double-takes or shocked faces, they quickly got over it and were back to awed admiration in the blink of an eye.

And good for her for attracting such a wide range of people.  It’s a testament to a talent, as well as the lightning-in-a-bottle quality of her fame.  No one in the entertainment industry is so uniquely designed as to cross boundaries of age and sexuality and race and religion.  It’s a testament to her talent and to her personality, her pluckiness, her likability.  There’s no one quite like her, and she would tell you it’s all because of God and His design.  And He sure made one extraordinary entertainer.

It showed in her performance that night.  Her voice was amazing; I was speechless and gasping and laughing, often in the span of 5 seconds, like I was watching the Spurs dismantle the Thunder in Game 2***, except I was just watching someone sing.  Chenoweth had so much control, even in the face of the risks she took.  There were moments where no one could have guessed where she was going to take the song next, and when you thought she had hit her highest note, brace yourself, because she was about to nail one even higher.  Chenoweth also had an easy rapport with the audience, which could be the key to why she’s been so successful.  She was so comfortable onstage and so at ease in front of hundreds of high-falutin’ people.  She waxed disappointed about being single because she always compares her dates to her father, and she made many a joke about her deceased show, GCB (R.I.P., I guess- I’ve never seen an episode).  It was rare that her jokes fell flat or she failed to connect with the audience on a personal level.  I came out of the opera house having a very high opinion of her, and I would most definitely want to see her again.

There is one thing I would have changed about Chenoweth’s concert.  When she talked about her faith, she mentioned what a big part of her life it is.  But then after her big Christian song, she told us she couldn’t tell us what to believe, but “I can tell you it works for me.”  And all of that is true- she certainly can’t tell us what to believe or force anything on us, and I definitely hope it “works” for her, though I’m not sure what that means.  But I wanted more.  In a way, she summed up the state of the majority of professing Christians here in America.  We’re not bold enough to stand up and proclaim Christianity as THE Truth.  It’s scary, and even though it’s life-changing, it’s hard to say that my Savior died for my sins, saved my life from hell, where I most certainly deserve to go, gave me a full life that’s headed to eternal glory, and He rose from the dead, He was dead and now He lives, and this made my life totally different, totally new when I believed it to be true.

There’s no judgment here for Chenoweth, only the observation that she may suffer from the same “ashamedness” that many of us suffer from.  We’re afraid to face controversy or rejection for the sake of the Gospel.  And I include myself in this group.  How often do I tell other people about the Gospel?  I don’t mean that I should be telling the whole story of creation and the fall and redemption in every conversation I have, but I should be open and forthcoming about believing it to be the only Truth, the one Way to eternal life.  My heart breaks that my reputation is more important to me than people experiencing Christ’s love.  I pray that Chenoweth will recognize what a variety of people she has attending her shows, and that the Lord will use her to spread His Word.  I pray that God will use me in the same way in my more limited, yet certainly no less vital, context.

*Which automatically made me the fifth worst-dressed person there.

**I’m not explaining this.  My mom wanted me to.  I refused.

***I’m aware OKC is ahead now, thank you.  That doesn’t make that game any less incredible.

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One thought on “The Fascinating Phenomenon of Kristin Chenoweth

  1. Kristin Chenoweth is such an over-the-top character – you can’t make up being that darn cartoon cute. Not to mention so vocally talented in spite of and sometimes enhanced by her helium voice.

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