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BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Using all her charms

Post-`Wicked,' Kristin Chenoweth sets her sights high as an actress-singer.

July 09, 2006|Susan King

KRISTIN CHENOWETH left the cast of the Broadway musical hit "Wicked" two years ago to play the part of Nicole Kidman's nosy neighbor in "Bewitched." The diminutive native of Broken Arrow, Okla., thought she'd be heading back to New York as soon as production was completed.

But Chenoweth, who describes herself as an "old soul" and who turns 38 this month, is still here because her movie and TV career has been flourishing. She has made five more movies -- including the upcoming "Running With Scissors" and "Stranger Than Fiction" -- and appeared on the Emmy-winning series "The West Wing" for the last two seasons.

The Tony Award-winning Chenoweth ("You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown") will be returning to her musical roots tonight when she appears in concert at the Greek Theatre. Earlier this year she sang at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and performed with Placido Domingo at the Washington National Opera's 50th anniversary gala.

She'll be performing selections from her first two albums, "Let Yourself Go" and "As I Am," as well as country tunes and opera arias.

With your movies, TV and concerts, have you bid Broadway adieu?

Never. It's my first love, and it's also the place I feel most comfortable. I am definitely looking for the right thing to come back in.

Would you describe your concert? Is it autobiographical in nature? I have two backup dancers. I love to give a show, so it won't be a night about me coming out at a piano and singing. There will be a 15-piece band. I am pretty much myself and tell sort of my life so far and how songs have come about for me to sing.

Didn't you start in the church choir back in Oklahoma?

I sang in church. When I was about 7 I got picked for a solo and it just grew from there. My faith is important to me, and it has kind of helped me a lot in this business. However, I have kind of -- I hate to say -- grown up. I am a Christian, but I am a very liberal Christian. I think a lot of my songs and the roles that I play show that. I am Christian, but I am also a human who lives in 2006 and works in show business.

You are currently in Vancouver making the holiday movie "All Lit Up." What's it like shooting a Christmas movie in the summer?

It's hot! I am wearing a lot of hoodies and puffy jackets. It is sort of a sweet family movie. It is about a competition for Christmas spirit between two families. One is very preppy, and one is very not. I am the not. I am the sort of young trophy wife of Danny DeVito.

Aren't you doing a movie about the late British pop singer Dusty Springfield?

We are still working on it. The first draft of the script has been turned in. My manager called me in the middle of the night one night and said "Turn on the 'Biography' station." I turned it on and it was about Dusty Springfield. She was a blond belter who wore all of this makeup to cover all of this pain. We brought it to Universal, and they like the idea.

You spent the past 2 1/2 years on "The West Wing" as media consultant Annabeth Schott.

It really was a great experience. I thought I would be on 10 episodes and then it turned into a year and then it turned into two years. I say this a lot, but nobody expected me, at least of all me, to go into a drama. When [producer] John Wells invited me to a meeting, I just assumed it was about a comedy.

Most of your scenes in the last season were with John Spencer, who died last December.

John Spencer had become my person on the set, and he was very supporting and loving outside the show. When John passed away -- something happened to me. I am very driven by my career, but I am not obsessed by it. My friends and my family are real important to me. It was a reminder of how short life is. They had a memorial and they asked me to sing a song from "Wicked" called "For Good." I can honestly tell you it was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. John was like my dad in a way. I miss him so much.

You originated the role of Glinda in the Broadway musical "Wicked." The show has a strong female fan base. Why do you think it has attracted such an ardent following?

I pretty much figured it out when we opened in San Francisco that young women and people who consider themselves misfits love this show. They relate to it. They see this girl who supposedly has everything, and she really doesn't. She is really maybe not so good, and she has her issues. And they see the green girl, and she is misunderstood and they become friends. It's a woman's story, and let's face it, how long has it been since you have seen a show about two women?

-- Susan King

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