Kristin Chenoweth Is Ready for Anything—Even the Rapture

The pint-sized Schmigadoon! star talks pageant chicanery, vocal anxiety, and dating Jewish men on a new episode of The Originals podcast
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Broadway may only now be flickering back to life, but you can still get your Kristin Chenoweth fix. She brings her otherworldly vocal range to the Lorne Michaels-produced, Apple TV+ musical comedy Schmigadoon!. Before Chenoweth signed on, director Barry Sonnenfeld called her and mentioned that he wanted to shoot all 18 script pages of “Tribulation,” a showstopping number, in one continuous take. “The challenge of that obviously piqued my interest,” says Chenoweth, 52, who nailed it in three takes. “It was like, ‘I did it! I did it!’ and then promptly took a Xanax and got on a plane.” Here, Chenoweth talks pageant chicanery, vocal anxiety, and dating Jewish men.

You started as a pageant girl in the Miss America system. I always thought contestants go to their little town, and if they lose, they’re done. But that wasn’t the case for you?

No, I’d won Miss Oklahoma City University, so I was in the Miss Oklahoma pageant, but only got second runner-up. The people in the pageant said, “Next year will be your year.” My parents were moving to Pennsylvania the next year, so I said, “Forget that. I should have won this time. I’m going to go to Pennsylvania and prove y’all wrong.” My mom was like, “Please don’t go to Miss Pennsylvania. You don’t need to.” I’m like, “I’m going, and I’m going to win it.” But then I got second runner- up again. 

When you made it to Broadway, the New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley fell in love with you, but not always the shows you were in. Of 1999’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, he wrote, “Sally Brown is portrayed by a small but definitely adult actress named Kristin Chenoweth, who was giving one of those breakout performances that send careers skyward.” But then he went on to trash the show. A similar thing happened with Wicked. What kind of emotions do you have after a review like that?

It was a really a cool moment, but I didn’t want to celebrate too hard because we were a family, and I didn’t want [other cast members] to be hurt. And I remember B.D. Wong saying to me, “This happened to me when I did M. Butterfly. And you are to enjoy this moment.” In fact, I have a tendency to back off from performances when it’s like that. I don’t want anyone to be hurt. After we opened on Wicked, the director, Joe Mantello, said, “Go back to doing the performance you did before.”

You’re famous for singing these crazy high notes, which actually earned a name—Chenonotes. Everybody remembers what happened to Julie Andrews’s voice—she went in for minor throat surgery and came out unable to sing. How much anxiety do you have about your voice?

So much. I’ve always been really panicked about it, but you just Throat Coat it and warm up. And it’s worse now. Because with notoriety of any kind, you want to be better. You want to supersede people’s expectations. When I was doing my very first big Broadway show, [1997’s] Steel Pier, Kander and Ebb had written this really hard aria for me, and Julie Andrews said to me, “When you think you can give another high C, don’t do it. Don’t give those high
notes away.”

You grew up a religious Baptist but went to New York. I first interviewed you in 1999 when you were engaged to a Jewish actor, Marc Kudisch. I remember you’d told Marc that you’d never met a Jew before.

I hadn’t! 

You broke up, but then you went on to have a long relationship with another Jewish guy, Aaron Sorkin. What’s the deal with you and Jewish guys?

I don’t know, but I love it. And what is it about you guys with us? I know that Aaron and I have such deep respect for each other and our work. That’s what I think drew us together, because I’m a workaholic and so was he. He was a music-theater major from Syracuse. Nobody really remembers that.

You’re quite devout, and you and Sorkin had discussions about what would happen to him when the rapture came. What are your current thoughts on how the rapture plays out?

We’ll be sitting here, and maybe we’ll be eating KitKats or something. And all of a sudden, I’ll be lifted up into the air and everything I have on or whatever I was doing will be left. 

So you’ll go naked? The rapture is so much hotter than I ever imagined.

Yes, it’s sexy. I’ll leave behind my underwear and my socks. Ladies and gentlemen, he asked, we’re talking about it. He’s not to be #MeTooed; I brought it up.

What’s the ticket that you need to have in order to be sucked up?

There is no ticket because God sees everything.

But the Jews aren’t going up, are they?

Yes.

What? The Jews are going up in the rapture?

Yes, in fact. I believe that.

In Schmigadoon!, your character, Mildred Layton, is married to Fred Armisen’s closeted Reverend Layton. Did you ever find yourself accidentally dating a gay man?

Only once. He recognized my Louboutins. When you’re dating a man and he knows the brand of your shoes, immediately break up with him and become best friends. You know, I love my gays. I just don’t want to marry one. That’s all.


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