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Photo by Krista Schlueter

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Setting the Stage

Kristin Chenoweth on Performing, Her Favorite Role, Giving Back, and Attending Celebrity Fight Night

When Kristin Chenoweth was just 8 years old, she knew she wanted to be a performer.

“I was in the Tulsa Ballet Theater’s production of The Nutcracker,” she says. “I auditioned to play one of the many mice. I didn’t get that part because I was too little, so they let me create the role of the rabbit. There I was, in The Nutcracker, by myself as the rabbit. I hopped, ate, and danced… just like a rabbit. It was then that I learned how important ‘character’ was. Every song, every role, every genre, everything I do, I look at the character.”

It was a lesson that has served her well.

Chenoweth, who counts both a Tony Award and Primetime Emmy Award amongst her accolades, is multitalented. As an actress, her roles have spanned Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Glinda in Wicked on Broadway; Annabeth Schott in The West Wing and Olive Snook in Pushing Daisies on television; roles in Bewitched, The Pink Panther and The Boy Next Door in movies; and so much more. She’s also released studio albums and singles, as well as written a book.

As for her favorite role?

“Lily Garland. It was originally created for Madeline Kahn,” she says. “It’s the most demanding female lead in a Broadway musical in my opinion thus far. It was the first revival. Twenty years ago Comden and Green (composer lyricist team) told me I had to play it one day. I’m so glad I was able to use almost all of my skill set. It requires operetta, major dancing, highbrow comedy, lots of physicality. Let’s just say, I did nothing else while doing the show.

“I do love being on stage and the actual performance,” she continues. “But what really makes me inspired is the process of getting to the stage. The second I get a piece of music, it starts for me. The deconstruction of a song jazzes me. Working on musicality and making it original is why I keep at it.” 

Chenoweth grew up in Broken Arrow, a small town in Oklahoma, where “there was  a real sense of community.

“I grew up in a great church and in a school system that put as much emphasis on the arts as they did football. We had a great community theater and everybody knew everybody else’s business. It was a great place to grow up.”

Today, she not only juggles her career, but philanthropic efforts, as well. She launched the Kristin Chenoweth Arts and Education Fund (, which accepts donations; formed a charity partnership with the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center (BAPAC) Foundation in Oklahoma; and launched an annual Broadway Bootcamp, providing young Broadway hopefuls with the opportunity to take classes, hold performances and learn from top mentors in the entertainment industry.

And this month, she will once again be in the Valley for a good cause—to attend Celebrity Fight Night, known as one of the nation’s elite charity events.

“It’s pretty cool to be standing in a room where at any given moment, Reba [McEntire] is going to get up and sing, or Melissa Peterman will pick you up and throw you over her shoulder,” she says.

Celebrity Fight Night is the star-studded event that is back in the Valley for its 26th year, held on Oct. 3 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. This will be Chenoweth’s fourth year attending.

“I love what they stand for,” she explains. “It’s a true honor to work with Celebrity Fight Night. I’m very grateful. I’m so proud of the work they do,” she says, noting that she continues to be involved “because I see good people doing good things.”

This year’s event features Reba McEntire back for her 16th year as the emcee, and Flo Rida as the featured entertainer. Other celebrities performing or attending include Jimmy Kimmel, David Foster, The Tenors, and Reggie Jackson (tickets are available at Started in 1994 by Jimmy Walker, the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation has gifted more than $90 million over the past 25 years benefitting the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, as well as other charities.

Chenoweth always enjoys visiting the Valley, and is glad to be back.

“I’m a big Arizona Cardinals fan,” she says. “I’m also a really big fan of the weather, no matter how hot it gets, I love it.”

  • Photo by Krista Schlueter