City officials pitch nation’s capitol as center of “inclusive innovation” at SXSW tech conference on March 10 in Austin, Texas with the help of a raucous WeDC party. Photos: Michael Coleman
Some of DC’s hottest musical acts joined city officials, unofficial city ambassadors and hundreds of curiosity seekers for a three-day party celebrating not only the unique musical identity of the nation’s capital, but also the city’s reputation as an emerging hotbed for technology and innovation.
The DC crew set up shop at Bangers, a hip, indoor-outdoor space on Rainey Street, the epicenter of SXSW. Located on the eastern edge of downtown Austin with glittering views of the global tech hub’s rapidly expanding skyline, the District party jumped off Sunday with a distinctly DC Funk Parade theme featuring Cautious Clay, Innanet James, Sneaks, Malik Dope Drummer and DJ Mane Squeeze. Monday’s showcase was a who’s-who talent including Dubfire, SHAED, RDGLDGRN and Will Eastman.
Innanet James’ banging set was a highlight of Sunday’s party, and closed with his feel-good jam “Summer,” which had the crowd on its feet. Afterward, the Silver Spring native told On Tap he was honored to be a part of the DC-branded event, and even prouder of the music scene percolating in the nation’s capital.
“I’m real proud of it, you know what I’m saying,” James said. “It’s so good to see the number of artists coming up. I’m happy for everybody to be finally getting our stamp. It’s cool because the door isn’t all the way open but with everybody coming up next, we’re kicking the door open.”
While the WeDC House celebrated DC music, city officials – including Deputy Mayor Brian T. Kenner – were working the crowd, chatting up tech executives and selling the city as America’s “capital of inclusive innovation.”
After Sneaks’ laconic and mesmerizing rhymes further captivated the audience, Kenner took the microphone and hyped DC as a tech and innovation center to the influential crowd. Then the enthusiastic deputy mayor – brimming with excitement about possibilities for his hometown – sat for an interview with On Tap, in which he explained the city’s mission at SXSW.
“We’re pitching,” Kenner explained. “A couple of weeks ago we were in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland talking to technology companies who were thinking about expanding and asked them to think about Washington, DC. Now we’re in Austin and we want to remind people why they should think about [DC].”
While the Rainey St. event and cutting-edge music drew crowds and matched the party theme of SXSW week, Kenner said city economic development officials were all about business. Indeed, On Tap spied Keith J. Sellars, president and CEO of the DC Economic Partnership, deep into a long conversation with one tech executive during Cautious Clay’s intense and eclectic set.
“What you see here is the front of the office,” Kenner said gesturing toward the party. “But the back of the office is meetings and tracking of all the engagement we have coming in here. It’s a story we’re trying to curate here. We want people to know we’re a cool city and the word is getting out.”
Editor’s Note: Though the above story isn’t solely about SXSW’s music, the majority of our coverage this week will indeed focus on the tunes. Hope you enjoy! Follow our adventures on Instagram @ontapmagazine, and for more be sure to follow our music troops on the ground: @monicaclarealford, @mkkoszycki and @colemancoversaustin.
Many catalysts that preclude the American Dream are found in education, employment or on a lottery ticket. In Keegan Theatre’s musical Hands on a Hardbody, 10 Texans vie for a cherry-red Nissan Hardbody, the physical manifestation of the dream and a chance to ascend America’s social and economic ladders.
The rural Longview, Texas provides a unique backdrop of this contemporary play as the 10 characters are forced to outlast one another by keeping a hand on the truck, with the last person standing receiving the coveted keys. Deriving from the 1998 documentary of the same name, co-directors Elena Velasco and Mark A. Rhea rise to the occasion, as their rendition of Doug Wright’s fictional story facilitates essential discourse on the American plight.
“Economical struggles don’t know race, necessarily. But they are impacted by race. It maybe doesn’t know ethnicity, but it is impacted by ethnicity. It doesn’t necessarily know gender or your relationship status, but it’s all affecting it,” Velasco suggests.
Most Americans have experienced the thrill and endorphin spikes associated with winning games or conquering competition. Perhaps you recall losing yourself in the midst of some effort to come out on top, to triumph. The phrase “every man for themselves” is a relatable American trope.
“Being able to rise and make a living wage, have a family and be valued as a citizen, all these things come out in this musical and the documentary,” she says.
As audiences explore a variety of conditions lived by those on the broad spectrum of American identity in the play, a diversity of themes are depicted. With each dance number and tune sung, a layer of understanding is creatively drawn, revealing cultural weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
“Mike is a Texan at heart, that’s where he grew up,” Velasco conveys, explaining the appeal in producing Hands on a Hardbody. “I wanted to see what Mike felt was compelling. I latched on to this notion that it was a representation of America. [At least] that’s how it was promoted by the original creative team, ‘An All American Musical.’”
In the original production by California’s La Jolla Playhouse in 2012, the cast was predominately white.
“When I looked at it and I thought about some of the character descriptions, I recognized it as an opportunity to really reach in and try to represent what America is to me,” Velasco says. “[I wanted to] try to reach out and find the diversity that we have here and how there are many voices that aren’t necessarily represented in the original casting, but could be represented in this production.”
Capturing the diversity of America was fundamental to the relevancy factor in bringing this production to the DC.
“It needed to speak to a DC audience, as well as reflect what Texan roots are,” Velasco continues.“[Fortunately], what it means to be a Texan is reinforced in the songs.”
In the ballad, “If I Had This Truck,” the truck’s significance in Texas culture is outlined, but so is the overt reference to the importance of opportunity.
“When listening to the lyrics, outsiders wouldn’t know what this means, but a truck is access to things. It’s an opportunity to get a job, start a business. Driving behind that [truck] makes you more economically successful. When you start to examine what this [truck] means to a particular community, you almost realize that this [competition] is a voyeuristic act that exploits people who are quite desperate, and down on their luck.”
Having directed more than two dozen plays and musicals over 20 years, Velasco rebukes the notion of having perfected her craft.
“I hate to think that I’ve ever conquered a challenge because it would make me think that I’m done with my work and I don’t think I’m done yet.”
Hands on a Hardbody is showing at Keegan Theatre through April 6. Tickets $52-$62. To purchase tickets visit the Keegan Theatre ticket portal.
Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com
When Northern Virginia-based artist Zahra Sanie (who releases a beautiful blend of pop and r&b under her first name) sat down to write her newest single, she didn’t have to look far for inspiration. She took her relationship with her roommate turned best friend, Haley, and turned it into a sparkling song about the importance of unspoken bonds between two people and the comfort of being around someone who just gets you, no explanations needed.
“I was at a point where I really, really needed her in my life and I didn’t know it until she was in front of me,” she explains. “I was struggling a lot with my mental health and having someone who matched me in the most effortless, nurturing ways was a gift from the universe. The day that ‘Haley (Snow Jays)’ is about, was just us in our element, together, watching movies. We decided to roll joints for ourselves, laughing and calling them snow jays, and I wrote the hook right then.”
To recreate the vibe that inspired the song, they created a slumber party-inspired video, highlighting their closeness in the process. “[Our] nature is typically slumped on the couch, watching Netflix together so that just had to be a part of the video. I was really hoping to translate both our relationship and my personality through this video and I think we were successful in that.”
Zahra and a family friend built the set by hand, which eventually evolved into crafting a mini version of the set representing her and Haley in another dimension. In addition to the care and effort put in to building the world that allows viewers a peek inside their worlds, Haley and Zahra were in good company during the creative process as the video was directed by Sean Cooper who’s shot artists like Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna, to name a few.
“Working with Sean Cooper is a dream. He’s incredibly talented and is always focused on an artist’s vision and how to make that come alive in the best way. He has such a calm energy, he makes it so easy to get comfortable in front of the camera which I think makes all the difference. He’s completely self made with an absolutely relentless work ethic so I am incredibly lucky to be able to work with him.”
While the three creatives have much to celebrate with the release of the single and video, Zahra’s still hard at work with much on the horizon. Since she realeased her 2018 EP Honestly, Truly she’s been carefully putting together even more new material, and hopes to tour thoroughly this summer. If “Haley (Snow Jays)” is any indication of what’s to come, we can be sure that this new voice is one to keep your eyes on.
“Haley (Snow Jays)” is out on Rare Fruit Records today and is available to stream and purchase on all major platforms. For more on Zahra, follow Rare Fruit Records on Facebook and Soundcloud and follow her on Instagram @zahratonin.
Shakespeare and doom rock are not two things one would associate. But in the world of Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Richard the Third the two are intrinsically linked, thanks to composer Lindsay Jones. A lifelong lover of music, Jones has been playing since he was a teen and is entirely self taught. While working as an actor in Chicago, he began scoring plays as a side gig. Combined with his passion for music, it quickly became a legitimate career that’s seen him score a host of successful productions throughout the country. Now, 25 years into his career crafting innovative compositions for theatre, Jones lent his talent – and love for doom rock, punk and metal – to the score of STC’s dark performance.
OT: How did you come to work with Shakespeare Theatre Company on this play?
Lindsay Jones: When I first sat down with [artistic director] David Muse, he told me he wanted [the score] to be punk rock. I’ll be honest, I’m a huge fan of punk rock, but I never get asked to make punk rock. There just aren’t a lot of theatres in America looking for punk rock soundtracks. As he described it to me, he said he wanted it to start out very punk and full of energy, but as the play went on, to get distorted and ugly and dirty.
OT: How did you or the others involved in the play decide to approach the score using doom rock?
LJ: I started thinking of using doom rock, which is slow, and dirge-y but still super distorted – the soundtrack of your nightmares, basically. I wanted to start with punk rock [that became] doom rock as it went along. But it occurred to me that in the structure of Richard the Third, in the beginning of the play Richard says, “I’m planning this takeover, I’m going to slowly methodically knock out all of my enemies til’ I get to be king.” There’s not a lot of fast stuff in there. Once Richard is king, everything starts falling apart and becoming more frantic and crazy. Halfway through I realized I was doing this in reverse – it should start slower and speed up as it goes, so that’s what we did.
OT: What other elements played into the score’s composition?|
LJ: As I was walking out of David’s office after our initial meeting, he told me he had this other idea for the actors to be playing body percussion along with the music. I didn’t know how that was going to play itself out. They hired an amazing movement choreographer named Stephanie Paul, who in rehearsal worked with the actors to create complex sequences where they’re playing on their bodies with knives and sticks – all sorts of things. They’re pounding out complicated rhythms while sequences are happening. So I would watch videos of the actors doing these movement sequences, figure out what the BPM was and then create music that fit.
OT: That’s an incredibly unique element – and incredibly challenging to work with, I can imagine!
LJ: Rock music doesn’t usually have a lot of space for additional percussion. The whole idea is it’s super loud and regressive. The first challenge was just fitting everything in. We ended up [putting microphones on] the stage and performers, so I could pick up [the percussion] and amplify it to the same volume level as the recorded music.
The other challenge, which probably took us the longest time to sort out, is that these actors worked for several weeks creating percussion sequences and got pretty good at it, but they weren’t initially trying to perform these sequences along to anything else [like music]. As soon as I show up with recorded music at a certain tempo every time no matter what – it was a lot of telling them to start at a certain beat, keep up with a certain rhythm, listen to parts of the score – so they could hear the rhythm they have to keep up with.
So we’re telling them “okay actors, you’re going to speak, you’re going to play rhythm on your body and you’re going to attempt to stay completely in time with this recorded piece of music that’s playing along.” I have to give the cast a tremendous amount of credit. It was tricky but they hung in there, and wanted to make it work. When you see the performance now, it all seems like second nature. But at the time of putting it together, we definitely had moments of thinking “oh my god, what have we done?”
OT: How have your audiences received the score?
LJ: People who are casual theatre fans are really excited by it. The reviews have either said “wow, this is a totally crazy interpretation of this play and I really enjoyed it” or “oh my god, what did they do, I don’t know how I feel about it!”
One of the reviews called the score “post-Wayne’s World,” so if your relationship to hard rock music is Wayne’s World, I don’t know if there’s much I can do to help you.
OT: Scoring any play, but especially a Shakespeare classic like Richard the Third, is no small task. Why do you think this job is so important, and what keeps you in this industry?
LJ: I’ve started teaching how to write theatre compositions recently and one of the things I like to tell my students is that music is really the emotional context by which you’re going to receive drama. This speech I’m giving right now about how music affects – you could imagine that while I’m giving it there’s a slow building underscore that’s really inspirational and exciting. That’s going to totally frame the context by which you’re getting this information. If I gave the same speech with dark scar music, it completely changes the context by which you see it because now you’re imagining something terrible is going to happen.
Music is incredibly powerful and influential. When you’re given the responsibility of creating music that’s going to match live drama, you really have a great responsibility to try to make the music as close to what the action is as possible, so that the audience is receiving the clearest and most expressive form of the story.
Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard the Third runs through Sunday, March 10 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. Tickets $44-$102. For more on composer Lindsay Jones, visit www.linsdayjones.com. You can find the punk, metal and doom rock songs that inspired Jones’ compositions below.
Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org
Richard the Third – tracks and influences
After more than a decade since its inception, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has become an unstoppable force in the fight to empower black women in the arts and in the world. In its latest venture, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has partnered with The Kennedy Center’s Hip Hop Culture to launch the inaugural BGR! Fest beginning on International Women’s Day.
“I think it’s going to be pretty awesome,” says Beverly Bond, founder and CEO of BLACK GIRLS ROCK!. “It’s really a great gathering of black women artists. Black women don’t always get those mainstage platforms. The combination of everybody we have on the show, together in this one space during International Women’s weekend, is going to be a powerful statement.”
The three-day event features a free welcome party with celebrity DJs Mc Lyte and Bond herself, a book talk, panels, a concert with headliner Jazmine Sullivan, DC’s own Maimouna Youssef and more.
“The crazy part is that the panel sold out before the concert,” Bond says. “And Michaela Angela Davis, who is actually one of the panelists, had to stop for a minute and say, ‘You know what? I appreciate that the panel sold out before the concert! Black women are here to fix it!’”
Bond worked closely with The Kennedy Center’s Director of Hip Hop Culture Simone Eccleston while producing BGR! Fest. It wasn’t the first time they’d worked together.
“This is the second touch point with BGR,” Eccleston says. “Back in 2014, the center had a multi-week festival celebrating hip-hop culture known as the One Mic Festival. As part of the three weeks of programming, there was a collaboration with BGR to present Rock Like a Girl.”
After connecting at the One Mic Festival, Eccleston and Bond established a professional relationship and a genuine friendship. It was only a matter of time before they found a mutual cause to bring them together again.
“Within the Hip Hop Culture program, one of our specific areas of focus has been celebrating women,” Eccleston says. “We’ve continued with that throughline over the arc of the season, and it would only be fitting that Beverly Bond be back and for us to have BGR!Fest.”
The timely collaboration between BLACK GIRLS ROCK! and The Kennedy Center on International Women’s Day weekend signifies the recognition of black women and their contributions to arts and society.
“The goal of the program is to provide audiences at large with an understanding of the breadth and depth of the culture and its impacts, not only on contemporary society, but its role in
shaping culture,” she continues. “If we’re talking about communities that have shaped culture and sparked innovation, you cannot have that conversation without having black women at the center of it.”
While the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! organization has achieved great success and popularity, the movement has inspired black women and girls to assert themselves with its now famous namesake phrase.
“I want them to know that black girls rock,” Bond said. “If they’re taking away one thing, it’s to support our art, support our artists and to help elevate our voices.”
Join BRG! Fest at The Kennedy Center on March 10 at 8 p.m. Concert tickets are $59-$119 and available at here. Learn more about BGR! Fest here.
The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org
McCombs is touring the February 8 release of his latest and ninth record Tip of the Sphere, a nonsense pun on “tip of the spear,” (because, as you know, spheres are rounded on all sides.)
The music is just as opaque as the title. Like Jonathan Wilson’s sound, the record channels a Laurel Canyon-psych quality, only McCombs’ take is even spacier. It’s music that gives you space to imagine.
For instance, “The Great Pixley Train Robbery” is an Americana song that stomps and cuts right through the space of the others on the record, like “Estrella.” And he wasted no time, playing “Pixley” second in the set.
Another similarity to Jonathan Wilson, McCombs was playing with the same bass player I saw touring with Wilson this time last year, Dan Horne. Horne looks like a guy displaced from the 70s: shoulder length a hair, stache, oversized retro frames. He’s someone you couldn’t imagine anywhere but onstage.
Because McCombs has been making music for years, after a few songs off of Tip of the Sphere he moved into tracks off of earlier records like Mangy Love (2016) and Big Wheel and Others (2013). Here, a New Wave/Talking Heads influence came through. McCombs’ David Byrne style haircut didn’t hurt that read either. Frank LoCrasto, McCombs’ keyboard player, especially shined on this portion of the show.
At first I took LoCrasto with his red shirt and brown felt hat for a Mountie. But once he got to playing, I found myself craning my neck looking for Greg Phillinganes.
Sam Evian, a Brooklyn-based artist and producer, (who actually engineered Tip of the Sphere), opened for McCombs. His song “Need You,” a song that shines like the sun on 35mm film, may have been my favorite from the night, but some of his best moments came when he was playing alongside McCombs.
Evian took up a saxophone and soloed on McCombs’ track “The Burning of the Temple, 2012.” A descending bass line on the turnaround provides a spooky quality that fit Evian’s Jack Skeleton t-shirt.
As McCombs watched Evian squeal and bop, you got the sense of a blessing being conferred or a torch being passed on. I’m excited to see what Evian produces in the years to come.
Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; 877-987-6487; www.unionstage.com
DC’s wine scene continues to expand and innovate, with new restaurants and bars pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. Gone are the days of stuffy wine lists. As consumers become more educated and adventurous, wine programs must evolve to keep up with hot trends, new regions and unique varietals.
The wine industry has long been male-dominated, but that too is rapidly changing. More women rise to the top and thrive within all areas of the wine industry – from winemakers to business owners to sommeliers at the hottest dining destinations. We sat down to chat with a few of the amazing women driving the District’s wine scene.Stacey Khoury-Diaz
Owner, Dio Wine Bar
Originally from Sonoma County, Stacey Khoury-Diaz fell in love with the natural wines movement she’d experienced across the country and abroad. She opened Dio Wine Bar in the H Street Corridor in September 2017 to fill the natural wines gap she felt was missing in DC.
On Tap: Your menu indicates wines that are made by female winemakers. Do you find there are any notable differences between wines made by women and wines made by men?
Stacey Khoury-Diaz: When I opened Dio, I wanted to highlight other women in the industry, so about 20 percent of our list is made up of wines that are from woman-owned wineries or wineries with a woman winemaker. I tend to see a lot more elevated wines made by women.
OT: What advice would you pass along to women beginning their career in the wine industry?
SKD: Men can walk in and simply say, “This wine is awesome.” But a woman has to be more prepared with facts and statistics to prove her knowledge base. This applies on many levels in business. We have more obstacles and have to work harder to prove ourselves.
OT: What’s your go-to wine at the moment?
SKD: I can’t stop drinking a winter rose by Daniel Ramos from Spain. It’s 100 percent garnacha and a very deep, fragrant rosé. It tastes like roses, vanilla and baking spices. It’s beautiful!
OT: What sets Dio apart from other local wine bars?
SKD: We really highlight the fact that we’re a natural wine bar, meaning the wines are all organic or biodynamic with little added. I’m socially and environmentally driven, so natural wines fit how I live my life. We’re eclectic as far as countries represented and have a lot of fun bringing in wines that aren’t available elsewhere.
Dio Wine Bar: 904 H St. NE, DC; www.diowinebar.com
Partner and Sommelier, Maxwell Park
Niki Lang has years of experience in the wine and hospitality industries, and most recently embarked on a venture with business partners Brent Kroll and Daniel Runnerstrom. Shaw’s Maxwell Park opened in June 2017 and continues to garner praise and accolades from locals.
On Tap: What wine can you not get enough of lately?
Niki Lang: I’ve been nerding out over Northern Piedmont recently. My favorite is La Kiuva, a Picotendro [local name for the Nebbiolo grape] from Valle d’Aosta [in Italy]. It’s a lighter, more delicate style but still very interesting and complex.
OT: How did you find your way to the wine industry?
NL: I grew up with my grandmother and wine was part of everyday life for her, so I was always exposed. When I took the first course from the Court of Master Sommeliers, it opened up a whole new world. I went into wine sales for a few years, worked at other fine dining restaurants in DC, and even worked at a distillery to learn mixology and the distillation process to broaden my knowledge of the beverage world.
OT: What’s the collaborative process like with your business partners?
NL: Brent, Daniel and I have different backgrounds, so we bounce ideas off each other constantly. We have 50 wines by the glass that change monthly. March’s theme is “The Upside Down” – Southern Hemisphere wines. It’s collaborative and fun, and we try to keep it clever.
OT: How do you think the DC wine industry has evolved throughout your career?
NL: DC feels like it’s been exploding with fine dining restaurants. I’ve seen a trend toward value-driven, approachable wine lists that focus on obscure varietals. At Maxwell Park, we work with almost 50 different distributors because we change our list so often and we want unique, experimental wines that are popular among consumers.
Maxwell Park:1336 9th St. NW, DC; www.maxwellparkdc.com
Sommelier, St. Anselm
With its namesake location in Brooklyn, St. Anselm expanded to the District last fall and was an instant success in the up-and-coming Northeast area near Union Market. Vanessa Cominsky was part of the opening team and currently oversees a wine program of more than 700 options.
On Tap: What’s your top priority as a sommelier?
Vanessa Cominsky: Our goal is to challenge perceptions and take people on an adventure. There’s truly something for everyone, from classics to more funky picks. This area is also so vibrant and people are excited to come in and explore, which helps me as a sommelier.
OT: What’s in your glass today?
VC: My honest answer is a double shot of espresso. Blue Bottle saves my soul. I’m also into Sicilian and Southern Italian wines right now like Azienda Agricola COS, one of the original wines from Sicily that’s imported in the States.
OT: What challenges do you face as a female wine professional?
VC: I’m almost numb to the “Oh, you’re the sommelier?” looks at this point. I hope eventually I won’t have to list my accomplishments to justify that I’m qualified to do my job. Until we don’t have to do that, we’ll have a lot of work to do within the industry.
OT: What makes St. Anselm relevant in DC’s ever-changing foodie scene?
VC: We have Joe Carroll [the restauranteur behind St. Anselm] in New York, and he always gives input on what’s coming. I also eat out a lot and listen to people. Writing off trends seen on social media and Instagram would also be a big mistake. It’s a big part of how we connect with [customers] in regards to food and wine.
St. Anselm: 1250 5th St. NE, DC; www.stanselmdc.com
Beverage Director and Sommelier, KNEAD Hospitality + Design
After returning to DC for an internship in climate change, Darlin Kulla quickly realized office life wasn’t her path. She soon began working with various fine wine programs throughout the District, and now she’s gearing up to sit the advanced exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers this fall while leading the wine programs at Succotash and Mi Vida.
On Tap: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the beginning of your career?
Darlin Kulla: I wish I’d know that it’s okay to ask for help, advice or mentorship. It’s easy to forget we’re not in this alone. There are so many people in DC that are driven and talented; it’s a great community and very supportive.
OT: Tell us a bit about the wine programs at Succotash and Mi Vida.
DK: Succotash is Southern American food, so think bold, structured wines that can stand up to the food. Southern food is not shy! Mi Vida’s menu is more varied in terms of styles, even though it’s a smaller list. We went heavier in Spanish and Iberian wines. There are some fun Portuguese wines and also a Mexican Chardonnay by the glass.
OT: Wine perhaps isn’t the first pairing people think of with Mexican cuisine. How do you help guests select wines to pair with more complex dishes from the menu?
DK: We have descriptors for all the wines printed on the list so the consumer is able to get a snapshot of the wine before they order, which is helpful with more eclectic wines. People are becoming more adventurous and what they’ll try continues to exceed expectations.
OT: What wine is currently on your short list?
DK: I drink a lot of Beaujolais – that tends to be my go-to.
Learn more about KNEAD at www.kneadhd.com. Two new spots, Gatsby in Capitol Riverfront and The Grill at The Wharf, will join the restaurant group’s existing locations later this year.
They say good things come in small packages, and 4-foot-11 dynamo Kristin Chenoweth is a living example that the phrase applies to performers as well. Known for her incredible singing on Broadway, her quirky character roles in movies and on TV, and her oodles of charm in just about every performance she’s ever done, Chenoweth is beloved by people of all ages.
She won a Tony for her performance as Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1999, though she’s best-known for her renowned run as Glinda in the Broadway smash Wicked. Other memorable runs on the Great White Way include roles in The Apple Tree, On the Twentieth Century and Promises, Promises. And there’s no role she hasn’t made a lasting impression with on-screen, from West Wing to Trial & Error to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done and have been blessed with some amazing roles,” Chenoweth says. “The critics have always enjoyed these choices and that makes me understand I am on the same planet as everyone else. I know what I think is tasteful and funny and good, and that always seems to line up with them and that makes me happy.”
A veteran of the concert stage, the Tony- and Emmy-winning actress will perform at Strathmore on April 8 with a show any Broadway fan is sure to love.
“This concert is timed really well because my new album will be coming out around Mother’s Day, and I would like to start bringing some songs from that to my shows,” she says. “I don’t have a title yet, but I keep calling it For the Girls. It’s my way of giving myself permission to sing other women artists whose work has inspired me and changed my life musically.”
That means songs from performers like Dinah Washington, Judy Garland, Dolly Parton and Eva Cassidy.
“It’s really going to be a celebration of women. It’s important for me to recognize singer-songwriters like Chely Wright – who is a giant in the country music industry – and there’s an original song I wrote with her that I am excited to play for people.”
There’s a big part of Chenoweth, she says, that wants to be a mentor to younger audiences and teach them about some of these songs and singers who they may not be familiar with. It’s something she realized while doing an episode of Glee.
“Ryan Murphy had me sing ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret, and I just assumed everyone knew that song. But so many people reached out to me on social media asking where the song came from. I just died because these kids don’t know. I want to let them know who came before me and even some who may be younger than I. Just because you like one certain type of music doesn’t mean you can’t research and learn to appreciate others.”
Her concert will also include plenty of Broadway tunes, jazz standards, gospel songs and even opera, plus tunes from her previous release of American Songbook classics The Art of Elegance.
“Of course I’m going to sing ‘Popular’ and some songs that I will never not sing because it’s part of my DNA, but I want to make it a new show every time,” she says.
Another song that’s sure to be on the set list is “Taylor, the Latte Boy” written by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, which tells the humorous tale of a woman who falls for her barista at Starbucks.
“I was a young Kristin Chenoweth doing Steel Pier at the time [in 1997] and there was a performance honoring Kander and Ebb [a famous songwriting team], and someone handed me this music. Marcy and Zina told me they had been writing the song with me in mind. I was so nervous because the show was the next day and it’s not a short song. I spent the rest of the night learning it, and as I did, I realized this is totally me. I sang it that night and wow, did it go over.”
Soon after, she sang the song on The Rosie O’Donnell Show and it’s been a staple of her performances ever since.
“As artists, we have to recognize and understand that when we don’t sing songs like this, it’s a let down to the audience. I know that because I once saw Barbra Streisand live and she didn’t sing ‘People.’ I learned a lot there.”
The singer is very familiar with Strathmore, having starred in the Music Center’s groundbreaking I am Anne Hutchinson/I am Harvey Milk production in 2016. Currently, she doesn’t have any concrete plans to go back on Broadway. But last October, Chenoweth and her original Wicked costar Idina Menzel reunited for the NBC special A Very Wicked Halloween, and the duo’s magic was reignited on an astounding version of the show’s “For Good.” She has a few things in the fire for 2019 and is looking forward to touring at concert venues around the country when not filming any TV projects.
“Currently, I’m in development season and there are three ideas I have that three different writers have put a treatment to. I’ve fallen in love with all of them, so I do believe I will be doing something new on television soon. I’d rather do something that is me and my taste. I’m always going to choose and do something a little offbeat. That’s who I am.”
A lesson she says she’s been learning over and over in the past year is not being so serious and just enjoying the moment. Last fall, she traveled to Italy and sang a duet with Andrea Bocelli to a pretty famous audience and screwed up a song. She stopped and started over and then just messed up again and decided to cut to the end.
“People were loving it. It reminds you that life isn’t always perfect and in some ways that was my favorite moment of the trip. I am a perfectionist and I can get myself wound up pretty high. I had to laugh, and I did. Sometimes that happens in concerts and I may forget a word and I’ll point it out. I like using those moments to show I am not a robot. I am not autotuned. I am an artist who is real and authentic.”
She promises that people who don’t know who she is when they come in the door at Strathmore will know who she is when they leave.
“I want people to come to this show and be in the moment and enjoy themselves. It’s a treat you give yourself when you do that. We think we’re doing the right thing when we’re worrying about something, but I want people to put all that aside and just go with me on this journey. It will be an extraordinary, fun night.”
Kristin Chenoweth will perform at Strathmore on Monday, April 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $78 and are available at www.strathmore.org.
Learn more about Chenoweth at www.officialkristinchenoweth.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @kchenoweth.
The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. ; North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5200; www.strathmore.org