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Photo: Gian Di Stefano

Kristin Chenoweth Brings Wicked Fun to Strathmore

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

Photo: Greg Gorman

Rufus Wainwright Celebrates 20 Years at Strathmore

On the day of his breakthrough album’s release in 1998, Rufus Wainwright walked into a café expecting to be noticed. But when he took off his sunglasses, he remained unrecognized.

“I was believing everything people were saying to me: that I was going to be a massive star and make lots of money and become this legendary figure,” he says. “That’s not the way it went. But I have nothing to complain about. I’ve worked a long time and very hard, and matured. I learned the reality of being an artist and have done quite well.”

His self-titled debut album did quickly establish him as a singer-songwriter to watch thanks to songs like “Foolish Love,” “Millbrook” and “Sally Ann.” Not only did Rolling Stone name the record one of the best of the year, the publication also honored him with its Best New Artist designation. His follow-up album Poses came out three years later, another critical darling.

“Not long after the first two records, I realized that like my parents [who were folk singers], you’re only going to be as good as your live show is,” he says. “So I started doing a lot of solo shows to supplement my income and made it about what I could do as a troubadour. That has really gotten me through a lot of tidal waves of economics that have occurred since.”

Wainwright will perform songs from both albums at The Music Center at Strathmore on December 8 as part of his All These Poses tour to commemorate his debut album’s 20th anniversary.

“For the first half of the show, I come out and do most of the first album and intersperse with a couple of other tracks,” he says. “I am promoting a new record too, which is only available at the concert, so I’ll sing some of those songs.”

He’ll also be telling some stories about his family and what inspired some of his songs, and the early days of his music career. Then, for the second half of the show, Wainwright will play Poses top to bottom, complete with lighting effects and costume changes.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he says. “We have the wonderful Rachel Eckroth opening up the show, and she’s also in the band. People are going to really enjoy hearing her.”

Over the years, Wainwright has released seven studio and three live albums and won countless awards. One of his most beloved recordings is the Grammy-nominated Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall paying homage to icon Judy Garland.

Besides being a celebrated pop singer, Wainwright has also found a calling in writing operas. In 2009, his much-admired Prima Donna premiered at the Manchester International Festival and has traveled the world since. His second opera Hadrian opened to critical acclaim this past October in Toronto.

“I discovered opera when I was 13 and was completely transfixed and transformed into this rabid 70-year-old opera queen all of a sudden. I couldn’t get enough of those old recordings, and it’s almost like the art form chose me and devoured me.”

Each of his operas took about four years of intense work, but nearly 10 years of thinking about them and getting them to where he wanted them to be. They are labors of love for Wainwright, and a big part of who he is.

“I also realized early on that I could use some of opera’s musical ideas and concepts and transfer them to my songwriting.”

The singer is finishing up his new album and aiming for a 2019 tour. Last month, he released a video starring Emmy winner and Glee star Darren Criss for his new song “Sword of Damocles,” which includes a powerful message addressed to President Trump.

“Damocles is a story where there’s a sword hanging over a tyrant’s head to show that when there are rulers who are belligerent, there’s a chance for danger for everybody involved,” he explains. “It’s directed toward Trump, but I feel it’s really directed toward everybody because no matter what happens, that sword is eventually going to come down.”

Don’t miss Wainwright at Strathmore on Saturday, December 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39-$89 and can be purchased at www.strathmore.org. Learn more about the artist at www.rufuswainwright.com.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5200; www.strathmore.org