Theater & art

Stages | Terry Byrne

Kristin Chenoweth relishes the role of mentor

“I say to kids [in the master classes], if you want to be famous I can’t help. I really don’t know how to do that. If you want to be good, I can. That means work. Practice. Listen. Rest. Take care of yourself,” says Kristin Chenoweth.

Matt Doyle

“I say to kids [in the master classes], if you want to be famous I can’t help. I really don’t know how to do that. If you want to be good, I can. That means work. Practice. Listen. Rest. Take care of yourself,” says Kristin Chenoweth.

Four years ago when Tony- and Emmy award-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth donated money to the arts center in her hometown of Broken Arrow, Okla., the theater was renamed for her. That honor, says Chenoweth, made her think about her legacy, and how she wanted to be remembered.

So she connected with the artistic director to launch kids’ programs, including master classes and a summer arts camp. On April 28, Chenoweth comes to Boston to receive the “Giving Voice” award for her work with young people as part of Boston Children’s Theatre’s annual gala.

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“I am so excited,” Chenoweth says via e-mail. “They seem to be on the same page as me. It’s all about kids and how the arts changes lives.”

Chenoweth should know. She began singing in gospel choirs as a kid, then studied opera in college before shifting to musical theater. She made her Broadway debut in “Steel Pier” in 1997, and went on to win a Tony for her role as Sally in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” She originated the role of Glinda in the smash hit “Wicked” and most recently starred on Broadway in “On the Twentieth Century.” She won her Emmy for her supporting role in the TV comedy “Pushing Daisies.”

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Whether she is voicing a character for an animated film or taking on a classic role like Cunegonde in “Candide,” Chenoweth’s soaring soprano is always combined with her rich development of the person she’s playing. She seems to disappear into a role while making it her own. Teaching that skill to aspiring actors is very straightforward, she says.

“I’m all about character,” she says. “Whether it means ‘disappear’ into that part or ‘become’ that role, it means the same to me. Know everything about your character: how they stand. Sit. Drink. Walk. Think. What do they want? Need. Who are their friends?”

Show business is a tough career path to follow, and even though Chenoweth has had a steady string of successes, she says there’s no way around rejection.

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“All I can do is my best and pray and have fun,” she says. “I say to kids [in the master classes], if you want to be famous, I can’t help. I really don’t know how to do that. If you want to be good, I can. That means work. Practice. Listen. Rest. Take care of yourself.”

Chenoweth says she hopes aspiring actors look at some of her previous work, like “Candide” or “The Apple Tree,” and think about how they can put their own stamp on a classic role. “I never think of them as revivals,” she says. “Only that I’m creating something with a director and the cast.”

While Chenoweth leads the master classes back home, it’s the summer camp that excites her most.

“Participating in any kind of camp makes you a better person, as well as a better artist,” she says. “You learn how to be a team player and to appreciate others and what their gifts are.

“And mostly through it all,” she says, “have fun. If it ain’t fun don’t do it.”

A memoir from Epstein

Legendary actor Alvin Epstein made his Broadway debut opposite Marcel Marceau, originated the role of Lucky in the New York debut of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” and played the Fool to Orson Welles’s King Lear, all in the same year. Now he has gathered tales from his seven-decade career into a book, “Dressing Room Stories: The Making of an Artist.” As told to fellow actor Jonathan Fried, the book captures the longtime American Repertory Theater resident actor’s astonishingly wide-ranging stage career, along with side trips into the sweet, personal stories that helped to shape and inspire him. He recalls playing the Goldberg Variations on a piano in an abandoned German home as defeated German soldiers stumbled by, seeing Welles’s false nose fly into the air when he smashed into a steel tower for lighting equipment, and meeting an intern named Barbra Streisand who made coffee and swept up after “Endgame.” “Dressing Room Stories” is available from Amazon for $15.

GIVING VOICE GALA

A benefit for Boston Children’s Theatre honoring Kristin Chenoweth, at WGBH studios, Brighton, April 28. Tickets: $150, $500 for reception with Chenoweth. 617-424-6634, www.bostonchildrenstheatre.org

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.
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