‘ALWAYS AN OKIE’
Kristin Chenoweth talks about her new book, return to Broadway, more
In her new book “I’m No Philosopher, But I Got Thoughts,” Kristin Chenoweth shares a lot, from her formative experiences at Oklahoma City University and her enduring Christian faith to her struggles with vertigo from the inner-ear disorder Ménière’s disease to her lingering pain from a life-threatening 2012 injury on the set of the television series “The Good Wife.”
But her memories of her friend John Sawyer, a fellow Oklahoman with whom she grew up, attended OCU and performed on Broadway, were the hardest thoughts to share. News of his suicide “threw me to the ground,” she writes.
“I just didn’t think I had the heart in me to write the book. But as time went on, he kept showing himself through rainbows and dragonflies and giving me the courage to do it – and also giving me the courage to share a part of me that’s ... the deep, dark uglies,” she told The Oklahoman. “I’m really grateful to him. So, this is as much John’s book as it is mine.”
The Oklahoma Cultural Ambassador returned to her home state – and Sawyer’s – Monday for an event at Full Circle Bookstore. More than 500 people formed a snaking line through 50 Penn Place, with many waiting hours to meet the Broken Arrow native and have her sign copies not just of her new book but also her 2009 memoir “A Little Bit Wicked” and her 2022 children’s book “What Will I Do With My Love Today?”
Arriving at the store after teaching a three-hour master class at OCU, Chenoweth said she was shocked by the big crowd at Full Circle.
“I’m also very touched that people in my home state are coming out to support me in person. I feel a lot of love every time I come home, but I’m an Oklahoma girl. I can live in other states, but I’m also always an Okie,” said Chenoweth, who will next be seen in Season 2 of the Apple TV+ musical comedy series “Schmigadoon!,” which premieres April 5.
Before her book signing, the Tony and Emmy Award winner, who now lives primarily in New York City and Nashville, Tennessee, talked one-on-one with The Oklahoman about her new book, her planned return to Broadway, her participation in the April 26 NBC special “Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love” and more:
Q: Tell me about your new musical project ‘ The Queen of Versailles.’ That documentary is out of this world.
A: It’s out there, isn’t it? About two and a half years ago, (“Wicked” composer) Stephen Schwartz, the director, Michael Arden, and the lead producer, Bill Damaschke, came to me and said, “Have you seen ‘Queen of Versailles?’ And I said, “Uh, no. What is that?” And they said, “It’s a great documentary of the real-life people who were building the biggest house in the United States.” So, I watched it, and I was like, “OK, that’s some crazy stuff.” And they said, “We want you to do the musical,” and I was interested to see how that would be a musical.
Q: So, you’re also going to play ‘The Queen of Versailles’ in the show?
A: You bet. And I will go see the real “Queen of the Versailles” herself, Jackie Siegel, in Orlando. I’m singing with a Naples (Florida) symphony, and I’m going to be allowed to get on her plane and go visit “The Queen of Versailles” at her house and meet her.
Q: How was it to go to that Carol Burnett event and celebrate her?
A: It was FUN! She’s my mentor. I talk to her not just about shows. She’s been a leader in my life for many years, and when we talk, a lot of times it’s just about life stuff. ... The other night, I sang with Bernadette (Peters), and we did two songs. And to see her sitting next to Julie Andrews ... and seeing other people who she’s inspired get up and talk about it, you wouldn’t believe – well, you probably would believe.
I’m just one of many, but she has the ability to make everybody feel like they’re the only one. And they’re so special. I’ve spent many fun nights with her – many dinners, many deep talks, and when she calls, I’m there.
Q: You’ve got a lot of projects that bring you back to Oklahoma to work with young people who are interested in musical theater.
A: That’s all I care about these days. I’m still working a ton, but I want to be remembered in a certain way. I don’t want to just take it all with me. Just like Carol has shown me and Reba (McEntire) has shown me grace and helped me. Andrea Bocelli and all of the people I’ve worked with, I’ve learned from, and I want to pass it along. It’s full circle. Ariana Grande is playing the role I created in “Wicked” (for the movie). I’ve known her since she was 10, so that mentorship has been very important over the years.
Q: And she wrote the foreword to your new book. Let’s talk about your third book, which is completely different from your other two books.
A: I wanted it to be like a mini meditation book, but also fun. It’s an interactive book: There’s some exercises to do on paper in there. ... I really wanted people to get it even deeper look inside of who I am and the way my brain thinks, what I can offer and, again, what I’ve learned.
Q: I heard that it started out based on your journals. How did you get started journaling? Is that something you’ve done since you were a kid?
A: My mom gave me a diary when I was in third grade, and I just thought was a cool thing because it had a latch and key. And I’ve got my secrets, right? And I’ve never stopped.
When I got to OCU, my then-teacher, my mentor, the love of my life in some ways, Florence Birdwell, used to say, “You’ve got to get it out. You can use your music to get it out, too, but you’ve got to be able to journal. And don’t forget, you’re gonna get some great ideas from journaling.” And I have: I’ve written songs in my journal, I’ve written some thoughts that I didn’t understand that I then can go back and look and, “Yeah, I get it.” Journaling is so great. It’s such a great tool to relieve stress.