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Why Kristin Chenoweth Is Much More Than Her High Notes (Exclusive)

Gian Di Stefano

"When you live a little bit, things change and meanings change and your voice deepens."

Anyone who caught Kristin Chenoweth in last year's scrumptious Broadway revival of On the Twentieth Century knows the soprano's top notes have lost none of their gleam. But you'll find no flurry of high Cs on her latest album, The Art of Elegance, released in September. Produced by pop/American songbook vet Steve Tyrell, Elegance showcases Chenoweth's creamy, sometimes sultry middle and lower registers, on classics such as Skylark, Let's Fall In Love, I've Got A Crush On You, and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.

Some of that material will be featured in Kristin Chenoweth: My Love Letter To Broadway, which begins a 12-performance run on November 2 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. (She'll next appear as Velma Von Tussle in NBC's Hairspray Live! on December 7.) In a recent chat, the funny lady with the golden throat spoke about the album and the show, and about taking chances, embracing maturity and accepting loss.

Out: Congrats on The Art of Elegance. How did it come about?

Kristin Chenoweth: I made a long list of songs that I had wanted to sing. It started out, I'm embarrassed to say, with about 482 songs -- that was just me on one night. But you keep whittling it down, and looking at what you're drawn to. And I'm drawn to this era, this style, this music that I have not just grown up with but learned on, in a way. A lot of people think that I had voice lessons my whole life, or that I was an actor kid. I wasn't. I didn't start voice until I was a freshman at OCU (Oklahoma City University). My teacher gave me Gershwin, Porter, Hoagy Carmichael to cut my teeth on, because they're such great teachers.

In a video describing the album, you speak of a sound that only comes from life and experience, and it's clearly not a coloratura soprano voice.

I wanted to get a different feel from my voice -- not to sing in a different way, because I really believe we just use different parts of our voices. This is just a little more of where I'm going, I think, vocally. When you live a little bit, things change and meanings change and your voice deepens. Steve Tyrell told me to just embrace it. I said, "But people want the high notes." He said, "They know you have those -- give them something different." It wasn't always where my natural inclination as a music theater singer would be. It was more about discovering where my voice would go in life. It was such a great gift to myself.

Will we hear songs from the album in your new Broadway show?

I'm going to do about four or five of them, and mix it up. I really want to make it a different show every night. I'm keeping it Broadway-centric, because that's where I started, and that's where I will probably end -- I hope I continue to be invited. But I think it's also important for people to understand that I don't just do Broadway. So it will be different singers who have influenced me--like, everybody knows how I feel about Dolly Parton. Also songs that maybe are by Broadway composers but haven't been done there before. I'm not going to not do Popular--of course I'll do that song. But I need to keep it fresh and exciting.

Comedy is also central in your repertoire. Is that important to you, and do you find yourself drawing more satisfaction from humor -- in life, too?

I feel so lucky that I get to do a lot of different things. And whenever I start to get a little bit wacko, to think too hard about stuff-- you have to start laughing. Every now and then I'll get worked up about something, and then I'll think, did that really matter? I think that comes with life. Every job I do is still going to be the most important job I have, and I think with more success comes more pressure. But that's when you have to start looking at your life and giggling at it.

Yeah, there's been a lot of bigger stuff to get worked up about this year. Have you been thinking about the election, or trying not to?

I've never gone public with my political beliefs, because I believe that's a very private thing. A lot of people assume how I might vote, because of where I'm from, and because I'm a Christian person. Sometimes we're not being represented by our own very well.

But it's important at this point, if I'm going to be able to sing about my love for God, or how I've been heartbroken, or how I've hurt someone -- if I look at what's going on in the world, then I think now, at this stage, people may know who I might support. I do think this is an important election, and I do think people should vote.

How is your dog, Maddie?

Oh, thank you for asking. I'm sorry to say that she passed away recently.

Oh, no. I'm so sorry -- I didn't know that.

No, no, I'm glad you asked me. I loved that dog, as you know. I used to think people who referred to their dogs as their kids were insane, but then I became that person. It's been very, very hard, because she was here for 13 years of my life. But now I've got her with me all the time, though I still have moments where I miss her and cry a lot. But she brought me so much joy. So thank you for asking about her.

My Love Letter to Broadway runs from November 2-13. Find more information here.

Elysa Gardner formerly covered theater and music for USA Today. She has also contributed to Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, and VH1.

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