Kristin Chenoweth, star of stage and screen, bringing glittery artistry to Hancher gala


Kristin Chenoweth, star of stage and screen, will ring in 2019 with a New Year’s Eve gala concert at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City on Monday night (12/31).
GIAN ANDREA DI STEFANO PHOTO Kristin Chenoweth, star of stage and screen, will ring in 2019 with a New Year’s Eve gala concert at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City on Monday night (12/31).

Hancher Auditorium is breaking out the bubbly, toasting 2019 with the effervescent Kristin Chenoweth in a New Year’s Eve gala spotlight Monday night (12/31).

Star of stage and screen, Chenoweth nabbed a Tony Award as Sally in the 1999 Broadway revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and garnered a 2004 Tony nomination for waving her glittering artistic wand over the role of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in “Wicked.”

Along with other star turns in television’s “Glee,” “The West Wing,” “Trial and Error,” “Hairspray Live!” and her Emmy-winning role on “Pushing Daisies,” she also has sparkled on the big screen in “Bewitched,” “Four Christmases” and “My Little Pony,” among others.

But there’s no place like home for the holidays, when you’re at home onstage.

“I do really, really like to work,” she said by phone en route to Washington, D.C., to once again sing for the Kennedy Center Honors. In 2001, she was part of the tribute to Julie Andrews, and this year, she sang in honor of Reba McEntire in the program that aired Wednesday (12/26) on CBS-TV.

And now, Chenoweth, who has homes in Manhattan and Los Angeles, is bringing her artistry to Iowa City.

“I like to be with people on New Year’s Eve,” she said. “I can find that bringing in the new holiday without celebrating in some way can be a little sad. I don’t know what that is about me, but I think other people might feel that way. I think it’s just fun to bring in the new year with music. That’s my favorite thing to do, so always on New Year’s Eve, I’m like, ‘Please let me be singing somewhere, anywhere — I just want to sing.’”

Chuck Swanson, Hancher’s executive director, is thrilled that she chose to spend the holiday in Iowa City, and that Hancher was able to sign her early-on for the first New Year’s Eve gala in the new building. The previous gala was the Millennium Eve bash staged with the Glenn Miller Orchestra at the former Hancher on Dec. 31, 1999.


“When you think about New Year’s Eve, you want somebody who’s popular, somebody that people have heard about or they’ve seen on Broadway or wherever, and Kristin Chenoweth is definitely a known commodity,” Swanson said. “And she’s got that spark, she’s got that sort of New Year’s Eve flair.”

Chenoweth said she’s looking forward to making her first trip to Iowa and Swanson is looking forward to showing her all the area has to offer.

“She’s going to blow us away,” he said. “As I do with every artist, I look forward to introducing her to our new building. I look forward to her coming into that stage door, seeing the backstage area, and then I look forward to her walking out on that stage.

“Artists just love it. They can’t believe it. The experience for them is as important as the experience for our audience. I’m just as excited about that part of it — to see and feel and sense her response to what she finds here at Hancher, the University of Iowa, Iowa City and the cultural Corridor, then the warmth of our audience. Our audience is so generous and so wonderful. I get the joy and the luxury of talking to the artists afterward and getting their reaction ... because that is special,” he said.

The payoff is “bringing the audience and the artist together for a great experience,” he added.

Revelers at the black tie optional event will hear a mix of music from Chenoweth’s 2016 CD, “The Art of Elegance” — featuring such classics as “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “Smile” — as well as previews from her new album due out in 2019.

“I will definitely be doing some songs that people know me for, because if I don’t, I’ll be in real bad trouble, and I don’t want to get in trouble in Iowa City,” she said with a laugh.

“Actually, I never really do the same show, so I’m sure there will even be a new song that I want to do, that I’ve been thinking about. ... It’s kind of all over the map, but what I like to say about the show is that there’s something for everybody. There’s a little bit of country, some more legit, some Jerome Kern — there’s all kinds of music to enjoy. My voice loves to do all the different kinds of music.


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“The biggest challenge that I have to do is staying healthy, because my voice can do a lot of different kinds of things, and I like to, because it’s really challenging and fun. But at the same time, I have to stay healthy to do it. I don’t really live a crazy exciting life. I’m an artist. I think about it all the time. To some that might seem like, ‘Oh man, she has no life.’ I really love it.

“Who knows what I’ll do New Year’s Eve. I could be calling up somebody from the audience to sing with me. It’s so fun. It depends on how I feel, and the audience. If I’m a good listener, the audience will tell me what they want. That’s the key to being successful — and a success in life — being a good listener.”

Her musical path began in Broken Arrow, Okla., a suburb of Tulsa. In a foreshadowing of “Wicked,” her earliest musical memory is playing the album from “The Wizard of Oz” on a record player in her room.

“Everyone thinks you’re going to remember the twinkle sounds and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ and of course I do, but what always sticks in my mind is (singing the bicycle theme) and being so scared in my room and running out and getting my parents,” she said. “Music really can evoke so many emotions.”

She would go on to study music at Oklahoma City University, earning a bachelor’s degree in musical theater and a master’s in opera. She credits that opera training with giving her the tools to withstand the rigors of eight performances a week on Broadway. That will come in handy, as she said she’s looking forward to a new script coming her way in the new year.

But the real turning point came with her first performing experience, in church. “It was a pretty life-changing deal,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is definitely what I want to do this with my life.’”

Her solo was “Jesus, I Heard You had a Big House.”

“Now, I can’t make this up,” she said. “The second line of the song is ‘where plenty of love can go around.’ That’s a thing in my head that still sticks with me — the key word is being ‘love’ — especially now. It’s an interesting time to be alive, but that word is forgotten about a lot” as people jockey to have their view prevail.

“This is as political as I’ll get: I just really hope and pray for a time where no matter what side of the fence you’re on, you can come together and focus more on what you have in common.”


WHAT: Kristin Chenoweth: A New Year’s Eve Gala

WHERE: Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City

WHEN: 9:30 p.m. Monday (12/31)

TICKETS: $119, Hancher Box Office, (319) 335-1160, 1- (800) HANCHER or Hancher.uiowa.edu


EVENT: black tie optional; 5 p.m. building and box office open; 7:30 p.m. Stanley Cafe opens; 9:30 p.m. performance (no intermission), followed by champagne toast in lobbies; 11:50 p.m. fireworks with finale at midnight

ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Officialkristinchenoweth.com

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