She isn't quite 5 feet tall, but Kristin Chenoweth has achieved uncommon stature in show business, thanks to consistently sizzling performances on Broadway, including an indelible portrayal of Glinda in "Wicked"that earned her a Tony nomination, and several television shows.
With just the slightest touch of hyperbole, "Glee"actor Chris Colfer neatly expressed Chenoweth's appeal after her guest appearance on that series, telling the Los Angeles Times that "working with Kristin is what I can imagine what a priest would go through if he worked with Jesus."
The Chenoweth aura is fueling her first national concert tour, which brings the Oklahoma-born artist to Baltimore this week for a performance to benefit the Hippodrome Foundation's educational and outreach projects. The 19-city tour, which started last month, has given the singing actress a fresh perspective.
"I'm used to doing a Broadway schedule, a movie schedule, things like that," she said. "This is hard, the hardest thing I've ever done. It's just like running a marathon. But it's so rewarding. The challenge is to stay healthy, and sleep, sleep, sleep. I need eight to nine hours a night. I'm living like a nun."
Chenoweth lets out a laugh.
"I make myself sound so wild, but it's really nothing like that," she said.
For the tour, Chenoweth, a soprano with a distinctively bright voice and exceptional technical control, has picked music from various stages of her career, including "Wicked" and the much less successful "Promises, Promises." There is room for selections from vintage musicals she wasn't in, along with songs she sang on "Glee."
"I chose what I wanted to sing," she said, "but I know it also has to be entertaining."
Count on hearing items from her latest album, "Some Lessons Learned," which has a decided country flavor.
"I'm from Oklahoma, so, of course, I love country music," said Chenoweth, 43. "Boy, did I have a good time making that album."
The concert also has room for a very golden oldie -- as in 19th century. It's Stephen Foster's melancholy ballad "Hard Times Come Again No More," arranged by Broadway composer and lyricist Andrew Lippa.
"I've always loved 'Hard Times,'" Chenoweth said. "It was written in 1853, but it still works. So many people have asked me after the concert if I'm going to record it, even my 17-year-old niece, who listens to Drake and Lil Wayne. So maybe I'm doing something right by including it."
The tour is not just a stand-and-sing affair.
"There's a cast. There's movement and acting," Chenoweth said. "It's very well-crafted, a very full evening."
Handling a rich variety of musical genres in one evening comes naturally to Chenoweth, who studied musical theater at Oklahoma City University and went on to earn a master's degree there in opera performance.
"I wouldn't be able to do all of these styles if I hadn't had the training," she said. "That training has proven to be the ingredient to any success I've had. It's a real blessing."
Chenoweth took opera seriously in her college years, tackling such demanding coloratura roles as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" and Marie in Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment."
Although she ended up moving in musical comedy circles after hitting New York, the operatic side of her background wasn't forgotten. In 2007, she became only the third musical theater star to perform a solo concert at the Metropolitan Opera House.
"That was a dream come true," Chenoweth said. "To see a sold-out house for me, that was kind of freaky. I did one song without a mike. It was amazing."
Amazing enough to lead to an invitation to join the Met's roster.
In 2008, the company announced that Chenoweth would star in a revival of John Corigliano's 1991 opera "The Ghosts of Versailles," and the composer planned to rewrite one of the roles to better suit the soprano's voice. But the production was scrapped when the economy soured.
"That was a heart-breaker," Chenoweth said. "If I got another offer to do opera, it would be hard to say no."
Chenoweth, who was adopted by a couple in Oklahoma, knew early on that she had to be in music.
"I don't think I had a choice," she said. "You're doing the right thing when you know that no one could ever tell you to do anything else. I was very lucky to have parents who wanted me to find my passion. I studied classical piano. I grew up in a church, so gospel music was a part of my life, too."
Secular music also played a part.
"Julie Andrews was a huge influence," Chenoweth said. "And Barbra Streisand, Carol Burnett, Madeline Kahn, Dolly Parton, Beverly Sills, Sandi Patty. Those might not have been the most popular things in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, but those were my tastes."
In addition to becoming a fine musician, Chenoweth developed into a vibrant actress, with roles that range as widely as her musical affinities. Although she has enjoyed a lot of success in the field, winning an Emmy Award for her work in the ABC series "Pushing Daisies," there has been the occasional setback.
Another ABC series featuring Chenoweth, originally titled "Good Christian Bitches" and later the safer "GCB," was just canceled.
"A lot of people are angry about it," Chenoweth said. "There are petitions to save it. It was a fun show. But I've been in this business long enough to know how things go. Advertisers were scared by the title. That's a bummer."
An earlier version of this article erroneously reported that Kristin Chenoweth won a Tony Award for "Wicked." She was a nominee. The Sun regrets the error.
If you go
Kristin Chenoweth will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $55 to $150. Call 410-547-7328 or go to Ticketmaster.com.
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