Think you know Wicked‘s “Popular?” Well, you may not totally recognize it on Kristin Chenoweth’s new live album, Coming Home. Chenoweth’s latest version of the song turns Galinda into something of a jet-setter, segueing from English to Japanese, German, and more languages. She calls it “Around the World with Galinda.”
Coming Home, released on Nov. 17, finds Chenoweth performing at the Kristin Chenoweth Theatre in her hometown of Broken Arrow, Okla. Chenoweth is the host of this year’s PBS Arts Fall Festival; PBS will air her Kristin Chenoweth: Coming Home special Nov. 28.
“I hope when people watch and listen they have even more of a sense of who I am,” Chenoweth told EW. “That it is Galinda, but it’s also a woman, it’s also a daughter, it’s also a person who’s been hurt and who has hurt, it’s a Christian, it’s sexy. It’s my upbringing. It’s everything I am. There is no album that I’ve done that is everything I am and this is the one.”
EW premieres the track here, then chats with Chenoweth about how it came about, performing at home, and her upcoming return to Broadway.
How did you come up with the idea for “Popular” in different languages?
Unfortunately it came from my brain, which can sometimes have good ideas. I thought it was funny because when you do a song a lot—and I know artists know what I’m talking about—you don’t want to disappoint people. You want to do the song, but you also have to keep it fresh for yourself. One night, separately, I was looking at different songs from Wicked in different countries. I thought, “Interesting, ‘Defying Gravity’ or ‘Popular’ in German, how funny! Interesting! Here it is in Japanese.” The idea came to me that way.
Did you take lyrics from the translated productions of Wicked?
No, I actually hired a linguist to help me because I wanted to be mostly correct—as correct as I could be. In this live version, I went back and listened, and there are some dialect mistakes. But, as you know, it’s a live album. I didn’t go in and correct any notes or any missed words or any of that, but I will say, I’m much better at German than I am at Japanese.
What’s the reaction of audiences?
They love it. I think they enjoy that I’m trying new things with it. And of course, Stephen Schwartz, the composer—I went to him first and made sure it was all right. He’s been so good to me over the years. I remember when Anthony Weiner had his little indiscretion—
It’s kind of hard to remember, isn’t it? I did The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and I sang it about Anthony Weiner. It’s not something that I’ll do a lot, because I want to stay respectful to the song. But I enjoy making it different and fun.
What did it mean to you to do the album and the PBS special in your hometown?
When PBS and I talked about doing my concert, they said, “Where do you want to do it?” And it seemed the obvious choice would have been Carnegie [Hall], any of those usual suspects. But I thought about it, and I was like, “It has to be in Broken Arrow.” When I looked around the audience I was really nervous—really nervous.
More nervous than at Carnegie Hall?
Yeah, I was. Even though I’m pretty darn nervous there too. I usually can control it, but looking out and seeing my dad in the front row when I was singing “Fathers and Daughters?” It’s emotional. Say I don’t watch the DVD and I listen to the live album. I go, “Oh my gosh, I hope people realize that’s me about to cry and not me just singing poorly.”
I had my high school choir back me up on a gospel song, since I’ve sung since I was a little girl. Singing for my voice teacher and my mentor from Oklahoma City University, who is now 90… I sang a song that I pulled out in college called “My Coloring Book.” When I started to sing it way back then, she said, “You don’t understand the song. Pull it out one day when you get it.” I sang it that night and I said, “I think I understand it now,” and she gave the thumbs up. It’s just situations like that you can’t recreate.
Do you have a favorite song to perform live in concert?
There are some, honestly, that always sort of speak to me, and then there are some that the audience knows. “My Coloring Book,” I bring that up because it’s a mini play, and it is most pleasing to me for many reasons. It uses the colors to describe a breakup and the color of your heart, the color of your soul, the color of your arms that held him and the room that you were in together. For me that’s the one that’s the most pleasing to do live. For the audience, it’s interesting. They love “Maybe This Time.” They love the Stephen Foster song called “Hard Times.” “Bring Him Home” from Les Miz, they love that one probably because they recognize it and probably because they are not used to a woman singing it. Those are the ones that stand out I think for the audience, but for me? Every time I sing it concert I can’t wait for “My Coloring Book.” It’s an acting piece.
Is there a particular thing that fans or audiences might be surprised to see on the special and the CD?
I think it’s pretty funny that I’m doing disco on there.
What disco are you doing?
It’s a Barbra Streisand-Donna Summer duet, and let’s just leave it at that.
Obviously, Wicked has been a huge career highlight for you. Is there anything you do to tweak any other songs from the show, besides “Popular”?
Certainly Oz, if you will, has been a big part of my life. When I was a tiny, tiny little girl, my parents, who are chemical engineers and don’t sing and shouldn’t sing ever, they would listen to me sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” They would listen to me sing myself asleep every night, and they would think, “Is that pretty good? Because it sounds good, but we don’t know.”
Obviously then Wicked came to light, and then I was always scared to revisit “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” because it’s known as Judy’s song. But I thought, “I grew up listening to her and singing that song, thinking in my little bedroom if I would ever be a singer. Would I ever be in New York doing the thing I dreamed about doing?” Kenny Ortega directed the special for me, and we brought it in and we recreated my bedroom. You see me—obviously as an adult woman—how I would sing it as a young child. I think it’s kind of a pretty little bow on top of a chapter that’s been ongoing in my life.
You’re returning to Broadway in On the Twentieth Century. Why did you want to do this show now?
A couple of reasons. It hasn’t ever been revived. The last time it was done [was] 40 years ago. Part of the reason is because it’s like doing an opera. It’s an operetta, but you have to have comedy chops to do it. I look at it as a challenge. It’s very daunting, to be honest with you. I’m scared out of my mind, and I like things that scare me. That’s one of the things that keeps me going in this business is—being frightened, like, “can you do it?” Also, it starred originally Madeline Kahn, who I’ve always looked up to, and have been compared to a lot, to be frank. There’s only one Madeline Kahn. She’s a little off-center, and she has a very unique sense of comedy. It was written with her in mind.
I got to know both Betty Comden and Adolph Green before they passed. They both said to me, “There’s a show we wrote many years ago for Madeline and you’re the next person to do it.” They said, “Please do that show.” I’ve always wanted to. I’m the right age, and it’s the right time. And it’s going to be hard, but I’m excited.