Three years ago this November, one of Broadway’s most beloved stars declared her own affection for the Great White Way with Kristin Chenoweth: My Love Letter to Broadway. It was a live concert/theatrical event staged shortly after the release of Chenoweth’s last album, a collection of standards aptly titled The Art of Elegance. Now Chenoweth is returning for another limited engagement November 8 through 17 in For The Girls, named after her recently unveiled recording that pays tribute to female singers who inspired her from a variety of genres.
“My Love Letter to Broadway was just titled perfectly, because Broadway is my first love, as everyone knows,” says Chenoweth. “I really wanted to put For the Girls out there in a very similar way. Maybe one of the reasons I wanted to do that is because there was a time when Broadway stars were allowed to be on Broadway [in concert specials], starting with Lena Horne — at the very Nederlander Theatre that I will be at; she will be with me in spirit, I know. I just really want to thank Jimmy Nederlander for the experience, because I really want to be one of the artists who helps bring this back.”
Like the album, the Tony Award winner’s new show will pay homage to a wide array of iconic singers. “I have had so many musical influences, with musical theater and pop and Christian music and country music, especially,” she says. “When I look at singers like Carole King, I’m going to remember that my mom wore out the album Tapestry, and so she’s got to be on there. Judy Garland’s got to be on there. But Eva Cassidy, a lot of my fans don’t know her. I want them to go home and look her up. I put a song she did, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,’ on the album. And I want girls to go and find Dinah Washington. I wanted the material to reflect all the styles and all the different kinds of singers.”
Chenoweth adds, “I feel like I need to do a Part 2 of For the Girls, because there are so many songs that didn’t make the record. For example, as a young girl, Karen Carpenter was a huge influence on me, so of course I’m going to want to celebrate her on the next record. I think that I will celebrate her on Broadway as well.”
Audiences can also expect to hear Chenoweth apply her sterling soprano to songs made famous by Barbra Streisand and Dolly Parton; the latter singer/songwriter is one of several A-list guests featured on the album, along with fellow country icon Reba McEntire and pop superstars Ariana Grande (a Broadway alumna herself) and Jennifer Hudson. In the show, too, “I have special guests who will show up every night,” Chenoweth notes. “I want young singers and young performers to know that a) there’s enough room for everybody, and b) let’s celebrate all the people who’ve come before us, who are our same age, and are behind us.”
As a mentor of young women and an arts advocate—she spent time this year lobbying for the National Endowment for the Arts on Capitol Hill—Chenoweth will also be keeping in mind the personal and career struggles of the women who preceded her, and the current focus on sexism within and outside her industry. “It’s really hard for me to think back and imagine what it must have been like for Dinah Washington, or even Judy, with women’s rights and challenges. And yes, this album comes at a very timely time.
“But I want to say, I just had dinner the other night with Carol Burnett, and I was asking her what it was like at the time she was doing The Carol Burnett Show. I admire her so much because she was a star in her own right, but what made her the greatest star is that she celebrated other stars. That’s what I love to do as well. And I asked her if she ran across undermining and having to fight, and she said, ‘Yes, I certainly did, but how I handled it was I just made jokes.’ And I thought, ‘That’s what I do!’ And I plan to talk about that in the show. Everybody has their way. I have a group coming from Time’s Up and I’m celebrating them. I really want to mentor my young fans, especially my young girls. I want them to know that as aspiring artists, they have a voice.”
Having also wrapped films for Netflix and The Hallmark Channel this year, Chenoweth admits, “I feel overextended a lot of the time. But, you know, this year I lost a lot of people close to me. I lost [producer] Craig Zadan, who was a worker bee. I lost [Disney star] Cameron Boyce, who was in the movie Descendants—I should say, I was in the movie with him. At 19, at 16, that kid never took a break. He said, ‘I’m never going to stop. I’m just going to always do what I’m doing.’
“I guess I’m in that club,” Chenoweth says. “I feel like as long as they let me, I’ll continue to work. I’ll just take a page from Betty White and say, You know what? I’m just going to sleep when I’m dead. I’m blessed to get to do what I do, and I just hope people come out to see what I’ve been up to of late. And I’m thankful to the people who will come and celebrate this music with me. People will walk out of the theatre, I hope, knowing a little bit more about me, a little bit more about the music, and a little bit more about my guest stars. And forget, for about two hours, their problems. I hope this is something they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives, because I sure will.”
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