Book of the Week: Kristin Chenoweth's A Little Bit Wicked
Wed Apr 15 2009
A little goes a long way: That might be the subtitle of Kirstin Chenoweth's fizzy, funny and fine new autobiography. The famously diminutive actor—"Life's too short," she insists in the book, "I'm not"—has risen to extraordinary heights in the musical-theater world and beyond, thanks to a knockout combination of talent, looks and ineffable star charisma. But Chenoweth is a concentrated flavor; this may be one reason she has fared better in supporting roles (Sally in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Glinda in Wicked, Olive on TV's Pushing Daisies) than in leads (Epic Proportions, the short-lived sitcom Kristin). To her detractors—and all great stars have them—she is overly sweet and disturbingly peppy, the Broadway equivalent of Pop Rocks candy. To her fans, she is a wonder.
Count me among the fans, and all the more so after reading the surprisingly fresh and engaging A Little Bit Wicked. In Joni Rodgers, Chenoweth has found an ideal writer partner; not only does the book speed along at a spiffy clip, caroming through her life story with charm and humor, but it manages to always stay in character. The Chenoweth voice emerges here as vividly as it does in the theater: bright, spunky, funny, surprisingly rangy. The book is packed like a wicker picnic basket with folksy sides, self-deprecating jokes and down-to-earth Oklahoma-girl verve.
Chenoweth is unapologetic about her strong Christian faith, but equally willing to speak up about where she departs from the Christian mainstream, as in her support for gay rights. (Both her best friend and her manager are gay.) Don't come looking here for dirt: She is tactfully demure about many genuinely personal things, though she charmingly alludes to a gymnastics accident that has made her private parts—already credited as the source of her vocal strength—especially sensitive to impending rain. ("What man in his right mind dumps a woman with a singing, weather-predicting hoo hoo? What else am I supposed to do, dispense Gummi Bears?")
In classic Midwestern style, she is reluctant to trash people openly, and tends to damn them by pointed omission, made sharper by her effusive praise of people she likes. (On the subject of her reportedly frosty relationship with her Wicked costar, Idina Menzel, she musters a nondenial denial: "It does bother me to hear people say that we hate each other. I'm not a hater, for one thing. It takes too much energy.") But she is appealingly candid in discussing the ups and downs of her career and her love life, including her failed interfaith relationship with fellow Broadway star Marc Kudisch and her tempestuous on-again, off-again romance with writer Aaron Sorkin.
What she seems like, above all, is the archetypical heroine of a Broadway musical: idiosyncratic, uniquely special and out there looking for love. This book leaves her at the Act I finale. I'm excited to see what comes next.