With a magical career that transcends Broadway, television, film and music, Kristin Chenoweth has firmly established herself as one of the preeminent artists of our generation.
After conquering the musical realms of country, Christian and Christmas music, the charismatic Tony and Emmy-award winning singer/actress showcases her interpretive prowess with her latest release, The Art of Elegance. A beautiful, 13-song package featuring Chenoweth’s unique take on classics from The Great American Songbook.
Songs like “Someone to Watch Over Me” (George Gershwin) and the sublime “A House Is Not A Home” (Burt Bacharach / Hal Davis) take on new life while tracks like the haunting “I’m A Fool To Want You” (Frank Sinatra/Jack Wolf/Joel Herron) and the apropos “I Get Along Without You Very Well” (Hoagy Carmichael) deliver timeless sentiment.
AXS recently spoke with Chenoweth about her beautiful new album and more in this exclusive interview.
AXS: What inspired The Art of Elegance project?
Kristin Chenoweth: I cut my teeth at a young age hearing the music from this era. This is my sixth album and throughout my entire career, this is the music that speaks to me the loudest. Obviously, I’ve looked up to many icons, certainly Ella Fitzgerald, Linda Ronstadt and Diana Krall have all been instrumental and are examples of women who have done it before me. They’re all very different and put their own stamp on their versions. That’s what I tried to do here. I also wanted to pay homage to the composers of the time.
You can read my complete AXS interview with Kristin Chenoweth Here!
Actor Brandon Victor Dixon is no stranger to the musical spotlight. Raised with an artistic passion in a educational environment filled with music and theater, it was inevitable that Dixon would find success. Success that would eventually lead him to productions of ‘The Lion King’, ‘The Color Purple’, ‘Rent’ and most recently, ‘Motown: The Musical’ – where he not only takes on the role of Motown founder Berry Gordy, but also got to chance to collaborate with the legend himself.
After nearly 575 performances as Gordy in Motown, Dixon is moving on. This fall, he’ll be reprising his role as Haywood Patterson in “The Scottsboro Boys” when the musical arrives in the West End at London’s Garrick Theatre.
“The Scottsboro Boys” tells the true story of nine young black men (aged between 12 and 19) traveling on a train in search of a new life when they become falsely accused of rape by two white women. Although their court treatment was a tragic miscarriage of justice, all nine were eventually convicted and their subsequent trials deeply divided the nation.
Dixon’s talents don’t just lie with the acting stage. Last November, Dixon (along with longtime friend Warren Adams) formed Walk Run Fly Productions and quickly found success by co-producing two of the most highly anticipated shows of the theater season: Hedwig & the Angry Inch (Neil Patrick Harris) and Of Mice & Men (James Franco and Chris O’Dowd).
I spoke with Dixon about Motown, Scottsboro Boys and what he loves most about theater!
At what point did you realize that music and the theater were going to be your calling?
I’ve known for as far back as I can remember that entertainment, the arts and acting was what I wanted to do. Growing up, I was fortunate to have attended schools that really understood the importance of arts in education. My school also did three musicals every year as well a Shakespeare play. I was in an educational environment that established a focus in the arts and that really helped develop my love for it as well as my skills.
What attracted you to Motown: The Musical?
I’ve always liked creating original work and taking on real life characters. Whenever I see a meaningful, lasting story that gives me the opportunity to create something that will last, then it’s something that I want to be a part of. Just the history and legacy of the artists and music of Motown — it was an extraordinary opportunity. Then to be able to work with Berry Gordy? It’s something that you just don’t turn down.
What was it like not only getting to portray Berry Gordy, but also getting the chance to work with him on this project?
It’s been a very singular experience. We became friends very quickly. Berry loves the creative process and was so welcoming. He was always open to ideas and the collaborative experience.
What did you enjoy the most about the production of Motown?
I loved the entire process – building it, rehearsing and experimenting with different scenes and songs. I also enjoyed learning from my fellow performers. It really is all about the performance and we have the most talented and extraordinary cast on Broadway. Our show is such an interactive one. We also know that everyone in the audience comes in with a knowledge of the music. Music that has changed their lives and directly ties to different portions of their own personal history. They bring that into the show and it really heightens the whole experience.
What do you do to prepare for a role in a project?
One of my favorite parts about building a role is doing the research. I’ll read books, and not just ones about my character but also ones about the characters around me. I do everything I can to gather that information. I really enjoy the immersion and personal education I can get about the character I’m playing.
What made you decide to branch out and start your own company – Walk Run Fly Productions?
I think that as you develop your skills in one area, it becomes a natural progression. As an actor, I started thinking about how things like music, sound and the sets all affected my performance. For me and my partner Warren, we wanted to start developing projects that we really want to do. We want to build something that will grow and move on long after we leave. It’s not only about being able to manifest your own projects, but also about maintaining ownership of the things that you create. I’ve worked on projects about James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Berry Gordy and ownership was one of the main tenets that each of them preached. It would be really foolish of me to miss that big lesson.
How would you describe the story of The Scottsboro Boys?
It’s based on the Scottsboro Boys Trials of the 1930’s. Nine black boys who were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train in Scottsboro, Alabama. It’s really about their trials and experience and how the world forgot them. I really love that the project highlights this unique story and really put names to these individuals who were a part of our historical evolution.
Overall, what do you enjoy most about the theater and being part of an ensemble?
I like that every project creates a family. I have my “Motown” family, my “Rent” family, my “Color Purple” family and my “Lion King” family. Theater is such a community, in the moment experience where you get to share real emotions. Not just with your cast members but also with audiences. I love how that moment in time is there for all of us. The relationships that you build throughout the process get to last and continue to enrich your life.
They call it “Broadway’s Best Party”, and for good reason. As any child of the 80’s (like me) will tell you, Rock of Ages isn’t just a musical, it’s an experience.
It’s one part theatrical stage production and one part rock concert, all performed on a gritty, LA themed stage set that makes you feel like you’re back in time. A combination love story / feel-good comedy coupled with music that defined the 80’s generation creating a truly unique party environment.
Lead actors Kate Rockwell and Aaron Finley both missed the 80’s the first time around, but now get the chance to live it again every night on stage.
Backed by a full-on rock band with guys who regularly perform in Night Ranger and Blondie, the duo (along with the rest of the company) perform as many as eight shows a week at New York’s Helen Hayes Theatre.
I spoke with both Rockwell and Finley about their own Rock of Ages experience. They also let me in on what they love most about the 80’s and offer good advice for up and coming actors!
Was being on Broadway something you both always dreamed about doing?
Rockwell: For me, it was always Broadway. From the time I was very young I remember singing along to the cast album of Godspell. Even if I didn’t know what the words meant at the time, I’d usually make up syllable sounds [laughs].
Finley: Although I grew up loving to sing and my parents had always encouraged me to pursue it, I actually didn’t know what musical theater was until I was in my 20s in college and just fell in love with it.
You weren’t around to actually experience the 80′s, but what is it you like most about that period of time?
Rockwell: In the 80’s, there was a general sense of freedom that was really prevalent in the culture. Everyone really did just want to have a great time and celebrate. I think that was a cool energy to be a part of and why people really love the music from that era. It captures that energy and carries it across generations. It really was a special time.
Finley: Everything back then was so flamboyant and over the top. What’s really interesting is that a lot of the cool things from the 80’s (like the fashion and neon colors) are starting to filter back into culture and people are getting the chance to experience it all again.
What’s it like having an actual rock band as part of the production?
Rockwell: It’s amazing. Not only are they spectacular musicians, but they’re also characters in the show. They play key roles and are just as much a part of the company as they are musicians. When I first joined the show, I remember looking to them to really understand what it was I was doing, because they represent exactly what we’re trying to recreate. They’re great people and so much fun to work with.
Finley: They’re world-class rock stars and it’s an honor just to be able to rock out with guys who not only know, but actually live the music from this era. They know their instruments better than anyone I’ve ever met.
Rockwell: And it’s not like they’ve “retired” to Broadway. They’re still recording and out touring for weeks at a time doing their real gigs. They’re not reminiscing about when was rock was great. They’re still doing great rock!
How did you get your start?
Rockwell: I knew that this was going to be my path early on. I did a lot of theater in high school and have a music degree from college with a specialty in musical theater.
Finley: For me, I always knew that I wanted to sing, but I just wasn’t sure as to what capacity. Then while I was in school, I was introduced to theater through a show called “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat”.
I got to play Joseph and had a blast. Being in a show where I could sing, act and be on stage in front of everyone was everything I loved all rolled up into one. I ended up switching majors and jumped into theater. I worked professionally in Seattle for seven years and then decided to make the move with my family to New York to see what could happen.
What’s the best thing about living New York?
Finley: I’m still somewhat of a newbie here, but I think it’s the diversity. There’s so much to see and so many different things to do. There are actually more languages spoken in New York than anywhere else in the world. I’m still taking it all in and processing it, but it’s just fascinating with all of its diversity.
Rockwell: The immediacy is what I love the most. The fact that at any time, anywhere in this city you can have whatever you want. You can find anything at any time, day or night.
Is there any advice you can give to up and coming actors?
Rockwell: The most important thing to remember is that you can’t be anyone else, you can only be yourself and no one else can be you. You may never be the tallest or be able to sing the highest, but you’ll always be the only person who can do what you can do. Sometimes it might be difficult because you can get boxed in and people may try to tell you what you are or what you’re not. But the more you stay true to yourself, the more success will come to you.
Finley: I think it’s also important to not let it be the one thing that dominates your life.
Being able to explore and do lots of different things is key. Whether it be sports, hobbies or other interests, open yourself up to new things. The more life you’re able to experience, the better the actor you’ll become.