Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth is ready to take on Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve — at the blackjack tables and in her debut at Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
And Kristin is betting that she’ll win big at both. The Oklahoma native even plans on wrapping her alternate programming to big-name DJs, hip-hop stars and Hollywood celebrities in time for her to go and enjoy the Strip fireworks.
Here’s our exclusive Q+A with the Tony- and Emmy-winning singer and actress of “Wicked,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Glee” and “Pushing Daisies” fame who also co-hosted the 2012 American Country Awards with Trace Adkins at MGM Grand Garden Arena last December.
Kristin told me: “I am so delighted to be coming to Vegas for this. I can’t imagine a better place to be New Year’s Eve!”
It will be a David and Goliath story, a feisty, 4-foot-11-inch wonder battles highly paid DJs and hip-hop superstars. Are you going to bring on the battle and win?
I’m ready. I’m excited because I have never done my concert there in Vegas. I’m excited; I’m nervous. In a sense, it’s a return because I did a performing arts show there 10 years ago, but this is my solo debut at Smith Center and my attitude is that I’m obviously going to kill it.
It’s not my first time, though, in your city. It’s a little-known secret that I enjoy going to Vegas. My brother and I occasionally meet there for some rounds of blackjack, good food and good shopping. He won’t shop, but he’ll gamble. So we may be partaking in that.
How good are you at blackjack?
Let’s just say that I sat at a blackjack table at Harrah’s once for eight hours straight. My brother has good luck; he walked away with triple his money, and I walked away with about a grand less than I went in with, so I have something to prove when I go back — and I’m going to do it. I have a good feeling; I feel very lucky.
Backstage after you co-hosted the 2012 American Country Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena with Trace Atkins, who has played at Smith Center, you answered a question about you playing Smith Center. You’d said that you’d learned about Smith Center from a lot of other performers. You didn’t come in with “Wicked” as you’d hoped, so New Year’s is the first time that you’re solo there?
As a singer, we’re always interested in the quality of the sound — the acoustics. I heard from everybody that I would love its sound. I would love the way I feel singing there. I’m sure you know, Robin, that my show is very eclectic — there’s opera and country-pop and musical theater and even a disco section —
so it’s all over the map, and it’s just the perfect place to perform. I’m so looking forward — we’re a match! — I’m excited.
For us, it ranks with Lincoln Center. It dazzles me; it’s spellbinding. I think you’ll get goose bumps onstage there when you hear how you sound.
I really seriously cannot wait. I’ll have a 12-piece band with me, so it’s bigger than the norm. It’s not a full orchestra but will certainly sound like it. I just can’t wait to perform for Vegas because it’s been 10 years. I think people want to go out on New Year’s Eve to have fun, but I want them to really leave knowing who I am and what I do. I show that with my material.
I love to perform this show. This weekend, I’m in New Orleans, so I’m getting party ready by the time I get to Vegas. Everybody better strap in!
It’s a two-hour show starting at 7:30 p.m.?
There will be an intermission. There will be singing and dancing, and I have background singers and actors; it’s good, it’s a really good production show. I have three background singers/actresses/dancers because what’s required of them is all three, but there’ll be a surprise guest singer. I don’t know who that will be yet because I pick them in the audience. So you’ll just have to come, and maybe you’ll be chosen? I’m not sure how you feel about that!
Having seen a couple of the people on YouTube that you’ve chosen, you’ve selected remarkably well.
Yes, but you haven’t seen the times that I have not chosen remarkable people. You never know how it’s going to go. It’s as much of a surprise to me as it is to the audience. I always love that. We had a pretty big sensation at the Hollywood Bowl this year, which is on YouTube. People just can’t believe they’re not plants — that I’m not making sure that they can sing or not sing.
I think that’s the beauty of live theater that gets lost sometimes. I just enjoy seeing what’s going to happen up there onstage. I’ve had some not-so-great singers but people who have a heart of a singer. So I’ll be anxious to see who is singing that night with me.
By 10 p.m., the show will be over, so how do you spend New Year’s Eve? Where will you be at midnight?
Usually, I am onstage counting down with the audience. This time I will be in Vegas; it will be different. I’ve got a couple coming in from New York to share New Year’s Eve with me, I’ve got my brother and sister-in-law coming and then another group of friends. I imagine what we’ll do is go have a really nice big dinner because I don’t like to eat before I sing.
We’re just going to go and have nice wine and ring in the New Year together. I’m in Vegas, so I’m not going to go back to my room! I may well be on the Strip with 300,000 other revelers watching the fireworks — that would be so fun. I’ve never gotten to do that before, and I do love a good firework spectacle.
This last year, Robin, has just been incredible, but it’s been very difficult. It’s been all of those things that as we look back at our lives, we go, “I loved that, I hated that, that was so hard.” I’m just looking forward to 2014. I can’t believe I’m saying that, I can’t believe that it’s going to be 2014.
When I was a little bitty girl, even smaller than I am now, I used to think that I’d be married and have tons of kids and live on a farm, but this life that has turned out this way has been a gift, and I’ve loved it. I’ve really loved it. I have great friends and family; I’m grateful.
Do you ever think about packing it up and raising all those kids on a farm one day?
I have to tell you there are days because as you know this business and industry that we’re in can be challenging, but, honestly, I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I know that each of us gets given certain talents. I can’t drive very well, I certainly can’t balance my checkbook, and I suck at math. I’m pretty decent at shopping, but performing I can do well. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t sing or act, so, no, I don’t ever think about it ending because it’s me. It’s like eating, drinking, sleeping; it’s part of me forever.
However, there is a balance that I continue to look for in my life of taking breaks and relaxing and refueling. That’s probably been my biggest challenge so far. I also have a lot of kids in my life who I care for, so I feel in some ways I do have a lot of kids. I’m a godmother, I’m an aunt; I love kids a lot. They’re in my life, just not as my own children. So I guess I’m sort of an Auntie Mame.
You touched a little bit there, Kristin, about the challenges people in show business have to cope with — travel, touring, staying relevant, recording, balancing opportunities that come along, never knowing what the next one might be. Four days before your solo debut at Smith Center on New Year’s Eve, Britney Spears opens here on the Strip at Planet Hollywood. If ever there has been a young lady with a saga rumbling through her life, that would be her and completely contradictory to your life. Do you have any advice for her as she enters the world of Las Vegas stardom?
I would just say to her — and I’ve never gotten to meet her before — we’re both from the South, we both grew up in church, we both had parents with strong values, and I think that any time where you’re younger and you’re given the world on a platter, what a challenge. It’s a tough road to walk.
I know that she has been down in the depths of hell and I think feels pretty good that she’s come out on the other side. I would just say to her keep on the journey and keep on the path and keep doing what she does because that’s what we love about Britney — we love her talent, we love her performance. That’s what makes her great, and that’s what makes her a star. That’s what I would say to her: Keep your chin up, stay on your path and keep going.
So what’s your New Year’s wish — for the world and Las Vegas?
My wish for Vegas is that Kristin Chenoweth wakes up Jan. 1 with a little bit more cash in her pocket! My wish for the world is … honestly, it’s interesting that you asked that question today because of where we are in America with our government and the issues that we have in Washington, D.C.
I wish that we could all get on the same page. Even if we don’t all agree, we can all get on the same page and move toward a goal. That goes for even when our government is back up; I want us to get on the same page. That’s the only way we’re going to solve problems. I’m done with egos; let’s just get on the same page. That’s what I wish.
Tickets for Kristin’s New Year’s Eve concert go on sale Tuesday for patrons, supporters and members of Smith Center and on Friday for the public.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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