The Tony and Emmy-winning star spent two hours with the Music Theatre Program, critiquing individual performances and sharing wisdom from three decades on stage and screen.
Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth gave a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to students in Elon’s Music Theatre Program in a recent campus visit to deliver a master class.
The Broadway star of “Wicked” and TV shows including “Glee” and “The West Wing” gave individual instruction to 10 music theatre majors who performed songs during the two-hour session in McCrary Theatre.
“What I hope for you all is that there are no slots you can’t fill,” Chenoweth told students. “You’re artists, each of you. Don’t put yourselves into a category. ‘Well, I’m an actor.’ ‘I’m a singer.’ No. You’re an artist and you can do it all.”
Peppering the session with sage advice pulled from decades of experience in entertainment, she advised students to embrace performing across genres and media. In addition to starring roles in theater, film and television, she also is a successful recording artist and voice actor for animated films and series.
Chenoweth’s accolades span those media. She won a Tony Award in 1999 for the role of “Sally” in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” She originated the role of “Glinda the Good Witch” in “Wicked” in 2003 and was nominated for her second Tony as the Best Leading Actress in a Musical. In 2009, she won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in Comedy Series for “Pushing Daisies,” and was twice nominated for guest actress Emmys for appearances in the musical TV show “Glee.” In 2015, she was immortalized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
At Elon, she emphasized the importance of enunciated vocals and how crucial taking a fresh approach to each performance is, directing students to find humor, sex appeal and unexpected aspects of characters to keep them engaging.
Throughout, she blazed around McCrary Theatre with the dynamic, playful energy she brings to roles on stage and screen, playing scene partner with some, perching on the edge of the stage during others and gleefully jumping up and down when students incorporated her notes and nailed a song. At the end of several performances, she unfurled a large black fan with “SLAY” embroidered on it.
“Slay, slay, slay!” she cried, waving the fan. “This gets me so jazzed! This is my love language: the master class. I don’t know who the master is. Maybe it’s me, but it might be y’all.
“Well, not quite yet. Not quite yet,” she slyly added.
Elon’s Music Theatre Program is highly competitive and regularly ranked as one of the best in the country. More than 1,600 students apply for fewer than 20 admissions into the program each year. Chenoweth made a point in congratulating faculty and staff for vocal and acting training on display, and underlined for students that graduating from such a competitive program will prepare them for the industry pressure in places like New York City.
Music theatre majors applied to perform for Chenoweth and were selected at random.
Charlie Castro ’25 was one of those lucky few. He sang “First you Dream” from “Steel Pier,” which happened to be Chenoweth’s Broadway debut show. After a first run-through, Chenoweth explained the tangled love-story behind the song and took the stage next to Castro.
“I’m her. I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I want to. I want you to show me,” she told Castro. ”Take me there, take me. I’m a prop!”
By the end of his second run-through, Chenoweth took his hand and rested her head on his shoulder.
“See that! Do you see what else he’s got in his arsenal?” she asked the audience. “You took me on a ride! You took me on a journey, and I want to know more. That’s how you do the song, but without me.”
Afterward, Castro was understandably beaming.
“I got to hold her hand and really sing that song with someone who understands how special it is,” he said. “Her reaction and her connection with the song, and then bringing that to me: I’m on top of the world.”
Chenoweth stressed the importance of self-care and rest, and of mental well-being in a career where rejection is common and anxiety is part of daily life.
“This is hard work and you’re born to do it,” she said. “We have to accept that we’re not for everybody. I still get rejected. Not as much, but it’s part of the job. As my mom would say, ‘Wallow today, onward tomorrow.’ But have fun. Life is short. If it’s not fun for you, go do something else. This is hard, but it’s also awesome.”
She emboldened students to embrace what makes them unique because those aspects of their physicality and personality will set them apart for casting directors.
“This has been so inspiring, and you all are originals. There are no copies here,” Chenoweth said. “You hear it all the time now, but it wasn’t said to me when I was your age: The thing that makes you different is the thing to celebrate. They said about me, ‘OK, she sounds like Betty Boop, she’s possibly dumb, she’s so short and she’s an opera singer.’ Those are the things that have gotten me work for my whole career.
“So, take the things that make you different and own them. Be proud of your heritage. Be proud of what you’ve learned.”
That message hit home with undergraduates preparing for careers in the performing arts.
“It was the greatest class I’ve ever been to. Everything she said resonated and I feel like I learned things I didn’t know I needed to know. It filled something in me as an artist and a person that I didn’t know I that I was missing,” said Hashini Amarasinghe ’26, who performed “They Just Keep Moving the Line” from the TV show “Smash.”
Associate Professor of Music Theatre Brian Kremer coordinated Chenoweth’s visit to Elon as well as the student performances.
“I’m thrilled about the way this class went and I can’t say enough how grateful I am for Kristin Chenoweth’s time and her brilliant insights,” Kremer said. “I’m so proud of our students, too. They showed so much about what makes this program special. There’s so much good and so much talent in this program. This was a very, very special class.”