I am not a regular presence at the theater or a frequent reader of theater reviews. So it goes without saying that I know little about writing a good review of acting or singing. With that said, I thought the New York Times article on singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth was a half-decent read. Why was I reading a profile of Chenoweth? I can already hear some of your snickering, but to be honest, it was the headline that drew me, an indefatigable reader of political, business, culture and sports news, into the artsy section of the Times. My lack of attention to the finer arts is a deficiency that I am readily to admit, but there's no time like now to fix that, right?
The headline in question -- "She Sings! She Acts! She Prays!" -- established some expectations for the article, and they weren't necessarily good expectations. I was somewhat worried that the article would focus solely on controversial aspects of Chenoweth's career, that it would be overly preachy or it would neglect Chenoweth's beliefs.
If anything, the article fell down on my third concern, and it was simply a matter of not asking.
Overall, though, reporter Jesse Green nicely balanced the aspects of Chenoweth's life into a package about theater, dancing, singing, the travails of being a popular artist in New York City and, yes, being a liberal Christian:
"God knows I've made mistakes and been criticized for them," Ms. Chenoweth said unflinchingly. (Some have even been turned into TV fiction on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.") "When I was promoting 'As I Am' last year," she said, "I went on 'The 700 Club,'" Pat Robertson's talk show on the Christian Broadcasting Network. "I wasn't thinking about what it represents. I guess I was living in a little bit of a bubble, and I was surprised that it upset so many people. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't go, because I don't agree with that antigay stuff. I don't understand what the big deal is with gay marriage. Get over it, people. What if it was a sin to be short? Well, I guess it is in the Miss Oklahoma pageant." (She was the runner-up in 1991.)
But when she assured her theater fans that she supports gay rights her Christian base was outraged; she was disinvited from performing at a Women of Faith conference in September 2005. She drew further criticism when she appeared in a parade of tiny bikinis in the March 2006 issue of FHM. Though even her parents were uncomfortable, she's stopped apologizing.
"I'm a young woman, I like men, I'm not going to pretend to be what I'm not," she said. "Anyway, I've finally graduated from the college of I Don't Give a Hoot." But "hoot" was not her first choice of words.
If anything, I felt that the article could go deeper into the source of Chenoweth's faith and values.
She is a self-described liberal Christian, and the source for the liberal side of her belief system is fairly obvious, but there is little explaining how Chenoweth came to be a Christian and how/why she maintains her faith.
The big issue for Chenoweth has been her support of gay rights, and specifically of gay marriage. Why does she support it? Well, I can't read her mind and the article does not tell us, but it is likely because she has a large fanbase of gays. But Chenoweth also has a large fanbase of Christians, so it's tough to say what motivates her.
Throughout the article, in between talking about her dog's new outfit and weight gain/loss, spats with other dancers/actresses and her various boyfriends, Chenoweth's faith stands out -- not in an obvious way, but subtly.
Check out the penultimate paragraph:
"I realize this makes me sound insane," she said, "but knowing there is a higher power and a plan gives me peace. Of course there have been times when God's plan didn't match up with mine" -- as, for instance, when she tumbled backward off a stage platform during a tech rehearsal for "The Apple Tree" and banged herself up good.
While the piece is not likely to win over many Christian conservatives who have largely written off the Times as a liberal secular rag not worth their time, the article approriately highlights a talented individual's faith.
I just wish the Times had told us more.