I’ve sung at the best concert halls in the world: the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House. But I’ll never forget the first time I stepped on stage at Royal Albert Hall in London, in 2014.
I had performed in London before, of course, but not since 2002, when I did the “Divas at Donmar” series at Donmar Warehouse. At that time, I had just won a Tony award for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, and I was getting ready to sign a deal with Paramount to do my own TV show. On top of that, I had just made a record with Sony Classical, Let Yourself Go, and I wanted to take it over to London to let them hear it and see what they thought. Everything was happening at once, and it ended up being an incredible experience. But Royal Albert Hall? There was a lot more pressure. It was like, “OK, you’ve got to pull up your big-girl panties. This is the venue in London.”
Obviously I was nervous. Really nervous. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I really wanted to make the people of London proud. I didn’t want them to think, Ugh, here’s this American doing her little one-woman show.
Spoiler alert: It turned out to be one of the best nights of my life.
When I first walked out on stage it was just tears. Tears. I couldn’t believe I was there. I couldn’t believe they had asked me to come here. It was awesome. I wore a long white beaded gown. It was very bright, but it’s such a big stage that I wanted people to be able to see me. (You know, I’m quite petite.)
I don’t remember the first song I sang, but I remember what they reacted to well: Dolly Parton songs. They loved that! And they loved the songs from Phantom. And they loved some songs that they didn’t know I sang. Oh, and Wicked, of course—I had six kids who were in or had previously done the West End production of Wicked join me on stage. They were incredible, and they really inspired me. The audience loved it all. They just reacted. They leaned in. It was fun! I always change my show a little bit, whether I’m in Schenectady or London, but it’s mostly for my pleasure—not because I think the audience is going to react differently. Pretty much what you see is what you get with Kristin; the minute you start being inauthentic, they don’t believe you anymore. There were some parts of the show that I thought might be too silly, but the Brits loved it. I think Brits and Americans get along so well because we laugh at each other easily.
Another thing that made it fun was that so many people I knew came that night, and also people who ended up becoming friends: my Charlie Brown director, Michael Mayer; musical theater legend Elaine Paige brought the composer Leslie Bricusse; the amazing Matthew Warchus, who directed Matilda… All of these talented musical directors and theater people came by to say hi. It was so cool.
Once you have an experience like that, it paints the city in a new light. I didn’t want to ever leave! I was walking on air! The rest of my trip was wonderful: I went to see The Lion King, I went shopping, I visited all of the parks, I ate the most delicious food. And I thought, I could actually live here and be so happy! But, of course, I had a tour to do, so after a week I had to pack my bags. Thankfully, they invited me back. Twice.
Tony- and Emmy-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth’s new holiday album, Happiness Is… Christmas, is out now. For future tour dates, visit officialkristinchenoweth.com.
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