Book Review: A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages by Kristin Chenoweth

by Matilda Butler on November 17, 2009

catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #27 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Raves – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Review by Kat Teraji

I became interested in this memoir because of the musical Wicked, a retelling of the story of The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s point of view. Chenoweth originated the role on Broadway of the Good Witch Glinda. I recently enjoyed seeing Wicked performed at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.

Chenoweth is known for her work as a Tony Award-winning musical theatre performer, a 2009 Emmy-winning TV actress (for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy), an opera singer with a four-octave vocal range, popular talk show guest, recording artist, and movie star. This book is her first memoir, so she worked with memoir coach Joni Rodgers in order to achieve the best possible result. She calls Joni her Memoir Guru.

From the book’s funny first line in chapter one, you get the feeling that this is going to be an unpretentious memoir:

“’Spread your legs,’” the beautiful girl says softly, and I do.”

Chenoweth begins with this description of being wanded so often by the metal-detection baton in airports that she feels as if it happens every time she flies—and she flies a lot. From stories of potlucks with her extended Oklahoma family to tales of her experiences in show business, her take on life is always tempered with “a healthy bucket of get-over-yourself,” wit, wisdom, backstage insight, the values of faith and family, and plenty of euphemistically hilarious terminology that had me laughing out loud.

She includes such tips in this memoir as instructions for making Hum Dum Ditty, which is always a potluck favorite (she describes it as “a garage sale of gastronomic delight”), the recipe for “Chenolicious White Trash Cookies,” cookies so delicious that they can kill someone with delight. She reveals here for the first time, “The Top Secret Recipe for Kristi Dawn’s No Calorie Left Behind Butterfinger Pie.” Her baking tips are simple yet fun, such as “Lick plastic wrapper,” and “Lick butter knife.”

A Little Bit Wicked also interested me because I grew up going to visit my relatives in the same part of Oklahoma from which Chenoweth hails. My mother’s family was from the same kind of small town (Chenoweth is from Broken Arrow, my mother was from Comanche), and when my mother went off to the big city for the first time, it was to attend the same private Methodist school as Chenoweth, Oklahoma City University. Neither Chenoweth nor my mother had the money to attend such a university, but both found a way to pull it off through their own hard work and ingenuity.

On my last visit to Oklahoma with my mother, she gave me a tour of her old college campus. I was particularly close to my mother as the only child of two only children (which meant no aunts, uncles, or cousins), and we became even closer after my dad died nine years ago. Since her death, when I became the last surviving member of my family, I have been sorting through several generations of belongings my mother left behind, while struggling to come to terms with how to live my life minus my anchor. So many of the things Chenoweth talks about are things that bring memories of my mother and her family back to me more vividly.

Chenoweth perfectly describes the Oklahoma of my childhood as “…fragrant wheat fields…the wind behind the rain…hand-tamped red-dirt hollows, trees hung with kudzu and mistletoe, yards hung with tire swings…enough winter for a healthy snowman or two, plenty of summer for homegrown tomatoes, and in between, during spectacular spring storms, the sky turns green, tar-paper sheds and tin roofs go flying, and you might even get to see a funnel cloud.” This is a beautiful description of place and caused me to think about how I’ll describe place in my own writing.

Thanks to her Oklahoma upbringing, Chenoweth has been able to negotiate the obstacle course of a show business career and still keep her sanity and sense of humor. Her memoir differs from other celebrity memoirs in that she feels no compulsion to write a “tell all.” She maintains a great deal of privacy while at the same time seeming very intimate, as if she is sitting right next to you on a long flight, passing the time by revealing personal truths to a perfect stranger because, after all, you two are never going to see each other again once the plane has landed.

Chenoweth describes the many challenges of life as a diminutive contestant (four foot eleven) in a world of giants: namely, the beauty pageants that enabled her to earn tuition for college and kicked off her stage career. She promises, “If we ever see a Miss USA under five feet tall, I will hickory-smoke my Louis Vuitton trolley bag and eat it with hot sauce.”

When asked by an Oklahoma pageant judge if she sees life more from a glass half empty or half full perspective, she quickly wants to know what’s in the glass. Is it Kool-Aid? Because if it is, her glass will be empty in no time, since she loves Kool-Aid.

Chenoweth tells the story of being interviewed as a guest on Ellen Degeneres’ talk show. With expertise gained while earning her Master’s Degree in Opera Performance, Chenoweth was attempting to explain the nomenclature and physical science of singing. Her vocal teacher had taught her to use every part of the body as her instrument: “The jaw, the mouth, the teeth, tongue, lungs, stomach. You must sing from the vagina! That’s how low the breath is.”

While beginning to quote the teacher, Chenoweth suddenly wonders if it’s okay to say the word “vagina” on daytime television, so she blurts out, “You have to sing from your—you know—your hoo hoo.” The audience howls with laughter. Degeneres never let her forget it. She even produced a big Broadway spoof episode called, “Ellen: The Musical” and had Chenoweth float in as her musical fairy godmother. In the grand finale, everyone onstage is belting out, “You gotta siiiiiiiiiiiing from your hoo hoooooooooooo!”

One of the most powerful anecdotes in the book is the story of a stranger who comes up to Chenoweth when she is signing autographs.

“I’ve been watching your career,” the short blond woman says with tears in her eyes. “I just wanted to say…I’m so proud of you.”

Chenoweth thanks her and signs her program, thinking she is a fan still feeling emotional after her performance of God Bless the USA. It is only after the woman retreats back into the large crowd that the realization flashes through Chenoweth’s mind that she has just met her biological mother for the first time. She bolts out of her chair, but the woman has already disappeared. She has never heard from nor seen her since, but just for a brief moment, she feels it might have been her mother who was standing right there in front of her saying the only words she will ever hear from her.

One of the refreshing aspects that stood out for me in this memoir when compared with other celebrity ones is Chenoweth’s portrayal of a happy childhood and her overall satisfaction with her life. With no ax to grind, she makes it clear that her adoptive parents have been everything any child could dream of having in parents. She credits them with giving her the gift of Christian faith that has gotten her through the difficult times, as well as providing the supportive base that has both grounded her and made her accomplishments possible.

She tells us what she is really thinking, versus what is actually occurring on the surface and in doing so, she enables the reader feel like an insider. She doesn’t apologize and she doesn’t get bogged down in regrets; she just moves on with her life. After a loss, a pageant director instructs her to “Come back next year. It’ll be your year.” But what we know as readers is that as she listened to him, what she was really thinking to herself was, “I’d walked that dog and picked up the crap; I had no intention of covering the same territory again.”

You can’t help but love the way she is willing to give us the kind of insider information that deglamorizes the images we have of the perfect show business life. On one occasion, she suffers the worst hair extension mishap of her career and has to have all her hair cut off just hours before a red carpet appearance. Devastated, she is on her way to rehearse with the orchestra for her big performance, when she runs into always-perfectly-coiffed actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. Chenoweth can’t resist lifting her baseball cap, revealing pinkish bald patches between a scattering of scrubby blond thatching.

“It was actually a lot of fun seeing the look on her face.”

She always finds the humor in a situation, and she does it with heart. When she injures several vertebra in her neck during a performance of the hit Broadway musical Wicked, she sports a rhinestone-decorated neck collar during a few performances. She later auctioned it off to raise money for charity. That’s just one example of how she inspires those around her with her upbeat way of handling the lows in life.

Chenoweth makes it clear that the show biz life is no protection from the pitfalls we all experience. Injuring her back due to a backwards fall six feet off the stage during a performance (she describes it as taking a “Nestea plunge”), suffering severe bouts of depression, insomnia, migraines, and a chronically debilitating inner ear disorder called Meniere’s syndrome (during some performances she has to literally lean on her co-star to keep her balance) are just a few of the tough times she is disarmingly honest about. I can relate to both her close-knit relationship with her mom and her down times. Of feeling as if she had fallen into “undeniable down-the-rabbit-hole kind of holes,” she said, “I got through it with God, Mom, and Zoloft.”

Her saucy spirit, strong faith, and loving adoptive family have helped her overcome everything that might have inhibited a lesser person from achieving her full potential.

While we laugh our way through this memoir, she gently reminds us of how good life is, thanks to the support of our loved ones, past and present, who give us the courage to pursue our own dreams with hope and passion, in spite of any obstacles along the way.

A Little Bit Wicked is a fun (and funny) read. Read it for enjoyment. And perhaps you’ll learn a little about memoir writing as well.

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Jamuna Advani November 21, 2009 at

This memoir seems quite interesting. Recently I read a book “Healing through humor” by Annette Langer. I would love to read Kristin’s ” A little bit wicked” Memoir writing with humor would be interesting

Matilda Butler November 21, 2009 at

Hi Jamuna:
In addition to this author’s use of humor, you also might want to check out Nancy Bachrach’s The Center of the Universe. We interviewed her on this site (look under the Interviews paperclip tab on the right side) and reviewed her book (look under the Book Raves paperclip tab on the right). Finding the right tone for a book is quite important. It must fit the author and her own style.

Becky Newman December 5, 2010 at

well im doing a report over her and im finding it difficult finding personal childhood memories about her so i might need to buy this book.

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