‘Wicked’ star Kristin Chenoweth highlights love, acceptance at SLC’s RootsTech 2024 genealogy conference

Chenoweth treats attendees to multiple songs during her keynote speech and gives her thoughts on the new “Wicked” movie.

(Jordan Miller I The Salt Lake Tribune) Kristin Chenoweth talks to reporters at RootsTech 2024 in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024.

Kristin Chenoweth’s character in “Wicked” may defy gravity, but Chenoweth proved Saturday that she can defy altitudes — especially when it comes to belting out a high C note around 12 hours after arriving in Salt Lake City.

Chenoweth was the keynote speaker at RootsTech 2024 — a conference hosted by FamilySearch, which is the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Broadway star treated attendees to a few songs during her speech, including a rendition of Julie Andrews’ performance of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from “My Fair Lady,” where she playfully asked the audience “should I do it?” before acing the final lyric.

But ahead of her speech, FamilySearch shared a few tidbits of Chenoweth’s family history with her.

“I got to see a lot of the original, like, my grandpa’s war stuff,” Chenoweth said. “I don’t know why, it just brought out so much emotion, seeing his signature and their marriage — it’s just so special.”

Chenoweth grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma — a suburb 20 minutes southeast of Tulsa. She was adopted when she was 5 days old by two chemical engineers, Junie and Jerry Chenoweth.

Her parents should “never sing, ever, ever, ever,” Chenoweth joked, but they always encouraged her talents. She recalled that as a child, her parents would often hear her singing along with the family’s “Wizard of Oz” record as she would go to sleep.

She developed her singing talent through the years, but when she got her role as Glinda the Good Witch in the Broadway production of “Wicked,” she had no idea the performance would become such a juggernaut — or that it would eventually inspire a blockbuster film.

“Ariana Grande is taking my role, and I’ve known her since she was 9,” Chenoweth said. “I was like, ‘Would there be a world that my little baby, Ariana, plays me?’ And this happened, and we both cried. And then Cynthia Erivo is one of the most spectacular artists of our time, this voice is otherworldly.”

“[The director] said, ‘I had to go completely different from the original. I needed to because you guys — me and Idina [Menzel] — laid our marks so strong... I can’t confirm or deny whether we’re in it or not. I just can say that it’s going to be spectacular.”

Before the fame, Chenoweth said her parents gave her a “darn-good” childhood — rooted in community, family, faith and encouragement as she developed her singing talents. In 2012, she met her biological mother with the help of former television star Troy Dunn, who specializes in locating family members.

“I need to talk to her — I need to know who sounds like a chipmunk, I need to know why I’m so short,” Chenoweth recalled thinking when Dunn persuaded her to meet her mother. “We were very, very close from the minute I met her. I walked in, she goes, ‘Wait a minute, you’re you.’”

“We hugged and she said, ‘Can you ever forgive me?’” Chenoweth continued. “And I said, ‘I only wanted to meet you to thank you, Lynn — for giving me life, giving me a chance to live. And my parents gave me a life.’ So it couldn’t have gone better.”

Chenoweth often visits Salt Lake City, because, as a Christian, she said she feels connected with the Latter-day Saint community. She also performed with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in 2018 — which critics felt conflicted with her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community.

She acknowledged Saturday that her allyship for the gay, lesbian and transgender community, “doesn’t seem to go together with being a Christian.” But loving one another, Chenoweth said, is what Christians are supposed to do.

“Love people wherever they are in their life — that’s it,” Chenoweth said. “We’re not supposed to judge them. We can guide them, but love people where they are in their lives. So my message shouldn’t be that different for any Christian — love. That’s what we’re commanded to do... There was some judgment, and I never could understand it, because they would say, ‘Well, what would Jesus do?’ So I’m just trying to do that. That’s all.”