The Moment That Changed My Life….
Tonight I sang “For Good” with the LA Philharmonic and Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl. I never thought I would be able to say those words even in my wildest dreams.
Here’s the story. It is not abridged so I’ll just wait right here while you pop some popcorn for the epic post to come.
… Popcorn ready? Here we go:
I had been counting down to this concert for months. My family and a friend, Mike Kestler, arrived at the bowl with seats in different sections and my dad surprised us with boxed seats. When we got into the bowl, there was ticket confusion with seats and party numbers so we ended up switching boxes with another party and sitting up in the very front, right in front of the pasarel. Count that – two spontaneous moves from where were were originally supposed to be sitting.
The concert was going wonderfully and my party of four raved about the performance during Intermission as we munched on the crackers and cheese I had smuggled into the Bowl in my purse.
Toward the end of the second half of the performance, Kristin wanders on to the pasarel. She held a mic up to a lady in front of me and asked if she knew the song “For Good.” Nope. I took the chance, as I was directly behind Kristin, to stand up and wave and say, “I know the song!”
This is not like me – to jump up and wave my arms like a crazy person and raise my voice at a celebrity. As soon as she turned to look at me, I say right back down… and calmly said, “Hiiiii.”
One of Kristin’s backup singers held a mic up to my face so I could answer some questions:
“What’s you’re name?” – “Sarah.”
“Who’s your favorite broadway star?” I sarcastically hummm as if it’s a difficult question to answer.
“Do you know the song ‘For Good’?” – “Yes. It’s one of my favorites.” This seemed to peak her interest.
After this, she moved down the line and asked a guy if he knew the song and bantered with him for a few seconds. Afterwards, she said something about going back to pick me because I was a girl. Then, she invited me up on stage.
I sat there for a moment, stunned. Then the backup singer motioned for me to get up. I shot up out of my chair as my heart leaped up past my throat and started beating in my ears. I don’t really remember what happened between the box and when I first set foot onstage except that there was now a microphone in my hand.
The first foot I set onstage was my left one. My knee slightly gave way as I realized just what I was stepping into but I caught myself before I think anyone noticed. I walked up to Kristin Chenoweth and the only thought in my head was, “Oh. My. God.” I remember feeling the backup singer push me so I walked faster. I don’t remember anything Kristin said to fill the time it took me to get up there because my heart was beating too loud. And let me just tell you, that is a loooooong stage to walk across.
When I got to Kristin, she moved me to her left side and reminded me that I would be singing the part of Elphaba, twice. I needed the reminder. My mind was swimming. I didn’t notice until after I’d left the Bowl that I was wearing a green shirt and a floor length green skirt with straight hair and black rimmed glasses. How much more Elphaba-looking can a regular gal get?
When she had planted me in my spot next to her, I remember bringing the microphone to my lips and breathily quivering, “I’m on stage with Kristin Chenoweth,” still in complete shock. Insert audience laugh here.
She asked me if I did musical theatre and if I liked it, to which I said yes, and asked what I do for a living. I told her I was a voice teacher to which she responded by calling me a “real hero” and giving me a hug. She’s got a strong, hearty hug for such a tiny person.
As the music started, she wrapped her arm around mine. I recognized at that moment that her incredible shortness matches her incredible friendliness so I responded in kind by briefly resting my head on top of hers to let her know I was with her. The audience found that moment endearing and laughed again.
When she was done with the first verse she said, “Still me!” so I’d know not to sing so I pressed my lips together and held my mic down like a good girl until it was my turn. As the time for Elphaba’s verse came, I lifted my microphone to my mouth, looked her straight in the eye and sang the first of my lines. She leaned back and dropped her jaw. She knew I was a voice teacher but didn’t know if I did well in the execution or not. As far as she knew, I could have been tone deaf.
I heard the roar of the crowd during that first line but then it all faded away. I think I’ve seen it done cinematically before but I never imagined my perception of a performance would appear like this. The 10,000+ people of the Bowl faded away. There was no one else there. No noise. No people. I could heard the beautiful music of the orchestra but there was no one onstage, just Kristin and I. I reached my hand out as I sang the word “friend” and she stepped forward and took it. There was such joy, elation, a spontaneous musical spark that we shared in that moment. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced.
As we dueted in harmony at the end of the verse, Kristin throws her head back and says, “Holy crap. Harmony.” and we continue the song, soaring in our independent melodies. It was then that I was once again aware of the crowd. I could feel them traveling along with us in this unexpected musical journey. I was not singing for the crowd as a performer usually does but was singing FOR them, in place of them. I was them and they were me. I was up there doing what every single person in that audience wished they could do. I cannot remember another time where I felt more connected to a body of people and at peace with where I was and what I was doing in a single moment.
As the song got into it’s final lines, Kristin and I looked into each others eyes, held hands once again, and sang the end in perfect unison. Before the last note was finished by the orchestra, she yanked me down into a hug and the audience erupted into thunderous applause, everyone on their feet. Kristin gave me the first bow, told me to take another one, then we bowed together. As I was exiting, the audience was still thunderously applauding and Kristin motioned for me to take one or two more before I blew her a kiss and was whisked off into the wings. I was in shock at what just happened. I remember someone handing me a water bottle and telling me to come backstage after the performance and a man guiding me down a ramp with a flashlight. When I got back to my box, I sat down in shock and looked over at my friend, Mike. Mike Kestler, bless his heart, got the whole thing on video on his iPhone.
Apparently, I missed everything Kristin said when I went offstage. I’m getting what happened next from my parents: It took her a good 30 seconds to recover afterward before she said, “Remind me never to pick someone who sings better than I do. Seriously, people. This voice is teaching our young people.” Mike got that last sentence on video.
After the concert, I was swarmed with people who wanted my business card, wanted to take pictures with me, wanted to know if I was an audience plant because it was just too perfect. People came up to me telling me I’d given them goosebumps, made them cry.
Paul Geller, Production Director at both the Hollywood Bowl and the Walt Disney Concert Hall pulled me aside afterward. He said that the production staff is very picky about the quality of performers that they allow on their stage and that what was produced in that song was better than anything they could have planned. He took down my contact information because at some point during the last three songs, he got a phone call from the LA Times wanting to know if I was an audience plant and asked my permission to pass on my contact information for them to speak to me directly, if needed.
When I went backstage, the first face I saw was that of Darren Criss who started immediately chanting my name. You may know him as Blaine Anderson from Glee. There was a sea of other famous people that all sort of blended together in a smoothie of overwhelming awesomeness. I took a picture with Darren and later with Kristin once I’d made it to the end of the receiving line and was directed to exit out the back. My mind pictured the door as a subtle back exit. Nope. This was the stage door, lined with people waiting to catch a closer look at Kristin. When I exited, I heard an en masse gasp and people calling my name. Apparently, I’m a minor Hollywood celebrity now.
We all eventually made it out of there and now my face hurts from smiling but I can’t stop. The experience was so surreal. I know I will wake up thinking it was all a dream but then I’ll see the pictures and the video and realize that it was really real.
On the walk to our car, my father reminded me that he had prayed 11 years ago that I would one day sing with Kristin Chenoweth. I smiled an even larger smile, grasped his arm, and asked him to keep praying impossible prayers because they just might come true.
Here’s the link to the video Mike took. YouTube said it will take a couple hours to process because he’s uploading it in hi def. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpXm_sXcc_Y