by Gwen Moritz
Posted 9/2/2013 12:00 am
Updated 6 months ago
I’m not usually such a softie — I’m the capital-B Business Editor, you know — but the YouTube video of musical theater star Kristin Chenoweth singing with the young voice teacher she randomly picked out of a concert audience gave me the sniffles. Repeatedly.
If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you grab a Kleenex (the video is posted below.) Chenoweth, a 45-year-old Oklahoma native who wears sky-high heels in order to break the 5-foot mark, invited Sarah Horn, a 26-year-old voice coach at California Baptist University, on stage at the Hollywood Bowl to join her in a duet. The song was “For Good,” one of the most memorable songs from Chenoweth’s signature role as Glinda in “Wicked,” and Horn had volunteered because she already knew the song by heart.
Did she ever. The result was just magical. I watched the online video, poor production values and all, over and over again. It was the perfect collision of talent and preparation with luck and, above all, generosity.
I thought how spectacular it was for Horn, a professional but complete unknown, to have the unexpected opportunity to work with one of her field’s most celebrated talents. Her performance was so good, so skillful, that cynical media types immediately suspected she was a plant. But I believe it really was serendipity; the reaction of the orchestra conductor suggests that he was completely, pleasantly surprised. Success has been called the place where preparation and opportunity meet, and Sarah was prepared and she recognized opportunity, however unlikely, when it came her way.
Then I thought about the incredible generosity, personal and professional, displayed by Kristin Chenoweth. She’s as big a star as the musical theater can produce, and she’s almost as big on television. Her career is secure, although she is reaching an age at which actresses too often seem to have an invisible sell-by date. It was generous enough for her to invite an audience member onto the stage, something she apparently does quite regularly.
But beyond that professional generosity, which is undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser no matter how talented the audience member, was her personal generosity when Sarah Horn opened her mouth. Chenoweth kept up her end of the song — she is a pro, after all — but every gesture, every facial expression amplified on the overhead video screen instructed the audience to appreciate and respect Sarah Horn.
When the song ended, Chenoweth yanked the much taller Horn down into a bear hug. And as Horn left the stage, the woman who had temporarily lost her status as star of the evening joked, “Note to self: Don’t have anyone better than you.”
“Wicked” isn’t one of my favorite musicals, but Kristin Chenoweth is suddenly one of my favorite celebrities. She made me ask myself whether I might be missing chances to display (on a much smaller scale, of course) a portion of that kind of professional, and personal, generosity. All of us “of a certain age” should ask that question and look for opportunities to let someone else shine. I wouldn’t mind if professional generosity were one of the skills I am remembered for, but, like any skill, I’ll need to practice it more.
For professional generosity to work out as well as it did for Kristin Chenoweth and Sarah Horn, both parties need to prepare and perform. No one gets credit for someone else’s work.
The news last week that the country’s largest employer, Arkansas’ own Wal-Mart Stores Inc., will begin offering health insurance benefits to domestic partners of the same or opposite sex presents me with an opportunity to repeat myself: The problem with Obamacare is not the individual mandate or the health exchanges or Medicaid expansion or the cost. The problem with Obamacare is that it cements in place the completely artificial connection between workplace and health insurance. Should any employer have to decide who deserves affordable health insurance? Does any employer really want that responsibility?
Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.