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Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth brings her voice and spirit to LGBTQ youth at Encircle

Kristin Chenoweth visited the two-story LGBTQ+ Family & Youth Resource Center, Encircle, in downtown Salt Lake City

Actress Kristin Chenoweth poses for a selfie with Keeley Milner, who was celebrating her 12th birthday, as she sings during the Encircle SLC weekly music night in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Encircle provides programs and other services for LGBTQ individuals to find information and support.
Actress Kristin Chenoweth poses for a selfie with Keeley Milner, who was celebrating her 12th birthday, as she sings during the Encircle SLC weekly music night in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Encircle provides programs and other services for LGBTQ individuals to find information and support.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Kristin Chenoweth wasn’t going to let a delay at the airport keep her away.

As the wind picked up in downtown Salt Lake City Thursday night, Chenoweth stepped into the two-story Encircle LGBTQ+ Family & Youth Resource Center. She was 15 minutes late. By the time she got there, a few dozen people were gathered around a piano singing “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.”

“But I won’t let them break me down to dust/I know that there’s a place for us/for we are glorious.”

Chenoweth danced into the room, waving her hands in the air and listening to the voices all around her. When the song ended, everyone looked in awe at their special guest. The looks on some faces suggested her appearance was a complete surprise.

“Hi! How’s everybody doing? I just wanted to stop by. My name is Kristin Chenoweth, and I do Broadway,” she exclaimed.

But she wasn’t there just to sing tunes from “Wicked,” although she did plenty of that. She was also there to lend her voice — high notes and all — to the LGBTQ community, a cause that has long been dear to her heart.

“I know growing up in a Christian home in a Bible Belt community in Oklahoma what it can be like sometimes when you’re, you know, ‘different,’” she said, using air quotes. “I just want you to know that God loves ya.”

And then she stepped out of the spotlight.

She let those attending “Beyond” — Encircle’s weekly music night — sing their hearts out. She got emotional as they serenaded her with “Let it Go” from the musical “Frozen.” And as they harmonized to “Reflection” from “Mulan,” Chenoweth sat on a bench with her eyes closed, smiling and swaying to the music.

In between songs, the Broadway star was vocal about her Christian faith and asked questions about Encircle. She wanted to know more about the activities, the number of counselors the organization provides and, along with Ron Gunnell — the assistant president of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square who attended the event with her — she wanted to know how Encircle has changed peoples’ lives for good.

Actress Kristin Chenoweth sings during the Encircle SLC weekly music night in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Encircle provides programs and other services for LGBTQ individuals to find information and support.
Actress Kristin Chenoweth sings during the Encircle SLC weekly music night in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Encircle provides programs and other services for LGBTQ individuals to find information and support.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

She listened to someone as young as 13 talk about how he found new family in Encircle. She listened as one woman shared how Encircle wrapped its arms around her during a time when she was having suicidal thoughts.

So when Chenoweth sang “For Good” from the musical “Wicked,” it took on new meaning. One of the attendees, John Sargeant, joined her, wrapping one arm around Chenoweth as she sang, and leaning his head against hers. But as he started to sing the next verse, he paused.

With emotion, he interrupted the song to tell Chenoweth he recently learned that his father, who has ALS, only has a few days left to live. He asked if Chenoweth would sing the song with him in honor of his father.

“Of course I will,” she said softly.

As Sargeant sang, Chenoweth walked to the other side of the piano to get a good look at him. After their duet, the two shared a long, tight hug. And with tears in her eyes, Chenoweth said, “That’s how God works.”

Chenoweth isn’t in Utah for long. On Friday and Saturday, she promotes her Christmas album from last year’s concert with the Tabernacle Choir before heading on to her next gig. But she made it clear that attending Encircle’s music night and showing compassion to the LGBTQ community in Utah was a priority.

“I’m talking about just feeling accepted and loved,” she said. “Not just tolerated.”

Actress Kristin Chenoweth sings during the Encircle SLC weekly music night in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Encircle provides programs and other services for LGBTQ individuals to find information and support.
Actress Kristin Chenoweth sings during the Encircle SLC weekly music night in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Encircle provides programs and other services for LGBTQ individuals to find information and support.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

It was a small venue for a night with a Broadway star. That Chenoweth took an hour out of a demanding schedule to spend time at Encircle is an act Justin Kwong, Encircle’s director of marketing, knows will stay with these youths for a long, long time.

“It goes to show that Utah’s an important place when it comes to LGBTQ issues,” Kwong told the Deseret News. “People view it as a place where things are happening, where change is being made. It’s awesome to see (Chenoweth) bring that activism that she’s brought to many other places throughout the nation, and I’m sure throughout the world, to Utah.”