The actress was lying on the bathroom floor just moments before a major audition

By Julie Mazziotta Brianne Tracy
June 03, 2019 09:40 AM
Kristin Chenoweth
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Kristin Chenoweth is a major Broadway star with a Tony to her name — but her big break back in 1997 almost didn’t happen because of her debilitating migraines.

Chenoweth, then 29, was cast in her first Broadway role in the musical Steel Pier. As the cast prepped for the show, they had to do “what we now call the big backer’s audition,” she explains to PEOPLE.

“It’s when all the money people come and decide if they’re going to put money in your show or not — and I have a migraine.”

To make the show happen, Chenoweth had to power through.

“I could not get off the floor in the girl’s bathroom at the studio,” she says. “I remember the choreographer, one of the women I look up to the most, Susan Stroman, came in and said, ‘Are you okay?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ She goes, ‘Well you’re going to get okay. You’re going to be okay.’ By the grace of God, I did the two-hour show and the minute it was over, it returned [to the floor].”

Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in Wicked
Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Chenoweth says that she thought back to that moment in the many migraines that followed, and realized “there’s power” in being able to get through those tough situations. At the same time, she says the pain is often too much to bear.

“Really and truly, there’s nothing you can do when it comes,” she says. “You can do things to prevent them, but I don’t think we’re there yet as far as what we can do when it’s actually looking at the eye of the storm.”

She continues: “I told my mom many times, ‘If I could just cut my pinky off, I could play the piano, I could play the guitar, but if I could just not have it anymore, I would.’ She said, ‘Yeah, but then there would be something else.’ Everybody has their cross to bear in this life, so there’s that way to look at it too.”

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Chenoweth has learned a few ways to manage her migraines over the years. She stays away from alcohol and (sadly) chocolate, while prioritizing sleep. She also asks for extra time in her contracts when she performs, so she has plenty of time to get settled and avoid migraine triggers.

And Chenoweth, who shared her experience at the Migraine World Summit in March, wants people to understand “that it’s not just a bad headache.”

“We can’t just take two Advil and be okay,” she says. “When you know somebody who has it, and if you don’t have it, open your mind up a little bit more and just try to understand.”

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