There were tears. And screaming.

No fainting, but the students in the Lincoln Southeast High School swing choir Wednesday afternoon were making no promises about that possibility when they took the stage with film, television and stage star Kristin Chenoweth on Thursday at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

“I might faint,” confirmed senior Treyson Rassfeld. “Just a little.”

One can’t blame him.

Rassfeld is one of 14 members of Southeast’s Countesses and Noblemen, the school’s select swing choir chosen to sing two numbers with Chenoweth on Thursday.

Sam Rickert, their teacher, got an e-mail from Chenoweth's musical director saying he’d found the Southeast choir on the teacher’s website and wondered if it would like to perform with Chenoweth.

Rickert got the OK from Lincoln Public Schools and shared the news with his students about two weeks ago.

Thus the screaming and crying.

Because, let’s be clear: The students in one of Southeast’s three select ensembles love singing, and grew up watching Chenoweth perform on the television show “Glee.” And even though they were just toddlers when she performed in “Wicked” on Broadway, they’ve heard recordings, love the musical and admire the Tony Award-winning performer.

“Lots of us in choir have looked up to her for a long time,” said senior Anna Wade.

Chenoweth, who sang gospel music as a child and earned a master’s degree in opera performance from Oklahoma City University before deciding to pursue a career in musical theater, regularly selects high school or college groups to perform with her.

“Kristin likes to give these kids an opportunity. It’s the most magical opportunity, not just for us but for the kids,” said Michael Orland, her musical director. “I always tell these choirs ‘You’re not singing background for Kristin, you’re singing with Kristin.’”

Which is what happened Thursday afternoon, when the Southeast students and six University of Nebraska-Lincoln students flanked a grand piano on the Lied Center stage.

There was, for the record, no fainting.

But there was crying, the grabbing of fellow choir members, of hands clapped over mouths, and whispers of “Oh, my God!”

And there was singing.

First Chenoweth, in white boots that went above her knees, black leggings and a red sweat shirt, bounded onto the stage and hugged her fellow performers. She talked about the songs they’d be singing: one about hope, the other about faith.

Many of the Southeast students have been singing since they were young.

“I’ve been in shows since I was a little kid,” said senior Kerstin Leaf. “In community shows and here at school.”

But Thursday was something different.

“It’s our hometown,” Wade said. “We’re just some kids from Lincoln and we get to sing with a superstar.”

And the superstar walked the stage during rehearsal, singing next to the students, cheering them on.

“Shall we do it again?” she asked after the first song. “No. Let’s leave it and have a real experience tonight. ... That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to spread a little love.”

When they left the stage, the young performers joined a group of other students invited to watch the rehearsal and listened as Chenoweth performed several pieces, including — at the request of the students — part of Leonard Bernstein's “Glitter and Be Gay” from "Candide."

They clapped and cheered — and when she was done singing, they asked Chenoweth questions.

She told them her least-favorite thing about being a performer was the travel, though she loves coming to places such as Nebraska and seeing the state Capitol with “the guy on top.”

The best part: Singing with students — not something she realized she'd love so much when she first began inviting choirs to sing with her. 

“I love being with people who are like-minded.”

She told those who wanted to pursue performance not to put a time limit on "making it,” and if they could imagine doing something else, they probably should — and that’s fine.

“Growing up I didn’t think I had a choice, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

And Thursday, neither could Southeast's Countesses and Noblemen. 

“I’m never going to forget a minute of this,” said Wade. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or

On Twitter @LJSreist.


Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

Load comments