Actress, singer, and dancer Kate Shindle (b. Toledo, OH, 31 January 1977) first came to fame in September 1997 when, entering the Miss America pageant as Miss Illinois, she topped the final field of five vocalists to win the crown. “The right woman at the right time to be Miss America,” as the L.A. Times observed, she used her title to establish herself as a powerful and effective AIDS activist, and at the same time to pile up stage and screen credentials from Seattle to Houston and from La Jolla to Broadway. At present she has “sung everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Birdland to a dive bar in Portland,” and appeared as the Mad Hatter in Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland, which opened on Broadway in April 2011.
Kate Shindle, who started singing at the age of four, was raised (Catholic) in Moorestown Township in southern New Jersey. At the Bishop Eustace Preparatory School in Pennsauken she starred in school productions of Godspell, Into the Woods, and Fiddler on the Roof (in which she also led the first violin section). She went on to Northwestern University, majoring in Theater and Musical Theater, and, finding herself a resident of Evanston, Illinois, decided to enter the Miss Illinois beauty pageant. She describes her unconventional five-year college career as three years of college, then, as Miss America, “twelve months of traveling the country with a crown in her suitcase, talking about HIV prevention, AIDS issues, and safer sex, which they just loved in the Bible Belt,” then a return to Northwestern to graduate in 1999.
During that campaign, Shindle chaired a session at a conference of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, and since then has raised tens of millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS awareness and education.
Moving to New York City after graduation (like every aspiring actress), Kate’s first job was slinging hash at a delicatessen – quite possibly the only one she ever had in which she was not a smashing success. But hers was already a well-known face, having appeared on many talk shows during her reign: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, Regis and Kathie Lee, The View, Rosie O’Donnell, Charles Grodin, The Tonight Show, The O’Reilly Factor, and many, many programs on CNN and local network affiliates.
She made her Broadway debut as a replacement in five small roles in Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s hit musical Jekyll & Hyde; she also understudied the lead role, Lucy. Shortly thereafter, Kate filled in as Sally Bowles (in between Gina Gershon and Brooke Shields) in the revival of Cabaret before taking her performance on the road in the national tour (which earned her a glittering collection of rave reviews).
Kate had begun her recording career back in 1999 with Christmases to Come, a project to promote AIDS awareness and raise money for the National AIDS Fund. The CD, released on the SSP label, featured the Chicago jazz ensemble Skip Sams’ Society Sound. Kate’s first solo CD, Till Today, was released in 2003. She later participated in the recordings of two Frank Wildhorn projects, Dracula (2005) and Jekyll & Hyde – Resurrection (2006), both on GlobalVision Records but as yet unreleased.
Meanwhile she appeared in two very popular Hollywood movies, The Stepford Wives (2004) and Capote (2005), and turned in some remarkable performances in regional theatre, as Maggie in After the Fall at the Alley Theatre in Houston, and as Nora Barnacle in Himself and Nora at The Old Globe, San Diego.
On Broadway in 2007 Kate Shindle originated the role of Vivienne Kensington, “the bitch with a conscience,” in Legally Blonde, a new musical based on the 2001 film. Said one admiring critic, “[she] brings a fierce, icy fire to the potentially thankless role.” Shindle played Vivienne for the show’s entire run, from April 29, 2007 to October 19, 2008, and in the movie version made for television. At the same time she acted as the Producer of two of the thirteen episodes of the 2007–08 television pageant series, Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants, and as Consulting Producer for the remaining eleven.
Other starring roles that spangle Kate Shindle’s resume are Nancy in the Pittsburgh CLO summer production of Oliver!, Daphne in Claudia Shear’s play Restoration at the La Jolla Playhouse, Louise in Gypsy at the Portland (Oregon) Center Stage, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Storm Theatre in New York, the Witch in Into the Woods, Miss Casewell in The Mousetrap, Amelia Earhart in First Lady Suite, and many others. Her more recent appearances on television series have included Bank of Mom and Dad, White Collar, and Gossip Girl.
Shindle has sung with The Atlanta Symphony, The Cincinnati Pops, and at less formal New York venues like Joe’s Pub, Birdland, Don’t Tell Mama, The Duplex, Ars Nova, and Danny’s Skylight Room. She performed in three World AIDS Day Concerts: Children of Eden (2003), Pippin (2004), and The Secret Garden (2005).
She is a writer, too, and has been published by Newsweek, Salon.com, and The Advocate. She has three books in the works, including a novel, Crown Chasers.
“The one thing I know for sure,” Kate Shindle has said, “is that in [twenty years] I don’t want ‘Miss America 1998’ to be at the top of my resume. … It will always be part of who I am, … but I don’t want the only great achievement of my life to have come when I was twenty.”
– Lucy E. Cross