INTERVIEW: CHATTING WITH “RENAISSANCE” MAN CHEYENNE JACKSON

CHEYENNE JACKSON HAS FOUND HIS CALLING.

Cheyenne-Jackson-CD-Cover-RenaissanceThe 40-year-old Broadway veteran, best known for his originating roles in shows like Xanadu and All Shook Up, is returning to his musical roots. On his new album, Renaissance, Jackson masterfully channels the classic crooners, jazz artists, and rock-and-roll stars of the 1950s and 60s. Paying homage to the music he was raised on, he has put his own twist on the greatest hits of the era. With this record, Jackson has passionately revived the American songbook with his stunning range and signature, soulful baritone voice.

Taking a break from filming the upcoming sixth season of American Horror Story, Jackson chatted with me about his new album, returning to Broadway, his thoughts on this year’s Tony Awards, being gay in the entertainment industry, and more.

What does the album’s title, Renaissance, signify to you?

Funny, nobody’s asked me that! I’ve definitely gone through a renaissance, or a rebirth if you will, over the last 4 years. These songs in particular are ones that I’ve toured for a while now. Everything has kind of culminated in this group of songs that have meant so much to me. Plus, my music teachers always called me a “Renaissance man,” and I just liked the idea of doing something old but also something new.

The album is adapted and expanded from your tour, “Music of the Mad Men Era.” Why does music from this time period resonate with you and what made you decide to record your own album interpreting these classics?

Strangely, this is the music that I grew up listening to. I was a 12-year-old in rural Northern Idaho who listened to Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. For some reason, that’s the type of music that I was drawn to. I loved the feel of it. I loved the sound of it and it just seemed very natural to me.

As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve sung a lot of different things in a lot of different styles and genres, if I really get quiet and listen to what I like to do the best and what moves me the most, it’s this style of music. It’s the American songbook and it’s jazz in particular.

So for the last few years, touring this kind of music in clubs and in big performing arts centers just made sense. It made sense to want to record these songs. Most of them are ones I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of times. But because they’re such great, classic songs, as you get older and have more experience, the songs themselves morph and change and take on deeper meanings. That’s kind of how it all happened.

This era had so many incredible songs to choose from. How did you curate which ones were included on the record?

It was a really natural process. Like I said, having done a lot of these songs for years and years, I definitely don’t sing them the same as I did 4 years ago. I love that idea that it’s ever changing and morphing and that it can mean one thing one day and something else the next. When it came time to choose, I definitely wanted to pick songs that meant the most to me, and that would work within this linear story I’m trying to tell on the album.

All but one of the songs are ones that I’ve performed in concert before. “A Song For You” is the only one that’s a brand new song for me, but everything else is something I’ve done many, many times. I just tried to pick the best versions because some of these songs on the album are just maybe piano and drums, but in concert I do them with a full orchestra. And vice versa. So I really wanted to focus it.

In addition to all of the covers, the album also includes an original song that you wrote, “Red Wine Is Good For My Heart.” What’s the story behind that song? What inspired you to write it?

Thank you for asking because that is a very personal song to me. My grandma died a few years back due to complications from alcoholism. And, you know, I am an alcoholic and I’ve been sober for 3 years. It’s a huge part of my story. I wrote this song at my friend Michael Feinstein’s house a few years back and I was kind of struggling with the bridge. He came downstairs and I was like, “Sit down and write this song with me!” So we finished it up.

My grandma’s favorite thing to say was, “Well red wine is good for my heart!” She clung to that, but it was ultimately the thing that killed her. I also just wanted to honor her life and her relationship with her man of 30 years. It’s a deeply personal issue for me as well, so I wanted to mark that in some way.

Do you do you plan on going back on the road with another tour to celebrate the album?

Yes! Right now, I’m shooting season 6 of American Horror Story – which I don’t think they’ve announced yet so you may be getting an exclusive there. But yeah, once we’re done shooting this season, then I’m going to have some time to tour a bit. But right now we’re in the thick of it.

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Speaking of American Horror Story, what can you tease about this new season and/or about your character?

Literally zero! Wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me. We are absolutely sworn to secrecy.

What’s your favorite part about working with Lady Gaga? I know she’s coming back for the new season as well.

I would say my favorite thing is her passion. She’s one of those people that is so passionate about whatever it happens to be at that moment – whether she’s talking about jazz or if she’s talking about a film she loves. While we were shooting last season, she was obsessed with the documentary series, The Jinx. She was obsessed with Robert Durst and that whole story.

It’s just fun to be around somebody who is so committed to whatever they’re doing. So many people have so many things going on and so they become a little bit scattered. The thing about her is that she’s always all in. That’s cool to be around. It’s inspiring.

Vocally, how does singing the style of music on Renaissance differ from when you’re singing musical theater or the type of pop found on your previous solo album? And moving forward, do you plan to continue releasing records that are more along these lines?

I do and here’s why. I’ve really been searching my heart and my soul over the last several years because I just wanted to find my sound. What is it and what do I want to do? So if I really clear away everything else and just get quiet and listen to what it is that moves me, all I have to do is look back to what it was as a kid – and that’s this style of music. It’s the American songbook. It’s great melodies. It’s jazz.

I think for a long time, I resisted it, because maybe I thought it was a little bit nerdy. I just wanted to be a cool, edgy singer/songwriter. And honestly, even though I can write pop music and I’m pretty good at it, it’s not the thing that I’m supposed to be doing. What I know now is that this is the music that I’m meant to be singing. It’s the most natural fit. My voice has always been really old-fashioned. As a 15-year-old kid, my high school choir teacher was like, “What is happening with you with sound?” I had an old-fashioned, jazzy type sound. The phrasing, the intonation and the vibrato – all of it just naturally lent itself towards that. And I fought it for years! I wanted to be George Michael! I wanted to really try. Even though I can sing that stuff and I love it, if I really get honest, this is the stuff that I love more than anything else. And I guess I’m kind of coming out.

Honestly, I was talking to my husband about this last year when I was planning this album, and I was like, “I guess I have to just accept and come out with the fact that this is what I do.” It was kind of a breakthrough for me. It’s freeing actually.

You’re really establishing your artistic identity.

Yeah, exactly! And it only took me to 40. Whatever.

Recently, you reunited with your former co-star Kerry Butler to sing “Suddenly” from Xanadu (in full-costume!) as part of a charity benefit performance. If you could revisit and revive any character in your career, whom would you want to play again?

Good question! Well being able to do a little bit from Xanadu again was definitely towards the top of the list. That show was so important to me and to my career. As for who I’d like to revive? Danny from 30 Rock was a very fun character. He was so in-your-face clueless about life. I think it would be a fun thing to see what he’s doing now. And to see if he’s mastered saying the word, “about.”

The last time that you and I chatted, you mentioned that you wanted to make your New York stage return with an original musical as opposed to a revival. Do you still feel that way? And do you have any idea when your fans might be able to expect to see you on Broadway again?

I do still feel that way, for sure! More than ever, actually. Given the last two years on Broadway, and especially this last year, there’s just been so much incredible new material. I’ve got to say, when I saw Hamilton, I had heard so much about it and it was so hyped up. With something like that, you think, “There’s no fucking way this is going to live up to what people are saying.” And happily, it just exploded my expectations and exploded my brain. It shows what the power of musical theater can actually do. So yeah, more than ever I definitely want it to be something new. I have had a couple of offers to come back in the last couple of years for certain revivals, and it just hasn’t been the right fit. It has to be something that I just immediately say, “Yes!”

So yeah, I really don’t know. I don’t have anything on the immediate horizon. There are talks about some things that are a couple of years out. But I definitely try to come back every 6 months or so and do something. For example, doing The Secret Garden in concert at Lincoln Center recently was really fun.

That was incredible, by the way. I had such a great time at the show.

Thank you! I did too. For Ramin (Karimloo) and I, it was such a highlight. And Sierra (Boggess)! You know, I love Broadway and I totally do want to come back. It just has to be the right thing.

You just wrapped filming the movie adaptation of Hello Again alongside the likes of Audra McDonald and Martha Plimpton. What was that process like and how do you think this film will stand out from other contemporary movie musicals?

Another good question! Honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to stack up. This is the first movie musical that I’ve done and it was challenging in that we sang live.

Oh wow!

Yeah! We had little inner-ear things and we were singing to just a piano track. So we’re doing the scenes and we’re actually literally doing the song in the moment live. Which was cool from an acting perspective, but it was definitely challenging. I don’t know how it’s going to come across. I think it’s going to be cool.

It’s very experimental in terms of the scope and it’s very sexy. I mean, that’s what the whole movie is about – each person’s sexual connection and then that person with the next person with the next person with the next person. I had a really good time. Audra and I both did things on camera that we’ve never done before! You’ll see when it comes out. But we definitely just had to kind of go, “Okay, are we doing this? All right lets do it! 1, 2, 3, Go for it!” But yeah, it was a really fun cast. Martha Plimpton is fabulous and really good people. I’m anxious to see it and to see how it all comes across.

As an out gay man in the industry, what were your thoughts on the recent controversial interview that The Real O’Neals star Noah Galvin gave to Vulture about the glass closet in Hollywood?

Listen, I mean, everybody has their own experiences. He’s clearly sorry about what he said and redacted it and has gotten in trouble. I think he probably just got a little excited and I don’t believe in judging.

First of all, I don’t believe in outing anybody. And when people do decide to come out, it’s nobody’s business how they do it. I’ve been out for a long time now and I’ve watched these guys come out younger and younger and it’s very cool. I actually just saw Colton Haynes a couple of days ago and we chatted about this. It’s a new world and the industry is changing, and I think it’s because of these new, younger actors. So we need to lift each other up. We need to support each other in however we choose to come out because we’re all together. We’re all on the same team. Tearing each other down and speaking ill of each other’s experiences is not going to help anybody. It’s not going to help the process. So I’m glad that Noah apologized and kind of took back what he said, because I thought it was really ill conceived.

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How do you plan on celebrating Pride this year?

Well, we just had Pride in LA. So we kind of bopped around a bit and then we went to my niece’s birthday party. Then, I’m singing for Pride in P-town on the 4th of July. I’m doing a big concert at Town Hall.

That’ll be fun!

Yeah! That’s always a very Pride-filled weekend.

What was your personal highlight from the Tony Awards this year? Were there any specific performances that really resonated with you?

Oh god, yes! Cynthia Erivo from The Color Purple. It was insane! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see The Color Purple on stage. I’ve seen her perform “I’m Here” a couple of different times on talk shows and such, but holy crap! Insanity. Just insanity.

I thought the Tony’s this year were the best they’ve been in a decade. They were so exciting and there were so many good live performances. I also really loved Carmen Cusack’s number from Bright Star. I thought that was really strong. And I loved Jessie Mueller in Waitress. That was really, really powerful. So were so many of my friends, like the She Loves Me cast. And obviously Hamilton.

But the thing that pops into my mind immediately is Cynthia Erivo. That’s just how you do it. In fact, I watched that performance about 10 times. As soon as it was done, I just kept rewinding it and rewinding it and rewinding it.

I get to a point sometimes where I think I’ve got it figured out. I’m like, “Okay, I know how to interpret a song. I know how to really sing it from my gut. I know how to make these words my own.” And then you watch something like that and you realize, “Holy shit! I have so far to go. There’s so much more I could do!” That’s what I love about watching my peers. You can’t help but watch something like that and think, “Man! How does that happen?”

Thank you so much, Cheyenne! Is there anything else that you want to talk about that we didn’t discuss?

I think that’s good. This was really great! Thank you so much.

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW: DIANA DEGARMO ON “THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES” AND RETURNING TO “AMERICAN IDOL”

The Marvelous WonderettesDIANA DEGARMO IS COMING BACK FOR SECONDS.

DSC_7619-848x1280In 2004, she placed runner-up on the third season of American Idol. Twelve years later, she joined her fellow past contestants (including her husband, season five finalist Ace Young) to bid adieu to the series at its epic send-off live finale.

But if she had any reservations about returning to the Idol stage after so many years, DeGarmo didn’t need to seek guidance farther than Suzy Simpson, the character she currently plays Off-Broadway in The Marvelous Wonderettes. With a first act set at a 1950s high school prom, the jukebox musical’s second act finds the characters coming back for their ten-year reunion. And for The Wonderettes, this reunion means getting back up on stage to perform for and with their peers all over again. Sound familiar?

As the 29-year-old Georgia native continues her limited run (through the end of next month) in the beloved show, she and I chatted about the Wonderettes, reliving her days on Idol, and much more.

What attracted you to playing Suzy Simpson, and how do you feel she differs from other roles you’ve played in the past?

Well, first and foremost, I loved the music. My mother is a big music fan and a big part of my childhood was listening to the music of her childhood. So it’s fun to go back and sing songs that I’ve known my whole life. And to sing them on stage in New York City is every performer’s dream!

Also, to be involved with a female ensemble-type show is really fun. Suzy is a great character. I do feel that she has a lot of similarities to other roles I’ve played. But at the same time, there are a few other surprises in the show that I don’t want to give away but that definitely make her a unique character for me.

You mentioned growing up with the music. Which specific artists from this era shaped and influenced your own musical upbringing?

Oh, golly. I definitely remember lots of Aretha Franklin happening around my house. Also “Stupid Cupid” was a big song that I loved growing up. It was really funny when I found out that was going to be a Suzy song. I was like, “Oh, I already know the words to this one!”

My mom had all of the greatest hits CDs of the ’50s and ’60s. But then it was fun too because the show introduced me to a lot of songs I didn’t know. Now I just love songs like “Allegheny Moon” and “Secret Love,” which Christina Bianco just kills every night.

In the show, you get to sing some of the biggest hits from the 1950s and 60s, including “Leader of the Pack,” “Son Of A Preacher Man,” “It’s My Party,” and “You Don’t Own Me.” What’s your personal favorite song to perform each night?

I think my favorite may be “Respect” from Act II. That’s a song that I have always loved singing. I do it personally in my shows just because it’s a great feel-good song for anyone who hears it. It’s got a good meaning to it. And for my character, it’s a big moment in the arc of her storyline.

In the first act, I also love “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me.” I think that’s the only male song in the show, but of course sung by females. I love singing it and I love seeing the people that are fans of the music of the time. They kind of clutch their pearls or they squeeze their sweetie. This was a special song for them because it was a song for lovers back in the day. I love being able to help bring back those memories.

Between Hair, Hairspray, and now The Marvelous Wonderettes, it seems like you’re very interested in exploring American life in the 1950s and 1960s through your work.

There’s definitely a theme happening!

What is it about this period of time that keeps drawing you back to it?

I think I especially love the innocence of the ’50s and ’60s and just how everything was kind of a pure thought. There were no undertones to lyrics. Everything was just what it was. As a 2016 woman, there are some times when you look back at the lyrics to songs and you go, “Oh my God!” You know? They make your head hurt!

This was a time of purity where we sang what we felt and there were no crazy sexual innuendos. There was nothing promiscuous. Even just saying “Stupid Cupid” was a big deal because you said “stupid” in a song. Now, it’s hard to find a song that’s not overtly sexy and sexual. So for me as a singer, I appreciate the melodies of the music a lot. You can actually sing with the music. You don’t need a computer as accompaniment. You can just sing the song and the melodies are gorgeous and it’s a fun time. It makes people feel good. Yes, every single decade has always had its pros and cons, but I thoroughly enjoy remembering the good times of the ’50s and the ’60s.

You play one of the four song leaders who are called upon last-minute to save the senior prom after the glee club boys, who were supposed to perform, got suspended. Going back to your own high school days, were you more of a well-behaved Wonderette or a rebellious glee club member?

Oh golly! I was definitely a square. I’m still a square. I’m not a very good rule breaker. I like to have fun and I’m always down for an adventure, but if there’s any sort of rule breaking, I can’t do it because I’m not a good liar. Even though I’m an actor, I’m not a good liar. And I was on Idol while I was in high school, so the whole second half of it is kind of a blur. But I was definitely a part of the glee club and our choir back in the day and would have, I think, been thrilled to perform at my prom. And I probably would have been a little nauseous at the same time! Our prom was definitely not as glamorous as the Marvelous Wonderettes’ prom is.

Act two of the show finds the Wonderettes returning to Springfield High for their 10-year-reunion. As an actress, how does your approach to playing Suzy change when you’re playing her as a teenager versus as an adult?

The great thing is that the music that is in Act II actually helps us all tell our characters’ stories very well. There are some physical attributes that Suzy acquires in the second act, which definitely help put me in the right mindset. A lot can happen in ten years to anyone. I think Suzy is still a very bubbly and happy person, but she has had a very interesting decade and you find her in kind of a rough spot of her life. But she’s still the same young and hopeful person that she is in Act I. It’s kind of fun to see that everything is still going to be okay for her beDiana DeGarmocause I’m actually at the same age that Suzy is in Act II.

What do you think that showing these characters at such different stages of their lives adds to the overall themes and messages that the audience leaves with?

I would have to say the show overall could be a hopeful reminder that there’s always something good, no matter what. Yes, there can be chaotic moments in life, like with the prom or with our reunion, and you see that the girls have all kind of gone through something. But everything is going to be okay. And you can sing your way through it!

I think that’s kind of the overall idea of it – that it’s all going to be all right as long as you have your friends to lean on and to stand with. You see these four girls go through a crazy kind of scenario in the first half, and then they have to relive it in the second half all over again – but ten years later. I think that especially as females, we need our tribes. We need female friends to hang onto and to help lift us up when it’s our time of need and sometimes we kind of forget that. We get a little too independent. I’m an independent woman. I love my husband and he’s my best friend, but I definitely need my girlfriends sometimes. They understand better than anyone else.

You wrap up your run in The Marvelous Wonderettes on July 31. Do you currently have plans to stay in New York after that to do any more Broadway or Off-Broadway work?

I have some other things on the cook top that are currently boiling away, so I don’t want to reveal anything just yet. Hopefully there will be some news to report in the next couple of months. But I’m definitely going to try and stay in the city as long as I can! It’s so great to be up here for the summer. I live back in Nashville now and I love being there. It’s great to have kind of a touchstone back to the way I grew up, so it’s lovely to go back there. But New York is definitely alive and thriving, especially in the summer. Ace and I are having a blast being up here and we’ll see how long we can stay.

That’s awesome! You’ve also been a part of various musicals’ national tours, including 9 To 5 and Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. What have you found to be the biggest differences between traveling with shows versus staying put in the same venue? Do the types of audiences vary a lot and does the location where you’re performing ever impact how you play your part?

Well, the hardest part, which is also the very exciting part, is that the venue is constantly changing when you’re on the road. So sometimes you can’t get comfortable. We’re very fortunate here. Doing The Marvelous Wonderettes at the Kirk Theatre, we know where everything is, we know how the sound works, and there are no surprises in the show anymore. There’s no, “Oh where did that come from?” or “We can’t use that that scenery piece” or “We have to change this.”

When you’re on the road, the show is a constantly evolving creature. It does keep you on your toes in a way, which is exciting, but sometimes it can get a little exhausting. I need a break! I just want to do the show and not think about, “Where is this going to come in from tonight?” or “When is that going to happen?”

I love being in New York. This city is a wonderful, great supporter of theater and I feel very fortunate to be back here for the summer. But being on the road was great too. I love getting a chance to take shows to people that may not ever get a chance to come to New York City. I love bringing them Broadway shows, and showing up in the theater and telling them a great story and entertaining them for a few hours. I’m a Gemini, and so I have two different sides. Half of me loves being on the road but half of me loves being here as well.

You’ve played the role of Fern/Vylette in a couple of industry readings of the musical adaptation of Jawbreaker. What’s the status of that show? And do you plan to continue being involved with it once it lands on Broadway?

I would love to be a part of it! I currently don’t know what the status is either. They don’t tell the actors those things. I wish I knew! I loved being a part of Jawbreaker. I’ve been with it for a few years, which is crazy to think, and the music is so infectious. The character of Fern/Vylette is so wonderful. It’s so fun to play a complete polar opposite human being in the same show. At the end of the day, it’s a great story about how you really have to be true to yourself and that beauty is only skin deep.

I think it’s got a great story – especially for today’s social media generation, where we see how everything looks so pretty and perfect online. But the reality is, it’s not. Life is not perfect. None of us are and I think that show highlights that. Particularly for high-schoolers.

It kind of reminds us that we’re all just human beings. I love that and I hope to see that it comes to Broadway one day. I’ve got my fingers, toes, legs, arms, everything crossed to be a part of it again. We shall see!

You have a movie, After The Sun Fell, coming out later this summer. What can you tell us about that film?

It was really quite a cool experience. We filmed in Lewiston, New York, just north of Buffalo. Lewiston itself is just this cute little picturesque town. I felt like the whole town was a movie set, but it wasn’t. We shot in a very historical building, this beautiful home. It’s a great small ensemble piece, but it’s a dark comedy, which I had never done before. I’m usually kind of in the more in-your-face comedy, so to try and do something more situational was really great. Everyone that I worked on the film with was so talented.

It was our lead actress’, Joanna Bayless, first film and she’s a theater actress, so she and I got to bond really well because I’ve been there. When it’s your first film, you’re like, “Wait, how does this work?” and “What’s happening?” I’ve been fortunate to do some other film work in the past, and so we got to buddy up. I loved that she always had her script on set with her. I was like, “See! That’s what us theater kids do. We come with the whole thing!” She is absolutely magnificent. The story is a play that has been transferred to film and I think it’s going to be a really, really cool new story not just for myself as an actor, but also for the indie film community.

As an artist, do you find acting or singing more creatively stimulating?

It depends on the day. It really does. Again, I’m a Gemini. I equally love both. I love the challenge of finding a character that no one would expect me to play, because when you meet me you’re like, “Oh, you can’t be mean or you can’t do this.” They may try to put you in a box and I love breaking that box wide open and saying, “Yeah, that was me on stage!” or “That was me in that show!” It’s fun surprising people.

I love going into music and singing stuff that’s from my heart. Living in Nashville has been a wonderful outlet for that. I’ve been getting a chance to really sing what I grew up singing, which is country music. I know most people know me for pop because I have sung it for a few years, but my heart lies in country music. And I love being able to sit down and just sing a song that really speaks to my heart.

Back in April, you performed on the American Idol series finale. What was going through your head during that performance, knowing it would be the last time you and any of the other previous contestants would ever be up on that stage?

It was really just like one big party! It really was just like a big family reunion the whole week we were there, which was really fun. We had a great time. I think the reality of the situation didn’t really hit anyone until the beginning of the live show when we all came out and sang “One Voice.” That specific performance number was kind of Nigel Lythgoe’s baby. It was his dream and vision to see everyone come out and sing that song. Everyone was kind of laughing and joking up until right before we started the show and then everyone kind of looked at each other and thought, “Holy cow, this is real! This is really happening!” It was very nostalgic but, at the same time, it was a little like if a party met a funeral.

We were all having a great time but then everyone got very somber. We were able to revel in the moment and it was a great show to be a part of and a great show to watch. And, I had fun getting up there and singing alongside my fellow artists and friends. Of course getting to share the stage with my husband and then some other friends from other seasons, we just all had one heck of a time.

Ace and I jumped on a plane right after the show and took a red eye here to do a reading back in New York so we didn’t get to party the night away with everybody. As they say, the show must go on! But it was wonderful and it was definitely a experience that, just like Idol itself, I will cherish forever.

Now that Idol is totally over, are you able to look back and pick a single performance of yours that you consider to be your favorite from your time on the show?

Because my season was back in the day, I’ve been very lucky to have had a wonderful career post-Idol. For me, Idolwas 12 years ago, so I was able to go back to the finale with a completely different mindset than some of these other kids whose seasons were like 2-3 years ago. I felt like a mother hen at the finale.

As for my favorite performances, I have two that I really loved. One would be when I performed for disco week in the top three. Meeting Donna Summer, who I’ve always looked up to as a vocalist, is still one of the most monumental and life-changing moments I’ve ever had. I remember asking her, “How do you keep your voice healthy? You still have such a gorgeous voice and you could sing the paint off the walls!” And she told me her trick was pineapple and Coca-Cola. I thought that was the coolest thing ever!

Then, I also loved when I performed for Latin week with Miami Sound Machine. Gloria Estefan was our mentor that week. She and Donna Summer are two very strong, iconic singers. As a young female performer, to get to sing her song that she made popular, and to perform it with Miami Sound Machine while on stage wearing a dress that Simon Cowell told me I “looked like a car wash” in – those are just permanently synched into my brain and into my personal life.

I’m sure! You haven’t released any original music since 2012. Do you have plans to return to the studio to work on your solo material?

Yes! I’ve toyed with stuff over the past few years, but when I’m in the studio, I like to focus on one thing at a time. I’m not a good multi-tasker. Right now I’m focusing on doing the show. So I’m being pulled in and out of the studio, but luckily Ace and I are building a studio at our home in Nashville. But I do have an album in the works. Hopefully it’ll be done as soon as we get back. There’s definitely lots of exploration that has happened over the last couple of years and songs have started creating themselves. I definitely feel there is another solo album coming your way. Hopefully sooner rather than later but the songs are there. I just need to get my butt in the studio to record them.

Will this album have more of that country feel you mentioned?

Yes, for sure. Definitely more of a country feel. It’s just continuing the music that I really want to sing. I’ve been really lucky because the past few EPs I’ve done have been more along the lines of who I am.

My first album, even though I love it and I support it because my name is on it, wasn’t entirely me. It was a baby of the record label that I was just happy to be a singer on. There are some songs on there that I love singing, but it wasn’t truly what represented me. I think that still, even many years later, I’m still trying to show the world who I am. But I guess that’s the whole part of the human experience, right?

Earlier this month, you and your husband, Ace Young, celebrated your three-year wedding anniversary. Congratulations! How did you two celebrate?

Thank you! We celebrated with a two-show day. We’ve had this tradition for several years now. We made a point to see as many shows as we could, so that weekend we went and saw The Robber Bridegroom and An Act of God. Then we saw American Psycho on its closing night. We want to see everything! It was a wonderful way to celebrate all weekend long because we don’t live here and I get so jealous that some shows close before we get a chance to see them. We’re always hearing friends talk about things and so we had a long list of shows we wanted to see. We loved each of those three shows. And Bright Star! Oh my gosh. Don’t even get me started on that.

Oh, I loved Bright Star!

I felt all the feels.

Yes, me too. Well, thank you so much, Diana. Is there anything you want to discuss that we didn’t cover?

I think the best thing for The Marvelous Wonderettes is that it’s a great show for anyone to come to. We take you on a trip down memory lane and we can give you a great lesson in some damn good music!

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Click here to purchase tickets to The Marvelous Wonderettes.

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW: TALKING “AMERICAN PSYCHO” WITH ALICE RIPLEY AND JENNIFER DAMIANO

American Psycho The Musical

ALICE RIPLEY AND JENNIFER DAMIANO ARE HAVING A BLOODY REUNION.

The duo, who last shared the stage in 2009’s Next To Normal, are both making their eagerly anticipated returns to Broadway in American Psycho. As mother and daughter in Normal, Ripley and Damiano each garnered Tony recognition (with a win for Ripley) for their heartbreaking portrayals of a family grieving over the death of a child. This time around, Damiano plays the secretary and potential love interest of a serial killer named Patrick Bateman, while Ripley plays the woman who raised him.

An original musical based on the controversial novel and film, Psycho has a book from Carrie writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and music and lyrics by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik. The result is a cerebral, nostalgic, and hyper-stylized visual spectacle unlike anything else currently on Broadway.

I caught up with Ripley and Damiano about their latest collaboration, what they’ve learned from one another, their thoughts on mashing up horror and musical theater, ‘80s fashion, and more.

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NAGORSKI: You both haven’t been on Broadway for several years. Why was American Psycho the perfect choice for your grand returns?

DAMIANO: I couldn’t think of a more perfect show to return to Broadway with. It is bold and innovative and different. It’s exactly the kind of art I wanted to be making. And the role of Jean felt like the perfect segue into adulthood for me.

RIPLEY: The track I play in American Psycho is like an appetizer for the audience and me alike. It leaves us wanting more. I’m ready!

NAGORSKI: What were your relationships to American Psycho before signing on to do the show? Were you fans of the book and/or movie? If so, how did that impact how you tackled your characters?

DAMIANO: I had seen the movie and loved it. I hadn’t read the book yet but I did end up doing so in preparation. I had always enjoyed Jean’s function in all forms of the story as the “good” one or the “beacon of light” in Patrick’s dark world. And I was excited to see how the stage version would make her even more dimensional.

RIPLEY: I was and still am a fan of the movie, and I find the book fascinating. I was intrigued as to how the role of Mrs. Bateman would affect Patrick’s emotional storyline.

NAGORSKI: Both of your characters have much bigger roles in the musical than they do in the previous incarnations of this story. What do you think this added depth contributes to the larger show as a whole?

RIPLEY: I do think it’s a boost to see a few slices of Mrs. Bateman, the woman who gave birth to this product of capitalism.

DAMIANO: I think that theater, and especially musical theater, in general dramatizes certain parts of a character that a movie or book doesn’t always necessarily do. Jean and Patrick’s relationship kind of becomes the main romantic through line of the piece, which is very intriguing in the way it is not like any other love story you normally see on stage. In theater, I think it is vital that the audience have a romantic arc to follow between two characters, two people to root for, or maybe just one of them to root for. Either way, it’s an important part of capturing people’s attention and care.

NAGORSKI: How would you describe the role of the women in the show?

RIPLEY: While still remaining detached from the material, the book’s author, Mr. Bret Easton Ellis, makes it clear in this fantasy that America uses and oppresses women, and that the treatment of women is so deeply ingrained that it’s not remarkable – it’s a part of our culture. However, the women are not really victims here. They jump in and play the roles willingly, under the spell of money, fast times, denial and other would-be demons.

DAMIANO: I really enjoy the many different dynamics of the women in this show. Characters and actresses. Helene Yorke who plays Evelyn and Morgan Weed who plays Courtney are so talented and powerful on stage. They make it very easy for my character’s function to make as much sense as possible as well. As Mrs. Bateman, Alice also has her very own specific needs of Patrick, as all the women do, which is essentially what makes all of our differences so interesting and important in the storytelling.

NAGORSKI: Now that you’re no longer playing mother and daughter, how is your relationship with one another different this time around?

DAMIANO: I am definitely older than I was the last time I was working with Alice, so it is very fun to see her as more of a friend than anything else. I’ve always felt so much younger than her but now we’re a bit more equal and it is a great new dynamic of our friendship.

RIPLEY: My character, Diana Goodman, was so demanding of my focus and energy that I didn’t really socialize at all during Next To Normal. So, I’m utterly grateful to spend this time in American Psycho getting to know Jennifer.

NAGORSKI: What was the most appealing part of getting to work together again?

RIPLEY: Hearing her beautiful voice 6 days a week!

DAMIANO: Alice is like my family. When she is around I feel comfortable and safe. Being in the room with her feels natural to me and so I was most excited about having that sense of comfort and comradery from at least one person in the room going into this project.

Normal3650NAGORSKI: As actresses, what would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned about your craft from observing and working with each other across different projects over the years?

DAMIANO: Alice has taught me to be fearless. Since day one. I still can’t believe just how many different choices she can make with the same one line. She is always searching for a more interesting way to tell the story and that has definitely impacted the way I approach a script.

RIPLEY: Jennifer is so quick to laugh, and it’s genuine. I’m learning to laugh more!

NAGORSKI: American Psycho has such a unique 80s-tinged score. Vocally, do you find it to be more or less challenging and/or rewarding to sing in this pop style rather than a more conventional musical theater one?

RIPLEY: This score is a challenge. I think perhaps I did more “homework” on this show than any other, because that straight pop tone is something I have to practice. It requires twice as much support as vibrato.

DAMIANO: I don’t find a score like this challenging in a technical way, rather more in an emotional way. You have to be very careful that you don’t get so stylized with these kinds of vocals that you are distracting from what you’re saying. Which is the true challenge for any pop score, for me at least.

NAGORSKI: Jenn, this is your second time collaborating with Duncan Sheik. What do you both think it is about his work that has made him such a contemporary staple on the musical theater scene?

DAMIANO: Duncan was one of the first – if not the first – innovator in contemporary musical theatre. Spring Awakening was a complete game changer and I’m so lucky to have been a part of it. Duncan will always be working against the grain, against all the normal assumptions of a Broadway score, which is what makes his work timelessly interesting and new.

RIPLEY: Spring Awakening was an epiphany for me. I was blown away by its rock and roll attitude, and the melodies are exquisite, especially for that musical world. I think Duncan’s sound speaks for several generations who otherwise would feel unrepresented on the Great White Way.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 3.25.00 PMNAGORSKI: Other fun aspects of the show are all of the colorful ‘80s costumes. What are your favorite outfits you wear on stage?

RIPLEY: It’s tough to choose one, but I love the Valentino suit I wear at the wedding as Mrs. Bateman.

DAMIANO: I do get to wear an awesome Madonna inspired wig in the Tunnel scene. It has this epic neon bow in it and every time I put it on I really do feel like I go back in time.

NAGORSKI: American Psycho is a revolutionary production in many ways, including the way it embraces the macabre and scary elements of its source material. Why do you think it’s taken so long for a horror musical of this scope to come to Broadway?

RIPLEY: I’m not sure. But rock and roll is not a genre of music – it’s a way of life and it’s here to stay.

DAMIANO: I think that a lot of people go to the theater to escape, hence why the entertainment industry thrived so much during a time like the Great Depression. The main concern with a show like this is that people don’t always want to be scared or want to think – sometimes they just want warmth and heart. Our show is more of an art installation than anything else I think. It may be strange and scary at times but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important or that it doesn’t say something. I really enjoy how receptive the audiences are to the interpretative nature of it. And how even if you don’t like it, you will still be thinking about it and you can still appreciate what we’re doing. It is risky and I think that’s why creators have strayed from it for so long, but hopefully we can get the ball rolling.

NAGORSKI: Did either of you get a chance to catch the premiere production of the show in London?

RIPLEY: No! I was an American Psycho virgin the first day of rehearsal.

DAMIANO: I did not and I was even in London when it was happening! I really wish I got a chance to see it.

NAGORSKI: With a show as bold and unique as American Psycho, is there a specific takeaway that you hope the audience leaves with every night?

DAMIANO: I hope that people are thinking. I hope they are thinking about themselves, about society, about themselves in relation to society, I hope they feel inspired by the music and the set and are excited about the boundaries we were able to push.

RIPLEY: I hope they come back.

NAGORSKI: Jenn, between shows like Spring AwakeningNext To NormalSpiderman, and now American Psycho, it seems that you have a penchant for working on new, contemporary musicals rather than the classics. As an actress, what draws you to these shows as opposed to revivals? And Alice, what do you find to be the biggest differences between working on pre-existing versus original material?

DAMIANO: I think first, my voice responds more immediately to scores like this. But besides that, I really do enjoy being a part of new and unexpected work, and being a part of the world that continues to push the boundaries of what a musical can be.

RIPLEY: The difference is, in a new show you feel like you own more of the role as an actor, and everybody from then on will be looking to your interpretation as definitive. I like that!

NAGORSKI: Growing up, were you fans of horror films? If so, which ones were your favorites?

RIPLEY: I was! My favorites are The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, and Jacob’s Ladder.

DAMIANO: I was not! But if I had to choose … I would say The Shining, which I do actually enjoy.

NAGORSKI: What’s the scariest prank that someone in the cast and/or crew pulled on you during rehearsals (or even a performance)?

DAMIANO: There are not as many pranksters in this bunch as you might think, but maybe I should start coming up with some good prank ideas!

RIPLEY: We don’t goof off too much during the show. But, Benjamin Walker had gas in rehearsals. That was kind of scary. He ate a lot of protein powder.

NAGORSKI: Thank you so much, ladies! Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we didn’t discuss?

RIPLEY: My cohort Emily Skinner and I have a new album called Unattached: Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below, on Broadway Records. It’s coming out on June 17. The CD is a recording of the show we wrote and performed there in February. I think it’s fantastic, and it’s all thanks to our devoted audience.

DAMIANO: I think you covered it all! Thank you so much for the thoughtful questions. That was fun!

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW: CHATTING WITH “FUNNY GIRL” SHOSHANA BEAN

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 3.08.35 PM

SHOSHANA BEAN IS READY TO TAKE CENTER STAGE AGAIN.

After being Idina Menzel’s original replacement as the green-skinned heroine of Broadway’s Wicked, Bean has spent the past decade primarily focused on her career as a singer/songwriter. But following an acclaimed star turn last summer in Beaches, a musical based on the beloved film and novel, Bean is ready to take the theater world by storm again.

Next month, she’ll be fulfilling a lifelong dream of headlining Funny Girl, playing at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts. As she gears up for her debut as the iconic Fanny Brice, Bean spoke with me about her history with and excitement surrounding Funny Girl, her aspirations of returning to Broadway, her illustrious career as an independent recording artist, and much more.

NAGORSKI: Funny Girl is such a landmark musical. What’s your first memory of seeing the show and/or movie?

BEAN: Well, I’ve only seen the show once, so my only memory of actually seeing it on stage was when Leslie Kritzer did it at Paper Mill Playhouse in 2001. That’s my iconic visual of the production. But the movie? Oh my gosh, it goes so far back to early in my childhood. I remember that it was a repeat watch, for sure. And then I got the vocal selections. To have that sheet music as part of my collection was such a big deal to me.

I guess my first memory would be that “I’m The Greatest Star” was the song that stuck out to me the most. My grandma introduced me to the movie and she would sing that song with me. Who could forget Barbra’s little sailor outfit and those bangs? It was such a powerful song and I just felt like it spoke to me, even at that very young age.

I was always involved in theater, but I was never really front and center. I always had the most amount of energy and probably sang the loudest, but I definitely was never chosen as the star, so I already could identify. My career started at 6-years-old, and I could already identify with Fanny Brice not being given her opportunities.

So is “I’m The Greatest Star” the song from the show that you’re most looking forward to singing every day on stage?

I mean, yes, but mostly, I’m looking forward to singing the entire score! There’s not a bad apple in the bunch. But music that makes me dance is by far and away my favorite, so that’s one that I know I will revel in nightly.

You’ve sung back-up for Michael Jackson and alongside huge names like Brian McKnight. But it’s Barbra Streisand who you’ve most often referred to as your biggest musical influence. What is it about Streisand that makes you look up to her so much and how does it feel to be tackling what is arguably her most famous and defining role?

It feels terribly intimidating because my fear at this point is how ingrained Barbara’s performance is in my body and in my voice. Now that I’m older and I’ve done my research on Fanny over the years, I’ve realized how important it is to be really mindful of the fact that this show is about Fanny Brice, who is a totally different performer than Streisand and the way that Streisand interpreted her.

I’m intimidated and I’m a little scared because I really want to make sure that I do justice to Fanny. I need to ignore the fact that people will come in ready to compare me to Streisand. Her portrayal and star turn became a much bigger deal than the story of Fanny Brice. So I feel mindful and I have trepidations about taking on the role.

As far as how Streisand has been an influence to me, it started because she was a big part of my upbringing. “The Way We Were” was the catalyst. It was the first song of hers that I can remember hearing. Her music and her voice were something that my grandma and I bonded over. I mean, she has an instrument unlike any other. Growing up, I remember being so inspired by her because she was a woman who not only tackled musical theater, but who also tackled pop and jazz and who was actually considered very soulful. She collaborated with many other R&B and blues and jazz artists of the time.

To me, she was a woman who crossed all of the boundaries. She directed, she starred in movies, and she did everything that a performer could possibly do. And she did it with non-traditional looks and a voice that was unlike anybody else’s! So at a very early age, I identified with the fact that she could do anything, did do everything, and did it despite what critics may have predicted or deemed impossible. She has a monstrous hunger and the resolve to do anything she sets her mind to. She’s never stopped inspiring me in that way.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 3.08.43 PMWhat is something new or specific that you’re bringing to Fanny to give her that unique Shoshana twist?

There’s nothing new or different to bring to it except that I am just a different person. I read a Fanny Brice biography and highlighted and dog-eared so many pages. Because whether it was a direct quote from Fanny or whether it was a review of her performance, I think the thing that made her so special was her pedestrian-like approach to things. Everyone kept saying that she always had a very special relationship with her audience.

That was the best reminder for me to just do what I already know to do. It reminded me that the most important aspect was engaging with the audience, and not to get too in my head about the fact that it’s Fanny Brice, and it’s Barbara Streisand, and it’s Funny Girl, and it’s this big moment for me because it’s this huge dream come true to play this role.

Do you still find parallels between your story and Fanny’s? If so, how will those connections inform your portrayal of her?

I do think that I’ll be bringing who I am and my story to the table, which is not unlike Fanny’s story or the story in Funny Girl. I can relate to so much of that and I’m so grateful that I’m getting to do this later in my life. I don’t think that Shoshana five or ten years ago would’ve understood a lot of the stuff that’s going on a really molecular and soul level, you know?

Really I think that my challenge will be just letting go and being who I already authentically am, and not feeling like I have to prove something or be somebody else. I do really want to honor some quirks and some trademark characteristics of Fanny’s. I keep watching her movies over and over to try and get some of her schtick in me – like the specific faces that she makes or the way that she speaks.

I have to tell you, one of the most riveting parts of watching old clips of her is what an amazing listener she is. There’s this one movie called Be Yourself and it’s her and this guy, and watching her scenes with him when she’s not speaking or performing and the way that she listens and engages is incredible. Because typically, when someone is known for being a physical comedian, you’d think her schtick would be all about stealing the limelight and chewing the scenery. Except it really wasn’t about that, so I was blown away. That was another good reminder for me of the heart of the character. It’s not going to be about me just trying to find funny things to do every five seconds, you know?

That may sound silly, but there are a lot of pressures that come with doing this show. I mean, if you’re going to be in Funny Girl, you’ve got to be hilarious and sing like Streisand, right? But initially, the show was written about this woman, and to me, she’s the person I want to honor in the best possible way.

You just wrapped up the starring role of CeeCee Bloom in Beaches in Chicago. What was that experience like and do you plan to continue being involved with the production when it ultimately comes to Broadway?

Yes, I hope to! I don’t really know what’s going on with it right now. I literally just heard from Iris Rainer Dart, the book writer, the other day. She sent me an email about something else and was like, “I just did a bunch of rewrites, I’ve got some juicy stuff for you.” You know, we recently lost our other book writer, Thom Thomas. He passed of cancer.

Oh, I’m so sorry.

I think that because of that, everyone kind of just felt a little icky about moving forward. I know that probably hurt Iris a great deal. But the experience of that show was certainly amazing. It was my first real run of a show since Wicked. It had been almost 10 years since I had been on stage and in a show of that magnitude, and it was awesome. So much life has been lived and so much experience has been had since Wicked that I feel like I’m a different person when I come to a role. I’m grateful to have experiences to bring to these characters because I can relate to them. CeeCee is not unlike a Fanny Brice type of a character, so it was awesome. It was a lot of work! It wore me out. I was like, “This is why I love this!” but at the same time, “I’m cool on eight shows a week for a while.” Eight shows a week can be so hard. And I wasn’t used to doing that anymore, so I was like, “Why am I comatose? Why can I not get out of bed on my day off?”

That show was a marathon for me. It made some of the other roles I’ve done look like a piece of cake because between 20 costume changes and dancing and tapping and singing, it was just a monster.

Yeah, I bet!

But don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that I did it. I had the time of my life! It was a blast.

Aside from hopefully Beaches, do you have any other plans of returning to the Broadway stage in the near future?

I would absolutely love to! I don’t know what’s coming down the pike or what would be a great fit, but yes, I would definitely love to come back to the stage, and specifically Broadway. Beaches definitely bit me with the bug again.

I’m at the point in my life that I’m just so grateful that I’ve been able to do what I love to do for 20 years now. Basically, whatever you want from me, I’ll do it. I just am so happy to be able to do what I love. I had all of these huge goals that I wanted to achieve in years past. But at the end of it, I just look back and think that while you can make your plans, life is ultimately going to take you where it takes you regardless. So I’m just kind of really embracing that and going along for the ride for the first time in my life.

Anyone that knows me will say, “She has decided where she’s going and she will force her way into that place and she won’t care what you have to say.” But now, while I of course definitely still have plans, goals, and dreams, I’m much more open than before. For example, I never would have told you that this year would’ve brought me Funny Girl at North Shore Music Theatre. I never would have guessed to put that on my plan. But the opportunity came and I was immediately like, “Absolutely! There’s no question that I’m not going to play this role.”

wicked-shoshana-bean-02_612x380_1Going back to Wicked – in addition to being the very first Elphaba in the show’s national tour, you were also the first actress to play the role on Broadway after Idina Menzel. You even took over for her a few days earlier than planned when she sustained a terrible injury during what ended up being her final performance. What was her advice for you on your opening night? Did what happened to her make you nervous?

Well, I don’t think that she gave me any advice on the actual opening night. I think that I learned a lot by watching her and by being around her when I was standing by. But her best advice came to me when I was probably a week or two into the run.

Keep in mind, this was at the top of 2005 and YouTube was just taking off. People were putting up clips and bootlegs of the entire show, and people were talking shit about my performance. And I made the mistake of watching every video and reading all the comments. I didn’t know it was a mistake to do that, but who knew it was a mistake back then?

I would literally spend my days off or my nights emailing people and being like, “Please take that down. I was sick. That’s not fair.” I would try to go head-to-head with these nameless, faceless people. So I emailed Idina and was like, “I’m losing my mind, how do you do it?” And she said to me, “Shoshana, don’t do it. Don’t look at the videos. Don’t engage with those people. Don’t read the comments. You will literally spiral and spend your life in bed with chocolate. Do not do it.”

From that moment on, even when I post my own videos, I don’t read the comments. I realized right then and there that she was right and that if I’m going to keep any level of sanity, I have to completely ignore what’s being said – whether it’s good or bad. There’s a Maya Angelou quote that says, “Don’t pick them up, don’t lay them down.” Meaning you can’t take the good stuff and ignore the bad. It all exists. So the best thing you can do is just do your job the best you can, right? That’s probably the best advice I got from Idina.

How has being such an integral part of such a blockbuster musical shaped your career?

At that point that I took over, right as YouTube was ramping up, the show was already a huge success – but it wasn’t the monster that it is today. I don’t think I knew the scope or the massiveness of what I was involved in at the time. It was obviously a very big deal, but I think I made it less of a big deal in my own mind so that it wasn’t so intimidating, threatening, or terrifying.

But now, 11 years later, I truly believe that it is the reason that I have a career. Because of Wicked and because of YouTube, I get to do concerts all around the world, and people know who I am because of that. That’s so huge! I hate to give it all of that credit, but it is definitely the driving force behind it.

Of course I’ve done other things, and there are other things you can find on YouTube that are not just Wicked. But there are so many independent artists like I am, and who make their own music and make their own records, but they don’t have that fierce and loyal following that I got from being involved in Wicked. So I’m very lucky.

Oddly enough, it’s not even always the people who knew me from 10 years ago. It’s like 13-year-olds, who were three-years-old at the time, who just found a video the other day, and are now like, “I’m a Shoshana Bean fan!” Which is wild but then I’m like, “Well I haven’t done Wicked in 10 years, but I’m thrilled to have you along for the ride!”

That show created this following of people who are interested in the people who have been involved in it. And I am no fool. I absolutely am aware that that’s why I’ve been able to do a lot of what I’ve done and have gone where I’ve been able to go.

That’s incredible! As a solo artist, you already have two albums, an EP, and various singles under your belt. Do you have any plans to release more original music soon? If so, what musical direction will your new material be heading in?

Well, I have a project I’m about to announce shortly. It won’t be original music. So it’s a project that I’m going to do in the interim before my fourth original music record. But yes, I’m in the process of writing the fourth record. I’m struggling a little bit to figure out stylistically which direction I’m going in. I’m in the process of it and of evolving it into what it will ultimately be.

I just did a show Saturday night at Hotel Café in LA where I debuted some of the new stuff. It was terrifying! I didn’t know how the hell it was going to go. But I’m in the in-between phase now, so I just thought, “Why don’t we just share where we’re at? Let’s just be honest about it. It could totally suck. No one can vibe with it, or they can totally love it.”

So yes, while I am working on a fourth record, I would say I’m only about 40% there. I’m not even half way to the point where I can say, “Okay I get where I’m going and what I’m doing.” Therefore, in the meantime, I am going to do this other project that I’m super excited about. I love being in the studio. I love putting out products. I love having something new to give to people. And in this digital age, people’s appetites are insatiable. You put out a record, and they’re like, “What’s next?” Meanwhile, you’re like, “I just put out a record! Yay!” So yes, I will always keep doing that.

I just got off the road touring with Postmodern Jukebox all over Europe and that was such a ball. Getting to meet their crazy audiences and not having to be in charge? That was super fun. And now I’m doing Funny Girl! So it’s like I said, I’m just open and just enjoying that being a performer takes me in all kinds of different directions. It’s rad.

Speaking of Postmodern Jukebox, how do you go about selecting the songs that you cover with them? And what is it about these experiences that make you want to keep working with them again and again?

I got involved with Postmodern Jukebox when they moved to Los Angeles, and in the beginning, we just did one video. That came from creator Scott Bradlee and I just brainstorming. He ultimately decided on Backstreet Boys and that’s how “I Want It That Way” became our first video. He was set on doing something from the 90s and so we landed on that one. We’ve now done four videos together and it’s always a great collaborative effort.

Sometimes I bring stuff to the table, like when we did Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” I asked if he had already planned to do that one and when he said no, I just said, “let’s do it!” And then this most recent one that we did, Demi Lovato’s “Stone Cold,” I went to him and explained the concept and the idea I had. That one’s on their new record.

But really, the way that this all started, I acted as a kind of musical liaison. They came to LA and they did this residency, and I just kept introducing them to other musicians and songs, and then they just started coming to me for recommendations. So I kind of felt like the fairy godmother of their talent. And even when they went on tour, I held down their residency in LA and did all of the booking and stuff like that.

More than anything, it just started as a collaboration between friends. I had never gone on the road with them, and frankly, I hadn’t ever really been interested in it because I’m the girl who wants to do her own music. I didn’t think I was interested in going out and doing other people’s music. But they came to me when they needed a pinch hitter for this European tour. Someone got sick so they needed someone to jump out for a month. I saw that they’d be going to all of these European cities that I’d never gone to, and that’s amazing. Plus, I had a month to kill, so why not go have fun?

When you are your own boss, and you are the driving force behind your music and your band and you’re booking the people, and you’re selling the merch … it’s exhausting. By the end of last year, after all the shows I did overseas and stuff, I was like, “I don’t care if I never do another solo show again. I’m so tired.” So the thought of going out with them and just having to show up on time and getting up on stage and nothing else was just like, “Yes! Fantastic! I’d love to go.”

I’m so glad that I did because I had the time of my life. Their audiences are amazing! I played venues that I’ve only ever dreamed of playing, and I got to see what tour life is really like. I got to see so many amazing cities in Europe and it was just the best. They’re an amazing family of super talented people.

I’ve never done shows back to back every night except for in a musical, but in a musical, it’s frozen. Meaning the script is what it is, the music is what it is, you don’t stray from it, and you kind of do the same thing every night. This was so different because it was only loosely frozen. Like we do the same material every night, but since it’s a pop show, I can take a break here, and I can make this back-and-forth with the audience go longer, etc. There are living, breathing, changing, and evolving elements to it. Doing that every night was such an education for me as a singer and a musician. And to be on stage with such talented people, it was just beyond incredible.

It sounds like it! Funny Girl wraps up its run on June 19th. Do you already know what you’ll be doing after that? Are you going to be joining Postmodern Jukebox’s upcoming U.S. tour? What else do you have lined up?

I would love to integrate myself and pop in on a couple of dates on their U.S. tour. I definitely want to play in my hometown, Portland, and I already told Scott how badly I want to play Radio City Music Hall with them when they go to New York.

But I don’t yet know that I can. I’m very grateful that my schedule is really packed right now. I am going to Australia after Funny Girl for two weeks to do a bunch of solo shows. Then in the fall, I’m back in Europe again. I’ve got some shows in London, Germany, and Spain. There are a bunch of shows that have popped up, so a good chunk of the rest of the year is already spoken for. Plus, I’ve got this other project that I mentioned before.

All that is to say that while I don’t know, I love it. Shit always pops up out of nowhere, and you’re like, “In two weeks I’ve got to pack up my apartment and move.” You never know.

Recently, you inked a deal with ABC Signature for a new musical pilot that you co-created and for which you will be composing the music. What more can you tell me about this show? What’s the premise, when do you expect it to air and will you performing on it as well?

Well, we’re in a little bit of a holding pattern because my writing partner just became a staff writer on Fuller House. So her time is completely spoken for as of now. We got our rewrites from Signature at the top of the year and we made our changes. We have our studio, but now we have to pitch to networks.

The TV show is based on a musical we wrote called Dear John Mayer. We originally wrote it for me as a star vehicle. So in a perfect world, I would’ve thrown my hat in the ring to be the lead. But one of the first notes we got was, “Can you make the character not in her early 30s? Can she be in her early 20s instead?” So of course we were like, “Ok, there goes that.”

I don’t know what my involvement will be beyond writing the music. But I don’t know what the timeline is either. I think that she’ll have some time off this summer, so maybe we’ll be able to dig in more at that point. Hopefully they don’t give up on us!

You’re good friends with pop superstar Ariana Grande. Any chance that the two of you will put out some music together someday?

We did a show together at the top of the year, and she hit me up after and was like, “I want you to hear the new record and whatever your favorite song is, we’ll sing it together.” I was like, “This is my best life! I get to sing and I get to hear the record!” And then of course, we never got it together. I’d be like, “What’s up, how’s this week?” And she’d be like, “I’m in New York!” We just never coordinated, and now the record’s coming out this week and I haven’t heard it.

But yes, I love singing with her. She blows my mind. It was such a treat to be able to be on stage together when we did in January. I’m just proud of, not just the artist she has become and continues to evolve into, but also the person that she is and how she has handled a lot of pressure and being in the spotlight and being a woman – and being a beautiful woman at that. You know, you just can’t win. No matter what you do, they give you shit. So I’m proud of how she’s handled it all. And I’m so proud of the music that she’s making because I know that with this record specifically, she definitely took more control and definitely asserted her opinions and her desires more than she has on her previous records. So I’m proud of that. Of course I hope we get to sing together again at some point. Are you kidding? She’s got the most unbelievable voice.

Well, so do you.

Oh, well, thank you.

Thanks so much, Shoshana! Is there anything else you want to talk about that we didn’t discuss?

I don’t think so! You’re very thorough. Thank you so much, doll!

You too! I can’t wait to see the show!


Click here to purchase tickets to see Shoshana Bean in Funny Girl, playing at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA from June 7 – June 19.

Shoshana Bean

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW: “CRUDE” TALK WITH NICO TORTORELLA

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NICO TORTORELLA IS BARING IT ALL.

Nico TortorellaWhile on hiatus from his smash TV series, Younger, the hunky Italian-American actor is currently starring in Crude, a sexy, funny, topical, and original off-Broadway production. Written by Jordan Jaffe and directed by Kel Haney, Crude is now playing through May 21 at Ars Nova’s Theater 511 in New York.

In between performances, no topic was off-limits as Tortorella and I chatted about Crude, Younger, The Following, Scream 4, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Instagram, the new TV show he’s developing, and much more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: You’re making your off-Broadway debut with Crude.

NICO TORTORELLA: Woohoo!

Congrats! What about this play enticed you to want to try branching out from film and TV to focus on the stage?

Well, I grew up on stage in Chicago. I was studying at Steppenwolf and Goodman when I was younger. Over the course of five years, I played all three brothers in one show called Over The Tavern. It was a period piece, a 1950’s Polish family comedy. I was already doing 8 shows a week when I was a little kid, so doing Crude is kind of like a homecoming for me. It’s been ten years since I’ve been on stage doing a show outside of that little tap dance number I did with Sutton Foster and the Baltimore Symphony – which was incredible in and of itself, but that’s a whole other story.

I’ve been saying for years that I’m ready to get back to the stage and that I want to get back to my roots. Scheduling wise, it’s been a little bit difficult when you’re also working on film and television. And I’ve been living back and forth between New York and LA for so long, and finally I’m settled back in New York full-time. The opportunity came to itself time-wise and this show kind of just fell into my lap, and it was the perfect script. Jordan Jaffe just does such a good job of writing the way that I speak, if that makes any sense? It was a no-brainer. I read the script and was like, “Yes! Yes! Yes! When do we start?”

Tell me a little bit about your character, Jaime. How would you describe him?

He is your typical, upper-class Texas bro. He comes from a big oil family. I think that he had bigger dreams growing up of being famous and giving some big things to the world. He is a filmmaker and he was making all of these investigative documentaries when he was living in LA for a little bit, and then he moved to Texas because his dad offered him a job at the company. He tried to uphold his artistic integrity while working for the man. He’s split a little bit between what he wants to do, what he’s supposed to do, and how he’s supposed to support his family. So that’s kind of where the show opens … and it’s kind of all pretty much downhill from there.

As an actor, how do you go about getting into the proper headspaces to tackle characters as different and complex as Jamie and Younger’s Josh?

To me, people are the most interesting things in the world that we have. I’ve spent time with so many different types of people from all walks of life. I’ve spent a lot of time in Texas. I grew up with some of the richest kids in the world. I know their type, and I just kind of draw from personal experience and turn it into a version that speaks through me. There are always pieces of me in every character that I play. I think that even on a subconscious level, just in my waking life, I’m studying people all day, every day.

In its official synopsis, Crude is written up as “a dark comedy about the price you pay for selling your soul in the new millennium.” Could you please elaborate a little bit about how you interpret this description?

I mean, it’s working for the big rig oil companies, right? I think that that’s what that stems from. He and his family are just making ridiculous amounts of money, and he is balancing his personal beliefs on saving the world and dangerous chemicals with working for this big company. At the end of the day, we all have issues. It’s just that some are bigger than others.

nicoThe show warns against environmental disasters and chronicles the biggest oil spill ever – even bigger than the BP rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico six years ago. How do you think everyday citizens like you and I can help prevent something like this from happening again?

An oil spill? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The technology is so advanced. For the most part, there aren’t restrictions or guidelines or rules until something bad happens. It’s not heavily regulated until something bad happens, you know? To drill that far down, into the ocean with that type of technology, it’s kind of inevitable. At some point, something bad is going to happen.

We don’t really realize what the full potential of everything is, but we all use the product every single day of our life. It is nearly impossible to not use petroleum products in our lives. There are literally a million different things made out of petroleum. Everything. Anything made out of plastic, everything we’re using when we’re heating our homes, flying, makeup … I mean … everything. And unless you’re living in the middle of fucking nowhere, under a tree, there’s nothing we can do. We’ve just got to keep on trekking and just pretend like it doesn’t exist.

As an artist, what has the experience of being in this play taught/shown you about both your work and yourself?

Oh man. This has been the first time I’ve really felt like an actor in a long time. I spent so much time when I was getting into film and television trying to tone down my acting. Since I grew up on stage, I was used to performing for large audiences and so everything had to be bigger. You spend so much time dumbing everything down for a tiny lens that’s sometimes only inches away from your face.

Getting back to work in theater, I’ve had to retrain myself what that beast is. This has been like a conservatory program for the last several weeks. These kids are all conservatively trained at Julliard. And working so closely with directors and writers, you know, that opportunity doesn’t really lend itself to television often.

Television is very fast-paced. There are tons of people that have hands in the pot. Everyone has something to say about everything, and at the end of the day, the actors’ creative influence is only so much. Being on stage, especially in New York and as part of a brand new play where I get to create this new character, has been so collaborative. It’s re-taught me what this art is and what it means. In Hollywood, in the big picture of everything, it’s very easy to lose grasp of what you do and what your art is because everything becomes so mainstream and about celebrity in a lot of ways, depending on what level you’re at.

Being in this play has just taught me that, oh yeah, this is what it’s all about. It’s about being vulnerable and open, and sharing the stage with somebody else and trusting each other, and keeping things fresh and jumping into characters. I could just keep going on and on and on.

That’s awesome! So now that you’ve gotten a taste of off-Broadway, is more theater – including Broadway – something you’d like to continue pursuing?

Oh for sure, 100%. I definitely want to do Broadway. I definitely want to do a musical at some point. I’d love to do a new musical. I know Frozen is coming. So there’s always a chance for that.

Of course!

I don’t know, dude, I just want to keep doing good work and it’s all about the projects.

In the show, Jaime starts out as a documentarian. You recently shot a documentary yourself, NicoNicoNico, with your brother, Rocco. What is this film about? And when and where will your fans be able to check it out?

When and where, yeah. That’s the big question. So NicoNicoNico is the umbrella brand of everything. We shot this documentary last summer, and he’s still working on it. I’m already at the next step, and for me that’s a TV show called NicoNicoNico, that’s in development right now. I’m sure that the documentary will come out at some point. I don’t know when exactly it will. It will probably just be like on some random Tuesday when I decide to make it open to the public. I’ll just drop it online somewhere.

That’s very Beyoncé of you.

Yeah, totally. I’ll pull a Beyoncé! Look, I’m always shooting something. The stuff that I release is really highly curated … but also not planned at all. I almost feel like I did it too long ago for it to come out right now, but not long ago enough for it to be a throwback type of thing. You know what I mean? I want to let it breathe for a second. And the second generation of what I’m working on right now is on a whole other level, so I almost want to come out with the second gen, and then go back and release the first.

Nico Tortorella

I see. Last season of Younger ended with quite a cliffhanger. What can you tease about season 3?

I know nothing! I know absolutely nothing. I know the writer’s room is putting it together right now, and they are planning shit out, and we start in a month. That’s the mystery of TV. I have no idea the direction that it’s going.

If it were up to you, where would you like to see Josh and Liza end up?

I want Josh and Liza to have a baby. I’ve been saying it forever.

You don’t think he should try to be with someone, for lack of a better word, more mature?

You mean less mature then, right?

Well, just because she’s older than him doesn’t mean she’s more mature. She’s still lying to pretty much everyone in her life.

Oh, yeah, good call! I’ve never heard it put that way. I appreciate that. I don’t know! I think that they are really good for each other in a lot of ways. I think that as her character progresses, their relationship will move somewhere as well, but I don’t know where. She’s a troubled one, that Liza.

What’s your personal favorite Hilary Duff song?

Hmm. “Chasing The Sun.” It’s the first one that pops into my head. Maybe also the only one that I know the title of.

How many tattoos do you have in real life? What’s both your most recent and your favorite?

Too many but not nearly enough. My most recent is a tattoo for my mom. We’re both Leos. It’s a lioness picking up her cub and on the lioness’ arm, it has “Mom” tattooed, so the tattoo has a tattoo. So original! And my favorite? Probably one that’s a portrait of my grandpa.

Something that’s become almost synonymous with your name recently is your presence on Instagram. Why do you think you’ve taken off with such a massive following on that platform? And how much preparation goes into all your shots – are they ever spontaneous or do you carefully curate each post to fill a specific purpose?

Yeah! I have a good setup in my house. I have a clam light, and a couple of other lights, and a camera set up. I do everything myself, for the most part, unless I’m shooting with a friend. I think Instagram has just been a really, really great outlet for everybody – but for artists especially. It’s just a free, open space for you to do whatever the fuck you want, whenever you want, and people get to see it. If they’re into it, more people will get to see it. And somehow in all of this, I’ve created a brand. And it’s taken off! I’m all about it, dude. It’s just an outlet that seems to have worked. And until it becomes something else, I’m here.

You’ve worked with Logo a bit lately and are an outspoken fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. So I’ve gotta ask, going into the season finale, are you Team Kim Chi, Team Naomi or Team Bob The Drag Queen?

Oh, man. I think we’re all going to see Bob win, but I would love to see Naomi win. I’m just, like, Team Naomi’s body.

You were one of the central characters in Scream 4. What was it like to be part of such an iconic franchise and what’s your favorite memory from set?

It was incredible! That’s one of the greatest franchises of all time.

Traditionally, in every Scream movie they’ve shot, the actor that plays Ghostface pranked all the new actors. He would pop out or scare the shit out of you. They try to keep it a secret from all of the people that it hadn’t happened to yet. So I had no idea that this was happening! So I’m opening the door to go act inside Emma Roberts’ house, and Ghostface pops up, jumps in front of me, and everyone’s thinking that I’m going to freak out, or scream, or jump back like everybody else does. Instead, I just fucking clocked him in the face. Like, are you guys serious? I literally just punched him in the face!

When you’re not acting or working, what’s your favorite way to spend your downtime?

Just chilling out for the most part. I watch a lot of TV. I work out. I have a dope apartment in Williamsburg now. And I’m developing my own TV show. Sometimes I think that I have more hours in the day than other people do because I’m always fucking doing something. But with the little bit of downtime that I do have, I just try to not do anything.

What’s the craziest fan encounter you’ve ever had?

Honestly? Probably during The Following. Just being out with James Purefoy and seeing people think that we were actually fucking serial killers. I mean, people were genuinely afraid of us!

I bet you got a kick out of that.

Oh, totally!


Click here to purchase tickets to see Nico Tortorella in Crude, now playing off-Broadway.

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Originally published on PopBytes