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.
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.
NAGORSKI: 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.
NAGORSKI: 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 Awakening, Next To Normal, Spiderman, 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!
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.
What 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.”
Going 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.
While 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Click here to purchase tickets to see Nico Tortorella in Crude, now playing off-Broadway.
Best known for her starring role in NBC’s criminally short-lived Broadway drama Smash, Hilty couldn’t be further from Ivy’s entitled diva. Last Tuesday (May 3), the same day that she received her very first (and well-deserved) Tony nomination (Best Featured Actress in a Play for Noises Off), Hilty opened her new 2-week musical residency at the Café Carlyle with nothing more than a passing acknowledgment of the career milestone.
“We closed Noises Off six weeks ago so this was the furthest thing from my mind,” the 35-year-old modestly told the intimate crowd. But from the moment Hilty walked on stage with her instantly showstopping rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” her enormous talent was on full display.
Hilty explained that her set would be a tribute to one of her idols, Rosemary Clooney. She linked her first song to this theme by telling a cute story about how Ethel Merman once spotted Clooney in the audience during a performance of Gypsy on Broadway. As she walked down the aisle of the theater during “Roses,” she let out an adlibbed, “Hey Rosie!” Clooney was so amused by this that she incorporated the song into her concerts from there on out.
Hilty’s adoration and admiration for Clooney shone as she talked about what inspired the legendary cabaret singer to record the songs she was performing. She even read aloud a couple of passages from Clooney’s “sensational” autobiography that she found particularly stirring – including one that concluded, “It would be so freeing to shed the burden of someone else’s blame.”
With this, Hilty went into Irving Berlin’s heartbreaking “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” Her melancholy and haunting take on the song showcased a vulnerability that fortified her strength as an actor. She spoke to the audience about how she believes that there are three stages of anger after a breakup – anger at the other person, anger at yourself for putting up with that person, and anger at love in general. But luckily, “I haven’t felt that way in a long time,” she added.
Hilty’s husband of three years, singer/songwriter Brian Gallagher, was one of the musicians that made up her 4-piece band. As the guitarist, Gallagher played alongside his wife (and even sang a duet with her on the adorable “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket”) with the same look of awe that every audience member had anytime that Hilty started to show off the extraordinary things that she can do with her voice.
Throughout the evening, Hilty divulged more snippets of her and Gallagher’s love story. She introduced songs like “I Get Along Without You Very Well” with descriptors like, “this is exactly how I felt about him” when they first started dating and Gallagher went off to be in the Jekyll & Hyde national tour.
Hilty resisted her future husband at first, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that she “didn’t know that someone like this existed and that what was happening between us was real.” She followed that declaration of love with a moving rendition of the sweet “Tenderly.”
As the audience got to know Hilty better through her charming rapport, she interwove songs as “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “I Wish You Love” and “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” She consistently delivered master class-worthy vocal performances that highlighted how much of a testament it is to her many gifts that her first Tony nomination is for a non-singing part.
Joining Hilty for a duet on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” was her music director and pianist, Matt Cusson. During a segment in which Hilty introduced and shared “fun facts” about each member of the band (i.e. “we have a baby together” about Gallagher), she showcased just how far they’ve all come over the past several years. The first time that she and Cusson sang together, for example, they were standing underneath a rollercoaster at Hershey Park and would have to pause the song every time a rollercoaster passed by. Fast forward to this past week when they launched their third residency at the iconic Café Carlyle together (along with the rest of the same band).
Hilty declared “Count Your Blessings” to be Clooney’s “anthem,” not only because she knew that the song was very important to her, but also because of all the “ups and downs” she had been through. For Hilty, the song resonated in a whole new way when she gave birth to her daughter and firstborn, Viola Philomena. Her emotional delivery made that connection immediately clear.
To transition into some Smash material, Hilty told the audience about a friend who she and Clooney had in common: composer Marc Shaiman. Shaiman played piano for Clooney in her later years, and was one of the main writers of a large portion of the music on Smash – including all of the songs she sang that evening. The crowd roared for her stunning medley of “Don’t Forget Me” and “Let Me Be Your Star,” and the Liza Minnelli-esque “They Just Keep Moving The Line.” Say what you want about Smash, but one thing that was totally undebatable was that Hilty sang the hell out of every song she had on that show. In person, it’s even better.
“They Just Keep Moving The Line” also happens to be one of the songs featured on Hilty’s new album, Megan Hilty Live At The Café Carlyle. Recorded during her previous residency, the diverse record also features classics like “The Man That Got Away,” “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” and “Get Happy.” Ranging from standards to showtunes to Smash, the album delivers on all fronts by giving a well-rounded collection of the things Hilty is most known for.
If Megan Hilty has something in common with her Smash character Ivy Lynn, it may soon be a Tony win her first time up at bat. And with a talent as colossal as hers, you know she’ll be stepping up to the plate many, many more times.
Catch Megan Hilty at the Café Carlyle, now through May 14th. And click here to purchase her new album, Megan Hilty Live At The Café Carlyle.