TALKING “SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD” WITH SHOSHANA BEAN

Shoshana BeanSHOSHANA BEAN HAS RETURNED TO HER THEATER ROOTS.

Since taking over for original star Idina Menzel in the Broadway production of Wicked, Bean has been delighting fans across the globe as an acclaimed independent artist. Her phenomenal four solo albums include last year’s exceptional Spectrum, which debuted at #1 on the iTunes and Billboard Jazz Charts. As a result, Bean headlined a sold-out concert at The Apollo, one of New York’s most emblematic musical institutions.

But one month before her Apollo show, Bean made a rare return to the New York stage as an actress (for the first time in 12 years!). From June 27-30, 2018, the vocal powerhouse starred in a revival of composer Jason Robert Brown’s first musical, Songs For A New World. Playing as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series, this revered production has been preserved in the form of a glorious new cast recording that’s available now from Ghostlight Records.

I spoke with Bean about Songs For A New World, her February concert residency in L.A., the upcoming all-female Jesus Christ Superstar concept album, her next solo record, memories of Wicked and much more.


ALEX NAGORSKI: Songs For A New World marked the first time you performed in a musical on a New York stage since Wicked in 2006. Why was this the perfect production with which to make your grand return?

SHOSHANA BEAN: Two reasons. First, this show has been with me, like most of us, for 20+ years. I first discovered it when I was right out of college and it was super impactful. This show has a lot of personal meaning for me. Second, Jason Robert Brown is a dear friend. He’s one of my favorite people to collaborate with and one of my favorite composers. It seemed like the perfect opportunity!

It was also a quick commitment. I think part of my resistance to coming back to the New York stage has been the tying down of it all – the lack of freedom and the lack of ability to simultaneously keep doing my own thing. This was a short commitment and music that I loved. Plus, Jason is both a human being and a composer that I would walk on hot coals for.

In your opinion, what is it about JRB’s work that has made him into such a contemporary musical theater legend?

His ability to be a classic writer while still being modern and contemporary is the first thing that grabbed me back in the day. It felt like singing pop music in the musical theater genre. I think the second and most important thing about his writing is his storytelling ability. He just makes it so easy! There’s no guess work and there’s no trying to spin something into gold. It’s just all there. It’s a full meal deal and it’s meaty and it’s good.

I’ve been singing “Stars And The Moon” for almost 20 years. When he first heard me singing it, he was like, “she’s 20 years too young.” In the decades since, the evolution of my relationship with that song just proves that there’s no end to what you can discover in his music. No matter how many times you’ve sung it, no matter how much you believe that you understand what story you’re telling, it just consistently evolves. That’s my favorite thing about his writing – the story he allows me to continue to tell.

Speaking of “Stars And The Moon,” this is arguably his most iconic song. Not only has it become a cabaret standard, it’s also been recorded by the likes of Audra McDonald, Betty Buckley and Sutton Foster. What do you think makes this such a standout number in both Songs For A New World and JRB’s catalog at large? And what was your creative process like to make your interpretation so unique? 

Songs For A New WorldWhether it’s in a relationship, in work or any decision you make in your life, there are questions of, “Am I making a decision that allows me to dream and see with my heart and spirit? Am I making a logical, smart decision based on illusion? Am I doing this based on what I think I’m supposed to do or what I think I want and need?” I think we all struggle with those decisions every day. “Am I making decisions for money or am I making decisions for my heart’s happiness? Am I making decisions for my parents or am I making decisions because of my authentic choices?”

Jason articulated these feelings in a very specific way. The song deals with a woman who chose a dream of wealth and celebrity that she thought would fulfill her, but then it ultimately didn’t. I think we all are looking at our choices in different ways every day. We’re analyzing selling out versus “When I get to the end of my days, I’m going to look back and know that I may have done things the harder and more impoverished ways, but god I don’t regret it! I wouldn’t change a thing. I know I didn’t miss out. I wrung out every drop of the juice that I had in this life.” I think because of that, the songs speaks to everyone, no matter what age.

The creative process was the past 20 years of continuing to get to know and sing this song. For me, the creative process is always just living life. The more you live, the more experience you bring to the table. The way you communicate becomes more honest, vulnerable and authentic.

With Jason’s music, every time I sing it, I hear and discover something new. When it comes to his music, the lyrics do the work for you. Therefore, my goal always is to show up as vulnerable and available as possible, and as connected to the lyrics and to the audience as possible. The purest, most powerful access to his stuff is when you’re willing to be completely transparent. That’s really the only requirement with his writing – to show up like a human and bare your soul and tell the story.

Songs For A New World played a very limited run. What was it like preserving this short experience in the studio when recording the album for Ghostlight Records?

Not enough time! It was all very much under the gun as far as time was concerned, so we had to rush through it. We had barely a two-week process together! It wasn’t until that Saturday, which were the last shows of that run, when we are all like, “Oh, now we’re finally getting into our groove.”

Coming back to record was like, “Yay, we get to sink our teeth in again!” But it’s never enough time. I’ll reiterate that Jason’s music is so complex. Also, he’ll be the first to say, “I wrote this when I was 18 years old, I didn’t know how to write in a woman’s comfortable place,” and I’d be like, “Why would you write ‘The Flagmaker, 1775’ in this key? It’s a nightmare!” He’d just laugh and say, “I was young!”

I think we just all could have used more time together to enjoy the process. Anytime you’re together with a magical group of people – and I do think this cast had a magical vibe and blend – it just always feels too short.

Do you have any desire to return to Broadway? If so, what type of show and/or role would be most enticing to you?

That varies. I think the bottom line is that it’s just a moment-by-moment decision. I actually just went to New York to do a first reading of a beautiful new piece by Harvey Fierstein and Alan Menken. The character is really different for me. It’s a part that you probably would be surprised by. But this piece literally got inside my heart and spoke to me so clearly. So it really is a case-by-case basis! This role may have come to me at another time in my life and I might have been like, “This just doesn’t feel right.”

I’m realizing that as we are living, breathing, evolving creatures, things change. There are pieces that used to really get under my skin and I’d be like, “oh my god, I’d give anything to do this!” Then you come back to them later and you’re like, “I don’t feel that I have anything to bring to this anymore.” I’m so grateful to have reached a point where I only do things that light my heart up. The people that I work with and the audiences deserve that. So I make decisions based on that, if that makes sense.

Every Tuesday in February, you’re performing your show, “Standards at the Standard” in West Hollywood. What can your fans expect from this series of intimate concerts?

Shoshana BeanMostly that it’s all improv and on-the-fly! It’s not the same set every week. Basically, I will choose songs, give my band the key and we will show up and see what happens. I’ve always been so intent on making sure everything is prepared and perfect. But what I’ve realized and learned, especially in the past year or so, is that some of the most beautiful things happen in the unexpected space. I wanted to create a safe environment to let that happen. I think it’s also exciting for an audience to know that we don’t know what’s happening and to watch what comes out of that. Some of the shows might be complete train wrecks but some of them could be beautiful! I have the greatest musicians who I can have those kinds of musical conversations with.

By “standards,” we mean the classic American songbook – but I think that songbook is expanding as time goes by. There will be Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson songs that will become standards. These will be the songs that our kids are singing and looking back on as part of the classic songbook. I’m expanding the definition of “standard” to include artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan. These are now the new classics.

In case fans can’t come see you in Los Angeles, where can they catch you next? Do you have any further tour plans for 2019?

We’re working on a couple of cities. I’ll probably keep doing spot dates but I’ve got to start writing the next record, so I’m trying to keep myself home as much as possible.

You’re also currently finishing up working on the all-female Jesus Christ Superstar concept album, which is slated to be released in June. What inspired you and Morgan James to put this project together?

I cannot take any credit. This was all Morgan. I had nothing to do with it except for to say yes. She’s so creative. She put together an incredible cast and it’s a great idea. I’m super excited about it! Morgan was right on the money with this one.

When she initially had the idea, the timing was really right because the tide was starting to turn as far as what women will and won’t take anymore as far as pay, opportunity or treatment. This was the perfect vehicle to be empowered with and to bring people together in the way that she – and us all as a cast –did. It was such a powerful thing and I’m so glad that it’s being preserved for all time on this recording.

To hear women sing this stuff is so amazing. We didn’t change any keys and we didn’t alter it to suit a woman’s voice by any means. We had to limbo around what’s already written, which was super challenging.

On this recording, Cynthia Erivo is singing the part of Mary Magdalene. You two have collaborated many times recently, including on your viral “I Did Something Bad” cover and your co-headling holiday concert at the Apollo. Why do you think you two work so well together and do you have any other upcoming projects together?

A myriad of reasons! She challenges me to raise the bar all the time in every way. She shows me myself knowingly and unknowingly. She has no problem being like, “You’re being crazy!” She feels me, supports me and makes me feel better about myself. We have a very special connection on soul and spiritual levels. For example, we never discuss what we’re wearing. When we show up to do press or whatever else together, we’re always in a similar color scheme or in some kind of similar outfit. We are so connected.

My favorite thing about us singing together is that most people cannot tell who’s singing what part. Sometimes she’ll even look at me and be like, “Who was top and who was on bottom?” We love how well our voices blend and I think that’s because we listen in the same way. We’re both musical in a very similar way and we are open to connect with each other on stage. There are a lot of people who you can sing and sound good with, but to actually look at the person you’re on stage with and know that you’re being seen as you are seeing them is a rare gift. That’s one of the great things that we are able to do together.

And yes, we have plenty of things coming down the pike together!

Last year, you released your album, Spectrum. It seems that you’ve really refined your identity as a solo artist by creating a perfect blend of your musical theater roots and your passion for jazz and soul music. How did you marry these influences to create such a simultaneously distinctive and timeless sound?

Shoshana BeanIt wasn’t easy! I won’t lie, it was a long and deductive process. I was looking to make sure I could please everybody, which is a very tall task. People have discovered me in so many ways and all of those people want more of that specific thing. So people who know me because of Postmodern Jukebox are like “do more with them” and people who found me because of Broadway are like, “do more musical theater!”

It just always feels like this tug of war, as if I’m straddling all these fences and trying to please all these people. But at the same time, I’m trying to stay authentic to what my artistic heart wants to do, what I want to say and where I want to go next. It’s a challenge! Initially, this project came out of the desire to please everyone, and then, whittling down what would be inauthentic. A full jazz album wouldn’t fly because I’m not a jazz artist. A full Broadway album wouldn’t fly because I have so much more to say than just that. So we just took the ingredients from all of these things and made our own recipe of chili, you know what I mean? It was a really terrifying process to go outside my comfort zone and ask those questions.

What are your plans for a Spectrum follow-up?

I’m starting to work on the writing. I start my first writing session tonight, actually! We never know if the songs that we’re writing right now are actually going to make it on the album. I haven’t written a song since “Remember The Day,” which was like a year and a half ago, so I’m excited to see what happens.

You’ve also been churning out many covers lately, like “In My Blood,” “Shallow,” “This Is Me” and “Mine Again”. How do you decide what songs to put your own spin on and do you have plans to eventually release a full covers album?

No, not anymore. I feel like Spectrum was largely a covers album. There are certain songs that really speak to me that make me feel like, “Oh, this belongs on my album because I wish I would have written it” or whatever. I don’t intend to really do that anymore. It doesn’t fulfill me in the way that my own stuff does. And if the numbers show, as far as Spectrum was concerned, they weren’t the most popular or favorite songs either. So I think it really has to be something special for me to now feel like, “Oh yeah, this is going on my record because it feels like I wanted to say this.”

On Friday, the Wicked cast recording will be rereleased to celebrate the musical’s 15thanniversary. Looking back, how did it feel the first time you stepped out on stage as Elphaba? And did you know at the time that Wicked would become such a long-lasting global blockbuster?

Shoshana BeanWe knew it was a hit at that point but I don’t think I had thought that far ahead. I certainly couldn’t have predicted this. Right when I took over was when YouTube started to happen and social media like MySpace was just ramping up. I think the accessibility that allowed is part of the show’s wild success. Before with Broadway shows, if you couldn’t watch performances on David Letterman or Rosie O’Donnell or if you couldn’t fly to New York or see the national tour or buy the soundtrack, you were shit out of luck. There wasn’t a way to access or be knowledgeable about what was going on. YouTube and social media completely changed that and Wicked was right at that breaking point. I largely credit that timing with what I’ve been able to do with my solo career and I largely credit that timing with how massive that show got. But no is the short answer. I don’t think anyone could have predicted how big it became.

Let’s just say that the first time I went out was unexpected because I was standing by for Idina Menzel. I had a planned week to go on for the first time because she was leaving to film Enchanted. A couple days before that was supposed to happen, she went out sick. Of course, in that instance, you don’t get a ton of warning and I was on! I think I just felt adrenaline, excitement, fear and a complete awareness of the moment. You can’t step one inch to the left incorrectly or someone could get hurt in that show. There’s really an importance for exactness so it takes you out of thinking about anything else. So, I think it was probably just a feeling of terror.

Also, can you imagine standing by for Idina Menzel and all those people came to see her and they find out that someone they never heard of is going on instead? They’d think, “This is the worst day of my life!” At that point, she was down to her final months in the show and people were flying in from all over the world to make sure they saw her in it. There was certainly an element of fear that I was going to piss these people off and disappoint them.

That must have been so scary!

Oh yeah, the pressure was insane! I had no previous reputation, so there was nobody to let down – except for, obviously, the people wanting to see Idina.

I think that same idea of expectation was what caused the fear I felt when I showed up for Songs For A New World. When I got on stage, I was like, “Holy shit, why am I wracked with fear and anxiety?” And it was only then that I realized I haven’t been on a New York stage in 12 years, like you mentioned in your first question.

I’ve been doing my own thing for so long and what I realized is I’ve created a situation where there’s no one to compare me to. But theater is different. When you get on stage, it feels like there’s some kind of expectation or that there are constraints or boundaries. This was dipping my toe back in, putting myself in the hot seat and being able to be judged by however many seats are in that house. It’s a bigger stage than what I’m doing on my own and it’s scarier, for sure.

Both personally and professionally, what are some of your biggest goals and dreams for 2019?

My personal goals include what I say yes to and how I take care of myself and my boundaries.

Professionally, my biggest goal is getting this next album written! I want this to be a completely new and deep level of songwriting for me. I really want it to be the best thing that I’ve done up to this point. I’d love to maybe even get it recorded, depending on how quickly I can do this writing process. You kind of know when you’ve got the album – when everything you’ve written is cohesive and makes sense and you’re saying the things that you want to say. In a perfect world, I would love to have the next album recorded by the end of this year.

I’m really enjoying what Spectrum opened up for me in terms of opportunities and experiences. I want to keep writing that way, stay in that lane and keep making records like that.

If you were running for President in 2020, what would your campaign slogan be?

United We Stand!

Originally published on PopBytes

TALKING “THE BAND’S VISIT” WITH STAR KATRINA LENK

KATRINA LENK IS QUICKLY CEMENTING HERSELF AS ONE OF BROADWAY’S PREMIER LEADING LADIES.

Katrina LenkDirectly following her scene-stealing role in last year’s critically acclaimed play, Indecent, Lenk is back on Broadway this season with The Band’s Visit. Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same, the musical is composed by David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and features a book by Itamar Moses. It tells the story of an Egyptian Police Band who, after a mix-up at the border, are sent to a remote village in the middle of the Israeli desert. As these travelers get to know the locals that they’re stranded with overnight, what results is a beautiful character study about the deeply human ways that music, longing and laughter can connect us all.

Prior to its Broadway opening last November, The Band’s Visit debuted Off-Broadway. That production was decorated in accolades. Highlights included winning the 2017 Obie Award for Musical Theatre, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, the Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, the Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Director, Outstanding Lyrics and Outstanding Music, and the Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical (for Lenk). Now, as this year’s Tony Awards season is gearing up, there is a lot of buzz for both the Broadway production and specifically for Lenk.

Lenk and I spoke about working onThe Band’s Visit, how traveling to Israel impacted her creative journey, the night that the Clinton family saw the show, her musical theater bucket list, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: How influential was the original Israeli film in your creative process? What did you take away or choose to leave behind from it while discovering your interpretation of your character, Dina?

KATRINA LENK: Eran Kolirin’s film is extraordinary. I didn’t know of it beforehand, so when the audition came in, I watched it to get an idea of tone, style, dialect, etc., and became immediately enamored with it and with Ronit Elkabetz (the actress who played Dina). I only watched it one other time (maybe during callbacks); otherwise, there’d be the great temptation of just duplicating what I loved so much. There are several points in our show where we pay homage to the film, which makes me very happy.

What other forms of Israeli and/or Egyptian pop culture did you study in preparation for taking on this role?

This is still an ongoing process, which is marvelously delightful to my nerdy self. I’ve been watching Israeli films (there are so many available on Amazon!), obsessing over Israeli TV shows like Foudaand Srugim, reading Israeli fiction (particularly Etgar Keret), listening to Israeli talk radio, Israeli singers (like Yael Naim and Idan Raichel) and learning what Hebrew I can. I also watched the Egyptian movie, River of Love, other Omar Sharif films, (again, thank you internet!), and have been learning about Oum Khulthoum and Arabic music. My brilliant castmate, George Abud, has been teaching me some Oum Khulthoum and Farid songs, and about the form and traditions of classical Arabic music. It just keeps going and going – what a pleasure!

Have you ever personally been to Israel? If so, how did this trip influence your approach to the show?

American Airlines sponsored a trip to Israel with some of the cast and creative team just before we started rehearsals, which was an incredible privilege. I was already geeking out about the place, so to get to go there, stand on the sand in the Negev desert, feel the sun, the heat, the wind, eat that food, and be among the people, hanging out, sharing music and stories with them – what a gift!  It was an experience, and from experience comes deeper understanding, deeper empathy, and deeper respect. It made me fall even more in love. I hope that I have a deeper and richer well to pull from and to create from because of this trip – even though saying that makes me acutely aware that I don’t really know anything, truly. But I hope every little bit of information I gather adds to the well, somehow.

One of your solos, “Omar Sharif,” has been widely heralded as the musical’s biggest showstopper. The New York Daily Newseven recently wrote,“The greatest singer on Broadway today is Katrina Lenk, and the greatest song written for the stage in decades is ‘Omar Sharif’”. What do you think it is about this song that has made it resonate with critics and audiences at such a grand scale? 

Oh man! I don’t know that I agree with one half of that statement, but the other half—yes, indeed, I think “Omar Sharif” is an exquisite song. Yazbek. Yazbek. Yazbek. Yazbek. The song has a deceptive simplicity and such a pleasing, swirling melody. It sounds familiar somehow, but then goes some place unexpected. Even now after singing it many times, I’m still delighted and surprised by the little shifts happening in it. I’m thrilled people are responding to it. I’m thrilled I get to sing it. “Thrilled” isn’t a good enough word. I also salute our brilliant orchestrator, Jamshied Sharifi, who made these songs come alive so beautifully, using Arabic instruments like the oud and darbuka, and our soulful and ridiculously talented musicians. And Andrea Grody, our musical director, whose sensitivity and keen ear make all of this come together.

The cast recording recently became available via Ghostlight Records. What was it like translating Yazbek’s music and lyrics from the stage to the studio? And did these recording sessions impact how you perform on stage?

We are all so happy to get to share this beautiful music with people! It was quite exciting to get to record these songs, to get to hear all the music, all the parts and all the voices up close and in my ears. Witnessing everyone working together in the studio on something they all love is … well, it got me in the ol’ cockles. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of. It all happened very quickly right after we opened, and now seems so long ago. I’d say they don’t necessarily impact how I perform on stage. But every once in a while, a tiny thought will pop in my head that says, “There are people in the audience who might know this song!” And how amazing is THAT?

How have both the show and your character evolved from the Off-Broadway production to the version now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre?

Well, it’s a bit difficult to talk about a show while you’re inside of it, but people who saw both productions have said it’s like a fully bloomed version of the small blossom that was Off-Broadway. The set has expanded and the band has expanded. We’ve tightened up and clarified things. The story and the world is both bigger and more specific.

The Band's Visit

You were also part of the original Off-Broadway and Broadway casts of the play, Indecent, which closed just three months before The Band’s Visit opened. What was it like working on these two vastly different productions back-to-back?

Getting to work was AMAZING. Getting to work again was INCREDIBLE. Getting to work on two shows in a row that you love was HEAD EXPLODING, WHAT THE HELL AM I DREAMING?!

What has been the highlight of your experience acting opposite Tony Shalhoub (who plays your love interest) in the show?

I can safely say that every moment acting opposite Tony Shalhoub is a highlight. He is generous and funny and disciplined and truthful and present and vulnerable and still is searching and wondering and playing. Plus, he drinks my whiskey. We’re friends for life.

Recently, Hillary, Bill and Chelsea Clinton came to see the show. Did you know that they would be in the audience that night? What words did you exchange to one another backstage afterwards?

I think I blacked out! Words came out of my mouth but I don’t what they were. Hillary was saying something warm and funny and then Bill was making a joke about Chet Baker, and I was smiling so hard that I couldn’t see. Thank god there are photos – otherwise, did it even happen? I don’t know.

As an independent musician, you tackle all sorts of genres as a violist, vocalist, songwriter,arranger, and producer. How would you define yourself as a solo artist?

Crazy!

You’ve guest-starred on numerous television shows, including Will & GraceElementaryThe Good Fight, and recent Golden Globe-winner, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. As an actor, is the stage or the screen your preferred medium and why?  

I like them each for their own qualities. Both mediums scare and challenge me. I like the process of theater, the group discovery effort of rehearsal, and the parameters and immediacy of a live performance. On screen, I relish the careful attention to detail, subtlety, reality and the kind of expansiveness that can happen. And I realize as I’m saying this that all of those qualities are also what I like about doing The Band’s Visit. It feels a lot like acting for the camera while also on stage.

On your days off, what’s something you love to do to recharge before another 8-show week?

Usually, I spend the day catching up on all the chores I haven’t done. You know – romance and glamour. I also do love going see friend’s shows when I can. It’s a great pleasure watching people I love do what they love.

Having already originated two Broadway roles in the span of just two years, what are some other items on your theatrical bucket list that you hope to check off?

Bucket list?! Oh dear. I don’t have a list. I love creating things and telling stories so I just want to create more things and tell more stories … and I guess I need a bucket!


CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to see The Band’s Visit, now playing on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City. And CLICK HERE to purchase the cast recording, now available via Ghostlight Records.

The Band's Visit

Originally published on PopBytes

GETTING “OBSESSED” WITH LENA HALL

IF YOU’RE NOT OBSESSED WITH LENA HALL YET, 2018 IS GOING TO CHANGE THAT.

Lena Hall Obsessed: HedwigKnown for effortlessly blending the worlds of Broadway and rock-and-roll, Hall is kicking off this year with a groundbreaking and hugely ambitious creative endeavor. The first Friday of each month in 2018 will mark the release of a new EP in her Obsessed series on all digital and streaming platforms. Each of these EPs will pay homage to a different musical act/artist that has shaped Hall into the extraordinary performer that she is today. And what’s more, the 37-year-old will release a music video every single week of the year to accompany all 54 songs that will appear across the span of the 12 Obsessed EPs.

This month, Hall launched Obsessed with a tribute to Hedwig And The Angry Inch, the landmark rock musical for which she won a Tony Award and received a Grammy Award nomination. I spoke with the theater icon about her creative process, the various musicians she’s covering, her upcoming tour, her new film and television roles, returning to Broadway, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: How did you come up with the Obsessed series and what made you decide to release these EPs on an unprecedented, monthly basis? 

LENA HALL: I did a show at the Café Carlyle (in NYC) with Michael C. Hall called “Obsessed – Radiohead.” It was such a hit that I wanted to make it a series of concerts that highlighted one artist per concert. I decided that an album series was a good way to tie in the “Obsessed” concert idea and give fans around the world access to the shows in some way.

Around the same time, I did a series of videos for Complex.com called “Stripped,” where I released one video per week for 20 weeks. This was a way to give fans content and the feeling that I was singing live for them in their living room. Kurt Deutsch of Ghostlight/SKB Records came to me and offered to do a formal release for my next Obsessed album, which was announced as Hedwig.

After a meeting with Kurt and Kevin Gore, we all decided to combine the ideas of the Obsessed albums and concerts and the “Stripped” videos to make it a yearlong series. We concluded that a good way to keep people interested in the series was to do one artist per month, with the EP coming out at the beginning of the month and the sister videos coming out every week that month in support of it. Each EP (except for Hedwig) matched the month it’s released. Some EPs have four songs and some have five depending on how many Fridays are in each month.

Are all of these EPs meant to be standalone pieces or is there a larger narrative linking them to one another?

There is no larger narrative other than these are all artists I love and want to introduce to a brand new fanbase. These albums and videos are a love letter to each of these artists and bands. My personal favorites! This is just the first 12. I hope to do multiple seasons of this series!

Are you recording straight covers of the songs you’re featuring or are you reinterpreting them somehow? What does that creative process consist of?

It depends on the song. Some songs are very close, where the only difference is my own vocal interpretation. Others have been reimagined. I wanted to focus on what made the song stick out to me. The lyrics, or the chord progressions or simply the way it was sung. Sometimes I cover a song the artist covered. A cover of a cover. In this case, I did that to illustrate how someone else’s genius interpretation of a song made it iconic.

Why was Hedwig the natural choice to launch this series with? How did your experience playing the show’s titular character on its national tour (in addition to reprising your Tony-winning performance as Yitzhak) impact your approach to these beloved songs?   

We started with Hedwig because it has had the biggest impact on my life. From the first time that I saw the show and heard the album to playing Yitzhak and winning a Tony Award to finally playing Hedwig! There is no show on Earth that has had such an impact on my life. The original Off-Broadway cast recording was something I listened to, on repeat, trying to sing along wishing the songs were in my key!

The artists you’re covering include such varying acts as Elton John, Nirvana, Pink, David Bowie, and Radiohead (to name just a few). How did you go about selecting the musicians you’ll be paying homage to?

These are all artists that are markers of different stages in my life. They bring up strong memories of experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today.

Once you’ve selected the artist(s) you’ll be focusing on for each EP, how do you go about narrowing down the songs in their respective discographies to decide which ones you’ll be recording? 

I selected a few hits but also wanted to cover some of the songs that spoke to me that were more B-sides, the songs I listened to on repeat that rarely got airplay. It will hopefully inspire the listener to dig deeper into each artist’s catalogue.

Which of the series’ upcoming EPs do you think your fans will be most surprised to hear? 

I’m not sure. I think the artists themselves are a very eclectic bunch. Each one will be a surprise to someone, except for maybe Hedwig. I don’t think anyone is surprised by that choice!

You’ve also created performance music videos for all 54 songs in this series. As a performer, what role do these videos play in your Obsessed journey?

I wanted a way for fans who can’t get to my live shows to have some kind of connection to me.

Vocally and creatively, what have been the biggest challenges in the recording of this series? 

Recording the entire series in 8 days! That was the biggest challenge. To give you an idea of what that meant, we recorded from 11 A.M. – 7 P.M. for 8 consecutive days and we did about 3 takes per song, give or take. That means I sang a total of about 162 songs in 8 days. At the same time, we filmed the entire recording session for the YouTube videos.

When do you plan to release full details about your upcoming tour in support of Obsessed? And what can your fans expect from these live shows, beginning with your Rockwood Music Hall Stage show in New York at the end of January? 

We should have a full concert schedule out soon! For now, I am planning to do one show at the end of every month to celebrate that month’s artist and tease the next artist. I will also take fan requests to play some favorites from the past Obsessed albums. Hopefully, I will be able to tour most of the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe (schedule permitting).

If another performer were to release an Obsessed: Lena Hall EP in the future, what would be on it? How do you think this musician could best capture your essence and artistry within a handful of covers? 

I’m hoping I will have some original solo material in the near future for them to cover! I would be interested to see how someone like me would influence a new artist.

Do you have any plans to return to the Broadway stage anytime soon? If not, what type of production/role would entice you to come back? 

I hope to return to Broadway very soon! Whatever it is, I will be 100% passionate about the project and I will put my heart and soul into it every single night!

Becks (which hits theaters and VOD February 9) marks the first movie in which you’re playing a leading role. What are you most excited about for when your fans see this film? 

I am excited for fans to see me in a much more intimate setting. The film is more up close and personal. I love this movie and all it stands for as well as the soundtrack. Hopefully people will relate deeply with the character I play and with the themes. We are very proud of it already winning at the L.A. Film Festival and getting such critical praise prior to the release!

Later this year, you’ll also be making your debut as a television series regular on the new TNT dystopian thriller Snowpiercer, alongside Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs. What can you tease about your character, Sayori? And how will the series differ from/build upon the world introduced in the acclaimed 2013 film of the same name that it’s based on?

I can’t say much about the project because I want something to be a surprise. But I will say that, to me, Sayori is the most interesting character on the show and is the type of role I have been dying to play. The TV show will focus more on the class wars that occur within the train.

Thank you so much, Lena! I can’t wait for the remainder of the Obsessed EPs and to see you on both the big and small screens this year. Is there anything else that you’d like to add that we didn’t talk about? 

Nothing to add other than I am looking forward to getting everyone’s feedback on all my projects in 2018! Thank you!

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW WITH “MISS SAIGON” STAR EVA NOBLEZADA

EVA NOBLEZADA IS A GIRL NO MORE.

When she was just 17, Noblezada landed the coveted role of Kim in Miss Saigon after a casting director heard her sing at the 2013 National High School Musical Theatre Awards (a.k.a the Jimmy Awards). Less than five years later, the now 21-year-old star is in the midst of wrapping up her truly sensational and Tony-nominated run in the Broadway revival of the musical (which closes January 14).

As if that’s not enough, Noblezada is also kicking off her 2018 with the final performances of her acclaimed solo concert, “Girl No More.” For the Filipino/Mexican-American singer, alternating between a Broadway stage and an intimate concert venue (NYC’s Green Room 42) have culminated in her dreams of becoming both a musical theater actor and a solo musician coming true.

I chatted with Noblezada as she reflected on her time in Saigon, what to expect from her solo concerts, her recent marriage, what she plans to do next, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: Miss Saigon closes this month. Looking back at the show’s Broadway run, was there a specific performance that was your favorite?

EVA NOBLEZADA: No favorites. Just a lot of happy memories on and offstage. Opening night was special. Having my family and fiancé (at the time) in the audience and seeing their faces during bows was a heartfelt and incredible moment. I’ll never forget it! But doing the show day to day – even when it did seem like a grind – is just special in general. We have so many laughs!

What are your plans after the show closes? Where and when can your fans come to see you next?

I can’t say, as I’m not too sure. All I know is I’m excited about the little break I get. I’m excited to get away and revitalize myself!

Before the revival came to Broadway, you starred in the West End production of Saigon. What did you find to be the biggest differences between your experiences with this show in London and in New York?

I find the audiences different. Good different! In England, stage door sometimes isn’t a thing! So that was a change here, having gates and large crowds! Other than that, I find it’s really similar.

Since its 1989 debut, Miss Saigon has been revered as a contemporary musical theater classic. What do you think it is about this show that has captivated so many millions of people worldwide for the past nearly three decades?

Miss Saigon is a timeless story. It can be put in any backdrop of culture or setting and it’d still be beautiful. Also, you listen to the incredible music and that alone is a show! It breaks people’s hearts and transforms the environment with romance and passion … and lots of belting.

You also played a short run as Éponine in the West End production of Les Misérables. What is it about the music of Claude-Michel Schönberg that continues to draw you to his musicals?

Eight months isn’t too short! Well what’s not to love? His music in inspiring. Not to mention, I’ve wanted to play Eponine since I was a little girl.

In May 2016, you made your Carnegie Hall debut by performing “The Movie In My Mind” alongside Lea Salonga, who originated the role of Kim. How influential was Salonga when you were discovering your own interpretation of this iconic and complex character? And what’s the best advice that she ever gave you?

What a day to remember! I never saw Lea. I wasn’t even born! And I didn’t want to watch her Kim in fear that I would unconsciously take things from her brilliant performance. I started with a fresh page. No pre-conceptions. Nothing. Just the music, script and incredible cast next to me to help guide my young Kim through the ropes. Lea is legendary. Not only her voice but in character. What’s amazing about Lea is that she knows exactly how it is to be thrust into this role. Sometimes I have questions and just text her and she’s so honest. She really is an inspiration and idol.

You got married this past November. Congratulations! What has been the biggest highlight of newlywed life so far?

Thank you! I’m the luckiest woman alive! Just having him in my life. Even though a lot of the relationship is long distance. Our time together, even if not physically, is special and gets better every day. He’s an incredible, incredible person.

What was the defining moment in your life when you realized you wanted to pursue being a stage actor as a career?

I can’t say defining, but as a young girl I never shut up. I was always singing and wanting to perform for people!

Miss Saigon marked your Broadway debut, for which you received a Tony Award nomination. What did this type of industry recognition mean to you?

The Tonys was a crazy time. I learned so much more than I thought possible. The recognition for the show was more important for me. The day of course was special. Honestly, I wasn’t harnessing energy in winning. I was there to enjoy a day that I never thought possible in celebration of an amazing cast and the mini career I had made for myself.

On your nights off from Miss Saigon, you’ve been performing your solo concert, “Girl No More,” at The Green Room 42. Where does this concert’s name come from?

It is cheesy! But I just thought, “Hey, there are a lot that people don’t know about me.” It kind of stuck out.

What aspects of yourself as a performer are you able to display in this concert format that fans of yours might not have seen in Saigon?

Everything! I’m a character in Saigon. I’m playing a role that isn’t Eva. At my concert, I’m Eva. I’m myself. I sing whatever I want to sing and say whatever I want to say. They’re two different freedoms I can express on the Broadway stage and on a small stage. Both are important and both I’m in love with.

In “Girl No More” (which has been extended regularly since its fall 2017 debut), you sing quite a wide range of music. You cover artists like Frank Sinatra and Amy Winehouse and sing the signature songs of musical theater characters such as Elphaba, Sally Bowles, and Yentl, to name a few. How did you go about curating the set list for this show?

I had SO much fun putting together this set list. It was so easy too! I sat down with my brilliant Musical Director, Rodney, and continued to add song after song that I remember singing in my closet as a teenager. And every time I get to sing it, it fills me with so much joy!

Has “Girl No More” inspired you to want to release your own solo music? If so, what would that sound like and when can your fans expect to be able to hear/purchase it?

Yes and no. When I do release my own music, it’ll be when I have the time to. I am desperate to start a new chapter in my life.

Who are some of your biggest influences as both a solo vocalist and a musical theater performer?

Sutton Foster. My family. Amy Winehouse. And whoever I work with!

There have been long-gestating rumors that a film adaptation of Miss Saigon is in the works. Aside from yourself, who are some actors that you would like to see play Kim on screen?

I don’t care who it is. I will say this – there are too many beautiful Asian actors that don’t need a “name” to be in it. It needs to be someone who can tell the story honestly, as her own, and sing the shit out of it.

What are your musical theater dream roles?

Off the top of my head? Jeez. I would love to do something like Chicago – or play a man or something.

Thank you so much, Eva! I was so blown away by your performance in Saigon and I truly can’t wait to see what you do next. Is there anything that you’d like to add that we didn’t discuss?

Thanks so much for taking the time! I would like to add, for anyone out there who is aspiring to be an actor/performer, being on Broadway will not define you. Know exactly who the hell you are. Your biggest strength will be filtering the bullshit (this includes people) who will want to shape you and change you into someone you’re not. Know who you are. Don’t be afraid to say no. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Take care of your body. Put people in your life who really love/tough love you. And come see Saigon!


Miss SaigonCLICK HERE to purchase tickets to see Eva Noblezada in Miss Saigon, now through January 14 only!

And CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to Eva’s solo concert, “Girl No More.”

Originally published on PopBytes

TALKING “CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE MUSICAL” WITH STAR LAUREN ZAKRIN

Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical Experience

Lauren ZakrinLAUREN ZAKRIN IS READY TO SHOW YOU HER DARK SIDE.

Fresh off playing the titular character’s understudy in Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, the Michigan-raised actress’ newest project is taking her deep into a corrupt world of secrets, seduction, and deception. As the dangerous and manipulative Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions: The Musical, Zakrin is transforming from an ingénue to a villain.

After two sold out runs in Los Angeles, Cruel Intentions: The Musical has arrived in New York City for a limited engagement (through February 19, 2018). Opening December 11th, the show is based on the 1999 cult-classic motion picture of the same name. Created by Jordan RossLindsey Rosin and the film’s director, Roger Kumble, this stage adaptation features a compilation of throwback hits, including some of the best-known tracks from the movie’s legendary soundtrack – including Counting Crows’ “Colorblind” and The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”

I spoke with Zakrin about getting to be a “bad guy” for the first time, her connection to the show’s source material, performing some of the biggest songs of the ‘90s, her musical theater dream roles, and more.

Cruel Intentions: The Musical

ALEX NAGORSKI: Growing up, were you a fan of the movie? What’s your first or favorite memory about the effect it had on you?

LAUREN ZAKRIN: I was absolutely a fan! And I hate to admit it, but I was on Team Kathryn. I don’t know what it says about me as a person, but the darkness and the power of her character fascinated me. I think I might have been a little young for it, so the movie felt like this dirty little secret that I hadn’t quite figured out yet.

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalAside from the movie itself, where/who else are you drawing inspiration from to shape your interpretation of Kathryn?

I think it would be easy to point the finger and say that I am drawing inspiration from girls who were unkind to me in high school, and of course I do. But it’s much more juicy to find the Kathryn that already lives within me. Even if she has never come out before, I think we all have a little Kathryn Merteuil inside, whether or not we would like to admit it.

Have you had an opportunity to meet and/or speak with Sarah Michelle Gellar (who played Kathryn in the film) about this role?

Unfortunately, I have not met Queen SMG. However, I have heard that she attended the show while it was running in LA! Everyone says she was lovely, and very supportive. If I do get to meet her, my inner Buffy-obsessed pre-teen self will probably freak out.

Kathryn and her stepbrother Sebastian have – to put it mildly – quite an unconventional relationship. How have you and your co-star Constantine Rousouli found the balance between passion and revenge that these two characters force one another to endure?

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalConstantine and I were fortunate enough to walk into the process already knowing each other. Nine years ago, we toured together in Legally Blonde, my very first job! It has been helpful to have a bit of history and trust in the bag when diving into a relationship as complicated as Kathryn and Sebastian’s. Everything else between our characters just seems to be falling into place. There is a natural flirtation and playfulness between us. We know how to poke fun at each other. And we also know when the other one needs support. Constantine has also already been on the Cruel Intentions ride for a couple of years now, and it’s been wonderful to have him holding my hand and guiding me through the world! It doesn’t hurt that he is devilishly handsome, either.

As an actor, how does getting to play a villain differ from some of your previous characters in musicals such as Wicked and Grease?

Kathryn is my very first villain, my first “mean girl.”  In the beginning, I was intimidated by her darkness, but now … I LOVE IT. I find it very therapeutic to expose all of the facets of her to an audience.

The film was based on the novel Dangerous Liaisons (which was also turned into a movie). What do you think it is about this story that has allowed it to live on in so many incarnations and mediums?

Everyone is capable of darkness. I think telling a story that exposes the ugliness of human nature, the selfishness, the jealously, the desire and the cruelty not only forces us to address the unkindnesses in the world around us and why they are happening, but to also acknowledge our own thoughts and actions. It forces us to address our own capabilities towards good and evil. Everyone has dirty little secrets and fantasies, and perhaps everyone has done a thing or two that they aren’t proud of … but pretending otherwise isn’t helpful, nor is slapping a quick label on it. We must address it and examine it, and find the why. I think these stories allow us to take the look that we might be too afraid to do on our own.

The musical is filled with some of the biggest hits of the 90’s – including songs by artists like Britney Spears, No Doubt, R.E.M., Christina Aguilera and Jewel. As a performer, how do you go about re-contextualizing these iconic songs within a musical theater narrative?

As a performer, you must strive to make each song as story driven as possible. Of course, when these songs drop in the show, the audience loves it. There is a lot of laughter and hooting and singing along, which is exactly how it should be. But as the storytellers, we have to try to resist falling into the trap of the joke. The song’s nostalgia is the joke, but the performance of it is not. That’s the only way to maintain the integrity of the story itself, while weaving in these fun 90’s hits.

The show takes place at renowned downtown Manhattan venue (le) Poisson Rouge, complete with bar and table service. How does performing in this type of nightlife environment contrast from being on stage in a more traditional theater?

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalAfter doing The Great Comet of 1812 in a tent in the Meatpacking District, I have found that I really thrive in a more interactive environment. I think we have this wonderful opportunity to push the boundaries and change the shape of how theater can be done or seen. Cruel Intentions is meant to be a dirty, wicked little party, so it fits perfectly into Le Poisson Rouge’s rock-and-roll world. It’s the perfect place to have a drink in your hand and be singing along to Ace of Base.

You made your Broadway debut in 2014 as Sherrie in Rock of Ages, a musical about the 1980s. Now that Cruel Intentions has taken you to the following decade, do you have more fun reliving and exploring the ‘80s or ‘90s through your work? 

was a child of the 90s, so revisiting them still brings me a little bit of shame when I have to look at some of my fashion and music choices. Doing something like Rock of Ages really let me feel like I was diving into another world that I got to learn about and explore.

You’ve been very vocal on social media about the absurdity, cruelty and chaos that defines our current presidential administration. Is it your hope that stepping into the nostalgia-tinged 90’s world of this immersive musical experience will provide audience members with a temporary pass for true escapism? Or are there larger lessons/takeaways that you’re hoping the audience leaves with?

I think we absolutely have an opportunity to comment on the current climate, and to point at things that may or may not have changed socially and politically. There are moments for escapism, but it is always a shame when the opportunity is missed to create change.  As I mentioned, I hope this story, at the very least, allows people to honestly observe, address, and examine the unkindnesses and cruelties within them and in the world around them.

I was fortunate enough to catch your phenomenal turn as Natasha in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 this past summer opposite Oak Onaodowan and Ingrid Michaelson. What were your thoughts/feelings on the show’s abrupt and controversial closing?

Thank you for your kind words! All I can say is that Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has been the most rewarding and beautiful experience of my professional life, and I miss it every day!

In addition to Cruel Intentions, you’ve been a part of several other movie-to-musical adaptations – including Legally BlondeCatch Me If You Can, and Flashdance. In your experience, what are both the most rewarding and challenging aspects of bringing such beloved films to life on stage?

It is always helpful to begin a project that already has a built-in fan base. However, there can be some challenges in navigating how to maintain the things that people love about the movie while keeping the stage adaptation fresh and relevant. While we want to stay true to all of the iconic moments people are dying to see, it is important to know when change is necessary to best tell the story today. It is also important to avoid the trap of replicating or imitating a performance. The characters need to remain truthful in our bodies, and our interpretations of them grounded in honesty.

What is your musical theater dream role?

Natasha in The Great Comet of 1812. Christine in Phantom of the Opera. Clara in The Light in the Piazza. Marilyn Monroe. Or better yet, something new and all my own!

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets for Cruel Intentions: The Musical, playing now through February 19, 2018 at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York City.

Originally published on PopBytes