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

INTERVIEW WITH FEARLESS “HAMILTON” STAR MANDY GONZALEZ

MANDY GONZALEZ IS FEARLESSLY MAKING HER DREAMS COME TRUE. 

16 years after her Broadway debut as Idina Menzel’s standby in Aida, the renowned stage actress has just released her first solo recording, Fearless. Best known for originating the role of Nina in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning smash In The Heights, Gonzalez’ illustrious Broadway highlights also include WickedLennon, and Dance of the Vampires. Today, she’s starring in a little show you may have heard of called Hamilton, where she’s once more tackling Miranda’s prolific work.

While Gonzalez’ stage credits could already act as a list of lifetime achievements, the 39-year-old performer has always had a goal of putting together an album of original music. Released on October 20 via Arts Music, Fearless is that record. The collection of songs on the album combine Gonzalez’ signature musical theater sound with pop and R&B to form a genre defying, highly personal, daring, and brilliant debut.

I spoke with Gonzalez about the release of Fearless, collaborating with Lin-Manuel again (both on stage and on her album), her journey as a performer, her new concert residency at NYC’s Café Carlyle, the debate about diversity on Broadway, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: What does being fearless mean to you?

MANDY GONAZALEZ: It means a lot of things. Lin-Manuel Miranda asked me that same question when I told him about my album and how I wanted to call it Fearless. I started this thing called the #FearlessSquad earlier in the year. It’s a hashtag that started because I felt very overwhelmed looking at social media every day. I wanted to create something that was a place of belonging. I wanted it to be something people could rely on to have a squad that would stand behind them if they were going through anything in their lives.

I posted #FearlessSquad with a picture of some people from my fearless squad in it. Within hours, thousands of people were asking me how they could be part of the squad. That day, they also named me the “#FearlessSquad mother.” It’s like I have a new child of my own because I felt like I could take that on!

We’re there to support each other’s dreams. We talk about everything – good and bad times. But I know that I wouldn’t be anywhere without my squad behind me. I wanted the people that didn’t have a squad to be part of mine. That’s really how Fearless started.

I’ve been doing a lot of concerts in New York City, and when I was approached by [executive producers] Sandy Jacobs and Lou D’Ambrosio to make an album, I felt ready to do it. I got in touch with [producer] Bill Sherman and I said, “This is what I want to do. I started this #FearlessSquad and I want to make an album that provides inspiration for them to feel like they can do anything.” He said “that’s amazing” and “let’s call Lin to create the title track.” So I said, “Okay!”

I was also thinking about how my parents met as pen pals. My father was drafted for the Vietnam War when he was 18. My father is Mexican-American and grew up as a migrant worker following the crop all through the United States. My mother grew up as a Jewish girl in the Valley. She wanted to join the Peace Corps, but her parents said “no,” and so she decided that she was going to write to soldiers that didn’t have anybody to write to. And my dad was one of them.

Oh, wow!

Yeah, they met and they fell in love through letters! When my father came home, he wasn’t really welcomed in a lot of places. That happens a lot during war or hard times. He was welcomed home but he felt like he had changed. He destroyed everything after the war except for my mother’s address. So he got in a car and he showed up on her doorstep. My mom kept every single letter that my father sent her. I didn’t learn about this story until I was about eight-years-old. She told me that the letters were at the very top of her closet in boxes. There were about three big boxes in her closet, but she warned me that I should never read or look at them because they were private. But of course because I’m super nosy and I’m the youngest child, I read every single letter. I got to learn about their love, their differences, and how they came together fearlessly. I told Lin that story and within two weeks, he wrote this incredible song, “Fearless.”

That’s an amazing story.

Thank you! I think so.

You made your Broadway debut in 2001. Why is now the perfect time to release your first solo recording?

Well, you have a lot of goals when you start in this business. One of my goals was always to make an album and to make something for people to listen to. I’ve always wanted to provide a voice for those that needed one at certain times. But I think that I got busy, you know? I was doing a lot of Broadway shows. I kind of went from Broadway show to Broadway show, and when you’re in that kind of world, you’re playing so many different characters and you don’t really think about having your own voice. At least, I didn’t at that time.

I’ve always wanted to have an album so I could do concerts outside of shows. And I love concerts! I love putting them together. I love the intimacy of the audience and just being able to be myself. Through the years, I’ve been doing that in New York City. I did In The Heights, then I did Wicked, and then I took a step away to have a child. I decided that’s what I wanted to do for a good amount of time and I didn’t know what would happen when I left.

I had to step away and really have my dedication be to my family because that’s what I wanted and that’s what worked for me. It was interesting because when I was in Wicked, I felt like I was at the top of my game. But for some reason, it wasn’t enough because I wanted something else. I wanted to have a family and a personal life. I wasn’t ready to go back to work for a while. I didn’t want to leave my kid. I was so happy to have a child and I was so lucky that it happened for my husband and me. But there was something missing. I didn’t know what that was. I talked to my mom about it, and she was like, “Well, you have to sing! You have to go and perform.”

So I got a job doing concerts, singing with symphonies and things like that. When I left my kid for the first time, I cried on the plane. I was really sad. Then I got on stage and started to sing and I felt like I was home. So I think my journey has provided me with a very strong voice to know who I am and to be ready to make an album for people to hear who I am. I had to find myself before that happened.

As I was doing concerts and life was happening (my daughter is now five and we’re busy!), I got a call from [director] Thomas Kail, who asked “Hey, do you want to come and do Hamilton?” And I immediately was like, “Yes!” So I came here and I’m in the same place where I was a decade ago – in the same theater where I performed In The Heights, with people that became my family, and in the same dressing room. But I’m a different person. I’ve had all these different experiences. So while I’m in Hamilton, on Monday nights I’m doing concerts because that’s what I love to do as well. And as all that was happening, I had somebody say, “Do you want to make an album?” I finally felt ready to say yes and this is what I want to do, this is who I want to work with, and these are the songs. But it took me all that time to really be ready for that. Long story short!

Why do you think that you and Lin have collaborated so frequently over the years? What is it about his songwriting that draws you to his music so often?

I think Lin writes from the heart and I sing from the heart. I remember hearing the songs he wrote for Nina in In The Heights for the first time and I cried because they were so, so beautiful. I felt like he was speaking only to me. Sometimes when you listen to Lin’s music, you feel like he’s just talking to you. That’s part of his magic.

I also think that he knows me as both a singer and a person. He’s chosen me to be this vessel for his writing, which is a beautiful thing. It’s hard for me to give myself props but I think that I can translate it like nobody else. I don’t think about the notes. I think about the story and I think about the emotion. And I think that’s how he writes. When he writes, he’s not thinking, “Oh, now she’s gonna hit this note.” No. It’s about what this person is going through and what they want to say. When he wrote the song “Fearless,” I was like, “Wow! He did it again!”

Speaking of Lin, one of the songs on the album is a new version of your signature In The Heights song, “Breathe.” How is this version of the song different from the one that your fans already know? And what inspired you to reinterpret it?

When I sat down with Bill, I said that I wanted to do an interpretation of this song as I am now. I did In The Heights 10 years ago and I’ve grown up since. I wanted to lower the key. I wanted it to come from my perspective. In a little bit of ways, it’s now as if I’m singing it to my own daughter.

That’s the great thing about beautiful songs. They stay with you. The beautiful thing about concerts and making music is that they grow with you. A beautiful song is a beautiful song. But you change. I’m not the young girl coming home from college anymore. I have those same wants and those same desires, but it comes from a different and wiser perspective.

In addition to Lin, the record features original songs from some of the most recognizable names in the industry, such as Jennifer Nettles and Tom Kitt. How did it feel to have such A-list talent write music for your first album? What was the creative process like working with them on constructing these songs?

It felt great! When you’re making an album, you have to be fearless and you have to just go for it. My way of doing that was collaborating with people that I admire. I would write to them and say, “I’m doing this album, will you write a song? And this is what I’m thinking.” Sometimes you worry about just asking that question. Sometimes when you do, you don’t even know what the possibilities could be. So I took a chance and I was fearless. And they all said yes! That was an incredible thing.

I chose all of these writers because they all write right from the heart. They write about the human condition so beautifully and they don’t sugarcoat things. For instance, I’m such a huge fan of Jennifer Nettles’ work. Her songs make you feel like she’s singing just to you or like her songs are just for you. That’s why I knew I had to sing the song she wrote, “Life Is Sweet,” with Christopher Jackson. I knew that he knew what it’s like to lose something and have to go on. It was incredible.

In The Heights is set to be adapted into a film soon. Aside from yourself, are there any actors that you would like to see play the role of Nina on screen?

Oh, well, I don’t think myself. I don’t look like I’m in college anymore! I really like Auli’i Cravalho from Moana. She’s really beautiful and so talented. I think she would be good.

I just love In The Heights because I think that it will bring work to so many Latinos in the industry, as it did for Broadway. It employs a lot of Latinos and it allows people to see us in the light that we should be seen in: as just people. So I would like to see somebody like that – someone who is good in their heart – to play Nina.

What can fans expect from your residency at NYC’s Café Carlyle (now through November 4)?

Oh, I’m so excited! They can just expect a good time and lots of incredible dresses. They can expect songs from the album and an incredible band. They can expect to get dressed up and if they can’t get to the Café Carlyle, we will be posting what it’s like at the shows on social media so they can feel like they’re there with me!

You also recently worked with Postmodern Jukebox and Tony DeSare on a cover of “Despacito.”How did this collaboration come about and do you plan to continue recording with them?

I do! I love Scott Bradlee. I’ve been a fan of Postmodern Jukebox for a long time. I worked with Tony DeSare this past July 4th when we did a concert with the Philadelphia Pops. It was amazing. Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige, and Paula Abdul were in the concert. It was like all of my childhood dreams coming true. It was the best concert ever!

When Tony DeSare and I met, I was like, “We should really do something together.” And he agreed. So I said, “I’d like to take a Spanish song and put a different twist on it – maybe with an old school vibe, kind of like Postmodern Jukebox?” And he was said, “Okay, well why don’t I just call Postmodern Jukebox?” And I said, “Oh! You know them?” It turns out that he and Scott Bradlee have been friends for a long time.

Then Tony had the great idea about doing “Despacito”. Plus, it was the number one hit of the summer, and it had Justin Bieber, Luis Fonsi, and Daddy Yankee. We wanted to pay tribute to that in our own way. So Tony and I put a little spin on it, which was awesome!

What’s the most rewarding part of being a part of the juggernaut that is Hamilton?

Being back with my family. I’m in a place where I feel welcomed. I also love doing a show that is so needed right now all over the country. It’s so important. One of my favorite things to do is #EduHam, where we bring in 11th graders from all over the New York City public school system. They pay $10 and they come to see a matinee performance. They all see it together. One of my favorite things is performing for them, but they also get to write their own pieces before they see the show. They come in at like 10:00 AM and they cheer on their fellow classmates. The stuff that these students do is just mind-blowing and is so inspiring for the next generation of writers.

Hamilton has done some incredible things and has set the bar to new levels all the way around. Not just artistically, but what it is doing socially too. It’s so important. I’m very proud to be a part of it.

The current administration is threatening some of the most basic and fundamental rights of American citizens, including (but not limited to) women’s rights, having a free press and the right to peacefully protest. What can audience members of Hamilton learn from the show that can be applied to the fight against tyranny in today’s White House?

For me, the show is an inspiring thing to be a part of every night and to watch. It shows how people from different places and with different views can come together to create an incredible nation. It also shows that there have always been times of turmoil in our country. It’s never been an even thing, but we get through it because we’re strong.

As an actress, how is the role of Angelica Schuyler different from some of the other characters you’ve played on stage?

I relate to Angelica so well now because of where I am in my own life. I’m a mother and I know what it takes to sacrifice. I don’t even have to think about that word. I know what it means. I didn’t know that until I became a mother.

When I came here, I knew that I would have an incredible relationship with the women that play my sisters. And we do! We have a lot of fun, Lexi [Lawson], Joanna [Jones] and I. I’m the youngest in my own family so it’s been fun to be like the big sister here, and hopefully be the one that people turn to for advice and different things like that. Through this show, I’ve learned that I’m a lot more of a leader than sometimes I used to think I was.

There has been a lot of discussion and debate about diversity in theater lately, including the casting controversies surrounding Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and North Shore Music Theatre’s Evita. As a member of the theater community, what are your thoughts on the conversations happening about diversity on stage? And as a Latina, what type of impact(s) has being an actor of color had on your career?

Being Latina is a part of everything that I am and every character that I play because it’s a part of me. I think that it’s important to start having these discussions. When the talking begins is when a little bit of the hate settles because that’s when change starts to happen. A show like Hamilton has opened up so many doors, but I have to pay tribute to the people that opened the doors first – like Priscilla Lopez, Chita Rivera, and all of the people before us. So I think that doors will continue to open. It’s very important for us to tell our stories. It’s important to have more writers, more people behind the scenes, and more directors that are also telling these stories.

I also think it’s very important to reach out to audiences – all different kinds of and diverse audiences. That’s something that Viva Broadway is doing with the Broadway League. It’s very important because they’re reaching out to all different kinds of communities to come to the theater. Having audiences come to see shows is how theater sustains and how it grows.

So I don’t think that you can ignore a whole demographic of people. I definitely know that the Broadway League recognizes that. Luis Miranda [Lin-Manuel’s father] is actually on the board of Viva Broadway. It’s important to be aware of that work that’s happening. It’s also very important to stand behind it and ask, “If I’m not happy with the way that things are, how can I help?”

What is your musical theater dream role?

I think I’m living it now! I think just to be me, singing and doing concerts.


CLICK HERE to purchase Mandy Gonzalez’ debut album, Fearless.

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to her residency at Café Carlyle,
now through November 4th in New York City.

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to catch her in Hamilton on Broadway—good luck!

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW: CHATTING WITH “FUNNY GIRL” SHOSHANA BEAN

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 3.08.35 PM

SHOSHANA BEAN IS READY TO TAKE CENTER STAGE AGAIN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, I’m so sorry.

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

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

Yeah, I bet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, so do you.

Oh, well, thank you.

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

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

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


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

Shoshana Bean

Originally published on PopBytes