Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Big Interview: Shoshana Bean

Shoshana Bean is returning to the UK next month for a limited run of solo concerts at the London Hippodrome between 3rd and 5th June. The Broadway diva and chart topping artist will also play the Church Hill Theatre in Edinburgh on 14th June. 

Shoshana made her Broadway debut in the original cast of Hairspray, understudying the roles of Tracy Turnblad and Velma Von Tussle. 

She was then cast as Idina Menzel's standby in Wicked before becoming the first actress to take over the role of Elphaba on Broadway. She later reprised her portrayal of Elphaba in Wicked's first U.S. Tour.

Shoshana sang back up for Michael Jackson at his 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden and arranged vocals for Jennifer Lopez’s American Idol performance of “I Luh Ya Papi.” Known for her powerhouse vocals, impressive range and energetic and emotional performances, Shoshana’s independent solo releases have topped the iTunes R&B and Blues charts in the US and UK in peak positions 5 and 3; her latest EP Shadows to Light reached #1.

Most recently Shoshana has become a YouTube sensation, collaborating with other artists and releasing covers, receiving millions of hits in just weeks.

I recently sat down for a chat with Shoshana (via the wonders of Skype) to discuss her return to the UK, her crazy schedule and why she’s learnt to embrace her association with Wicked…

How excited are you to be returning to London and playing Edinburgh for the first time?!
Beyond! Beyond excited! London’s my favourite and everyone keeps telling me how spectacular Edinburgh is so I can’t wait!

Audiences love you here – people went crazy when you announced these shows!
It’s crazy! I guess I tribute that to YouTube. I remember the first time I was in London I couldn’t believe people knew who I was – it’s the power of YouTube. Also you guys are just such music lovers, you appreciate live music and the live experience so much; not that people over here don’t. I think it’s because we aren’t as accessible because we live over here so when we go over there – I’m talking about people like Scott Alan and myself and Jason Robert Brown – we feel very appreciated. 

You have so much material from your albums, theatre background and Scott Alan work and so on, what can people expect from these concerts? 
Well that’s always the challenge, trying to design a show that’s going to be cohesive and seamless and an experience, but also making sure that whoever is there – whether they know me because of Scott Alan or Wicked or my records – they’re going to be happy and feel like they got what they came for. I feel like I’ve gotten really good at crafting a show that gives everybody what they want, even people who just get dragged by a friend and are like ‘I just came because they made me but I had a ball’. I’m trying to create an experience that will make everyone happy so you will definitely get pieces from all three albums, pieces of my theatrical career – such as it was [laughs] – and some of the favourites. There are a lot of surprises too, I’m trying to keep a little bit of what’s going to happen a secret! 

Shoshana playing the London Hippodrome in 2013 / Photo Credit: Darren Bell

And you’ve done a competition to find people to duet with…
I’m having the hardest time!

I was watching some of the entries earlier, how on earth do you decide who to pick?
I don’t know! I guess some of them I lean towards because of the song they sang so I’m like ‘Ooo that would be a great duet’ but then is that a fair reason to choose somebody?! Some I lean towards because they are clearly extraordinary singers… but it’s hard because some of them are really great pop singers and some of them are really great theatre singers. I guess it’s about who has the talent that excites me as well as the song we could do together to really showcase their voice and also fit in my set. It’s not easy but it’s fun to watch people, every time I do something like this I’m like ‘nobody’s going to participate’ and then I get excited that so many people do. Did you have any favourites?

Ah yes! Clare won one of my other competitions! I would kill to sing with Clare, I’ve known her I guess since my last trip because she took my masterclass and I was like ‘Wow… you’re great!’

Do you enjoy playing these intimate venues?
I’m not super used to playing huge places, except for when I was in theatre. For my own stuff I’m more used to intimate venues and I think I’ve just become accustomed to it. I prefer it because you can feel the vibe and feel more connected to your audience and communicate with them, even if it’s not verbally. You can assess where your audience are at, what they want, what they like and what they don’t, and make adjustments on the spot. These days, especially when I travel to do shows, it’s just me and a guitar. While I’m confident we could fill a bigger space, it’s nice to be able to keep it intimate and stripped down. It’s a much more personal experience; I can generally see people’s eyes and their faces and hear them call out – which British people don’t tend to do, they’re very respectful! In America people call out all the time and make requests or shout their opinions, and I like being able to have that interaction. I love an intimate venue!

"...the least I can do is show up and sing Defying Gravity"

Not only do you release your own music independently, but you also work behind the scenes creating arrangements and doing masterclasses and so on. How do you arrange a day in the life of Shoshana Bean? It must be bonkers!
Well I cry a lot [laughs]. This year has gotten even crazier… I have help, I have a great assistant! But a lot of things she can’t do for me because she can’t go to yoga for me and she can’t learn music for me or do the arrangement for me. She can do the little silly things which is still a lot of help. I get overwhelmed easily and I get a little anxious because I just want to get everything done when there’s a list of stuff to do. I guess staying organised, prioritising and staying focused is really important. I get distracted because of social networking, I get on and then all of a sudden I’m like ‘I just wasted forty-five minutes on Instagram!’ I have to put my phone down. Literally today I took my dog for a walk this morning and was like ‘Oh my god there is so much stuff going on in the next week’ but then I went ‘It’s all about today – today is all you can do and you have to get through today.’ Sometimes it’s just about taking one frickin step at a time and that’s the only way I keep from having a panic attack. But I’m glad things are busy because I don’t do well with idle hands. 

Talk to me about becoming a viral YouTube star – the 90s Disney video you did with Todrick Hall has had over two and a half million hits in two weeks!
I don’t know – I’ve been sort of dragged into this YouTube world. I haven’t really wanted to get onto this cover bandwagon, but my friend Todrick has been on my case to do it for a while. I was like “It’s not my thing, people don’t care” but when I was asked to be a guest for all these other people that are super popular on YouTube, like Postmodern Jukebox, Superfruit and Todrick, then it brings my viewership up. Before I felt like I didn’t have an audience for it and thought my fans didn’t care about covers because they hadn’t been asking for them and when I put a video up I didn’t have a lot of views so thought ‘why am I gonna bother?’ Well now there’s more numbers to deal with and a newer audience and different people who do get engaged. I was really lucky to be a guest on these other people’s videos to build momentum and now I feel like I’ve just got to ride the wave a little bit… so I’m doing it [laughs].

I have to mention Wicked. You left the show a very long time ago yet I’m sure people are always asking you to sing ‘Defying Gravity’ at every concert you do and asking you questions like how long it took to green up in every interview you do… 
You win the award for going eleven whole minutes without even mentioning Wicked! You win! You know I went through a period of time really resenting it. I was like ‘it’s over!’ It’s almost ten years ago! Then I thought about people I admire and what I know them for and the way you are introduced to someone and how you first saw them is how they will always be to you. Alice Ripley can go on and do a million amazing things and win Tonys for other shows, but she’s always going to be Side Show for me. Do you know what I mean? I’ve worked with people who have gone on to do amazing things and I’ve been like “You were my first Kim in Miss Saigon!” and they will always be that to me and I would die to hear them sing ‘Sun And Moon’ again. 

So you’ve come to accept it?
I think I just accepted it and instead of really resenting it I became really grateful that there’s even something people want to recognise or care about. I figured it’s kind of unheard of – and again, I give this to YouTube – that almost ten years after doing a show I am still able to sustain a career on my own as an artist. The majority of my audience who care about my music came from Wicked and I know that, I acknowledge that and don’t take it lightly. So I think if they’re going to be loyal and support all the other things I’m doing then the least I can do is show up and sing ‘Defying Gravity’ in their town or country if they didn’t get to see me do it in New York and they’ve just seen it on YouTube – I have no disillusions that it’s largely because of being in Wicked.

When you first auditioned did you have any idea that joining the show could possibly change the course of your life? When did you realise the show could change your career path?
Not until it was! I auditioned for Nessarose and for Elphaba standby, and when I got the standby at the time I was working on my own music so was like ‘great this will be a cool pay cheque’. As a standby you don’t always have to be in the building, but even if I was in the building I was in my own dressing room hanging with Megan (Hilty, who was standby Glinda at the time), writing music. So I was still getting to work on my music whilst still getting a pay cheque – I was like ‘this is fantastic’. I didn’t realise that I was going to fall in love with the role and when I would trail Idina (Menzel) I would be like ‘I want that life’… and then I got it. It’s not an easy life, and it’s not always a fun life. It’s very taxing and demanding and there are a lot of sacrifices so while it was happening it was all about the work. 

From the inside did you realise what a phenomenon the show was becoming? 
I don’t even know how long it took for me to realise what a huge deal it was. It was a big deal when Idina was in it and then it grew and grew and the tour went out so it was a big deal nationwide. I don’t think I realised until years later when they had an Australian company, a London company and two tours and frickin seven companies running at the same time around the world. I was like ‘This thing is crazy!’ and sitting here with you now I still recognise that the only reason I get to do what I do is because I was a part of that huge machine. I have amazingly talented friends who have lots of Broadway credits and try to do their own music but don’t have the exposure that those of us – I’m not the only one – from Wicked have. It’s just a phenomenon and I think realising that was when I got just very happy to sing ‘Defying Gravity’ if that’s what people want, because it has really been a gift. 

Finally, I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three are you going to take and why?
Just songs! Not even albums?! Oh s**t. Well probably the fight scene from Dreamgirls, right?! That goes without question. Ohhh… probably [laughs] give me a second. It’s got to be something from Les Mis, so I’m going to say ‘The Confrontation’ because that never gets old. Or maybe ‘Bring Him Home’? Oh wait no, that would be horrible on a desert island [laughs]! Everything I’m thinking are group numbers… I’m thinking about the mash-up from West Side Story where everyone’s singing ‘Tonight’. 

That might be good, you wouldn’t feel so lonely!
Yeah – cause you could play all the different parts! This is a really hard question, what do other people say?

Actually quite a few have chosen ‘The Confrontation’ from Les Mis recently, but the most popular one is ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’. 
Ooo – I definitely wouldn’t bring that. But I would consider the Funny Girl overture. I wish it was soundtracks because that would be a piece of cake; it would be The Wiz, West Side Story and Sunday in the Park with George… oh and Into The Woods… I suck at this!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Shoshana Bean plays the London Hippodrome between 3rd and 5th June the Church Hill Theatre in Edinburgh on 14th June 2015. Click here to book tickets for Shoshana UK concert dates. Make sure you also check out her website:

Photo Credit 1: Christopher Boudewyns

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