She’s a fascinating study in contrasts. She’s a Broadway star, famous for her roles in Hairspray and Wicked, but she can also bring the audience to its feet at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, as she did when she performed with Brian McKnight at a tribute to Aretha Franklin a few years ago. She now calls Los Angeles home, but she grew up in Olympia, Wash., and Portland, Ore. She went to college in Cincinnati before moving to New York City, where she soon found herself on the fast track to musical theater stardom.
Shoshana Bean's first sit-down with Advocate.com -- coffee at Java Detour, a new hot spot in the heart of West Hollywood, a presumably quiet place to chat about her debut album, Superhero, in stores December 2 -- almost turned out to be a train wreck.
I showed up about 15 minutes early to make sure we could find a table, and to my horror realized there was a Prop. 8 protest rally being held at the nearby intersection of Robertson and Santa Monica. Obviously I completely support the protest, but for the purposes of this interview I was afraid the chanting and constant horn honking might prove to be too much of a distraction for Shoshana. I was a little embarrassed, fearing she would expect me to have known about this, but as soon as she walked in the door she alleviated my concern. I tried to apologize for the chaos, but she just smiled...
Shoshana Bean: This is awesome! Forgive me if I talk too loud, I was on a plane and my ears are all plugged up.
Advocate.com:I heard you were in New York, doing a concert version of Wicked. We did the fifth anniversary for Wicked last night. It was so fun; it was all the cut scenes and music. Stephanie J. Block, who played Elphaba, and Jennifer Laura Thompson, who was one of my Glindas, did the first act, and then Kate Reinders and I did the second act.
I know you stepped in for Idina Menzel when she broke her rib or something? I had been standing by for her for four months. It was literally the last weekend of her run before I was taking over.
What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?At the time I moved here I was working with a label and management team that was based out here. I had finished the run of Wicked, and I had finished the tour. Moving to L.A. was something I had always wanted to do. Right before I got Hairspray, I was like, I’m coming to L.A. I had come out to visit a friend, and more happened in, like, a week networking-wise and connection-wise… This is where I need to be! You can go have dinner someplace and meet like 15 people. Then Hairspray and Wicked happened. When the management team that I had been with pretty much my whole run of Wicked said, "You need to move to L.A. for us to make anything happen," I was like, "You don’t have to tell me twice." I figured I’d give it two or three months to see how it goes. And then once I got out here I was like, "Why am I going to do that?" Because if nothing happens am I just going to run home? I need to really move out here, and I did; and I’m super happy here.
I felt like being in New York, I was so involved in the theater community for so many years…it’s impossible to extricate yourself. Even when I am living out here I am flown back in once a month or every couple months, to do some benefit or gig or pinch-hit for somebody. It’s impossible to really be focused on doing something else, so I thought, I need to get as far away as possible. There were too many times in my life where I had started to do music and then been taken away by another job. I needed to resist temptation.
So music has always been number one? Always! I went to school for musical theater because I knew it was a way I could do music and go to college at the same time. I guess I could have majored in songwriting. I really didn’t think that this would be the path I would follow, but once you get in it and wrapped up in it…it’s sort of like a fish in a stream.
You’re sort of lucky. The style of music you sing and what you’re amazing at is what’s popular in musical theater right now. Everything is pop-rock. Twenty years ago everything was so legit. Well see, that’s just it though. That stuff I can do and I love to do, but nobody ever wanted to hear it, so I ended up in the more pop-rock musicals; but I love some legit. I just don’t look legit. I’m not going to get to play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.