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Shoshana Bean Is Lookin' for a Superhero

Shoshana Bean Is Lookin' for a Superhero


Not many girls can wow a Broadway crowd in shows like Wicked and Hairspray, then turn around and bring the audience to its feet at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards. But Shoshana Bean goes far beyond what most people might expect, as evidenced by her soulful debut album, Superhero.

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 -- 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. 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'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'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.

Well what you do is so fitting right now in musical theater. And it allows me to parlay it into my music. I'm always getting, "How are people going to react when you come out with this pop album?" They're not going to be shocked at what I'm doing.

I've seen the YouTube video of you singing "How Will I Know." Baby! You know? Yah, I don't think it's going to be a surprise.

And the writing? Is that something you've always done? Yes, it is something I've done...probably since high school. I was pretty insecure about it up until this album, until I really had something to say. I think for a long time I tried to say what I thought people wanted to hear, or tried to pattern myself after somebody else. So often people say, "You sound like..." or "Whose career path do you want to follow? Who do you want to sing like?" So if I wanted to be like this person, I should probably write songs like this person. It got to the point though that so much was happening in my own personal life that I was like, "Fuck it. I'm going to write what's actually going on and it's not necessarily with the purpose of being heard or being a big hit, but I just have stuff that has to come out." And that's what people started actually responding to.

Do you mind if I ask? I read in the liner notes that there was a tragedy that inspired this album. Yes. I was dating a man who was killed in a car accident. And I had never... I mean, I had lost my grandparents, but it had been sickness and you knew what was coming. To lose someone like that... I just didn't know. I couldn't imagine the vast range of emotions that happened. That more than anything was what I had to talk about -- along with the fact that I was like, "I can't wait!" I mean, there were so many things that he had wanted to do and plans we had made. If I die tomorrow, what have I left? What have I done? Other people's work. I've replaced other people. I've sung other people's lyrics. That's great and all, but I haven't left my part.

Is it scary for you, saying I don't ever want to make a decision based out of fear, when so many people do? And I did for many, many years. And a lot of people do...and now I see it and I call it out. And people are like, "Well, it's not that easy." Don't tell me it's not that easy!

Is this the catalyst for you then -- to just say, "Fuck it! I'm afraid, but I'm doing it anyway"? Yes, and then once you make that decision, you can't go back, because life supports that decision. There have been opportunities for me to sort of go back...and there is that temptation because this hasn't just been a labor of love, it's been all my time, all my money -- everything has gone into this. So, you know, it gets panicky sometimes, but it's absolutely been worth it and there was absolutely a lot of fear that had to be worked through to do it.

So who in your life is there for you when you start to get what I call the spins -- the whole "What the fuck am I doing?" Well, I have my two best girlfriends and then, actually, the person who did sort of put this into motion is another great friend of mine... I played him something -- and this was before I had decided it was going to become an album -- at this time I was just writing music and producing it so that I was creatively moving forward. I was still hoping that someone was going to come in and sweep me off my feet and tell me exactly what I needed to be doing. I told him, "I can't afford to keep doing this." And he told me, "You're being selfish!" He said, "Even if it's just 10 people who are dying to hear you do an album, you're being selfish. You're robbing them. Think of the people we've admired who go into hiding. And we wish they'd do another album or do another show. You're robbing the world of inspiration..." I'd never thought of it unselfishly.

Do you go into the studio and work, or do you write at home? Most of the writing happened at home. I start my basic ideas best on my own, and then I'll bring people in to help refine it or if I get stuck. I had a lot of tracks from different producers and I would just write to those in my little garage band. Then I'm prepared when I go into the studio and I'm not wasting time. I've already done my background arranging, I've already written everything that's in my garage band, and I can just play shit back...

So what is the dream of Shoshana Bean? Well, I have a couple of dreams. One of the biggest was to get this album done, and it's done now. I want it to have a life and I want it to be heard and respected. I love being able to perform my own stuff. I'd really love to be able to open for another artist. Go on the road with it, to just continue to make records like this... whether it's independently or not. Now that I know how to do it, it's less of a daunting process. It's more about the writing. There are roles in musical theater I still want to play. I'm not done on the stage.

Well, I'm really amazed. It's inspiring to see an artist take a bull by the horns and go out and make it happen. Well, it's less scary than it would have been years ago, because now so many people are succeeding independently. And there really is no choice if you want to get it done. The fact that artists are still having a life independently is so inspiring. I'm doing it independently -- so Britney and I can release an album on the same day, which we are -- and it doesn't feel like she's competing on my level.

Well, she can't sing, so... No, I agree with you -- but she still has hot tracks. I'm a respecter of singers, but you can't deny that track is hot. You can't.

I hear you're going to be performing at Upright Cabaret. Yes, the Best Of 2008. I'm so flattered.

Are you going to be performing songs from the new album?I don't know... I hope so. We'll see. I am sure they are going to have suggestions. It'll be "The Best Of!"

Superhero is in stores Tuesday, December 2.Click herefor more on Shoshana Bean.

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