Photography by Christopher Boudewyns
From Hairspray and Wicked on Broadway, to Peepshow in Vegas, to her sold out concerts promoting her EPs, Shoshana Bean has proven she is a masterful performer on any stage. After bringing audiences to tears in the Chicago production of Beaches this summer, we caught up with the powerhouse singer to talk about how musical theatre has influenced her songwriting and vice versa.
“Elphaba” seems to follow the actresses who play her. As one of the first women to don the green, what did that experience teach you about yourself?
Oh the list of lessons is incredibly long, but I’d say some the biggest were learning my limits and pushing them; learning how to take care of myself (physically, mentally, emotionally) to maintain balance on and off stage. It taught me how to be a leader, and it taught me the true meaning of gratitude.
What did you take, artistically, from Wicked and Hairspray and funnel that into your own music?
Specifically from Hairspray, I was so heavily influenced by Marc Shaiman’s vocal arrangements and definitely think they have bled their way into my own stuff. But from being involved in theater in general, I think I’ve always kept an element of storytelling and theatricality in my writing. From Wicked I think I gained a lot of bravery, learned how to truly be confident and learned more about my vocal capabilities. All of it has shaped me into who I am as a person and musician. To me they are always one and the same.
There’s a notable shift in your style of music between your album Superhero in 2008 to O’Farrell Street in 2013. What shaped the transformation and evolution of your art?
It started because the song from the Superhero album that seemed to resonate with people the most was “Aint No Way.” Firstly because it’s a beautifully written song (Aretha’s sister Carolyn Franklin wrote it), but I felt like it was also the more authentic throwback style that people really loved in contrast with the pop/R&B sensibility of the rest of the album. So, on the heels of Superhero, I knew that stylistically “Ain’t No Way” would be my starting point. I dove back into the 50’s and 60’s to do my research and found myself right back in the thick of the music I was raised on. While it was a big shift sonically, it felt so right to go back to where I came from to really figure out who I was as a musician, singer, and writer.
You were a part of Beaches in Chicago this summer. Stepping back onto the musical theatre stage, how did you bring with you what you’ve learned from the past few years focusing solely on writing and performing?
Freedom. Confidence. Authenticity. A greater sense of self. I think there was always an insecurity involved in my theatrical performances in an effort to do it ‘right’ (whatever that means). Years of finding my own voice and becoming comfortable in my own skin by doing my own music has made me surer of not only who I am but what I bring to the table even under the most challenging circumstance. I trust myself more.
Standing on stage again in a musical, how did the run challenge you as a performer?
I’m so used to freedom and variety in my craft almost daily, so the hardest part of any run of a show for me has always been the repetition, keeping it fresh and interesting when you’re approaching essentially the same material every night. Beyond that, this role was incredibly demanding physically and vocally so endurance became one of my greatest challenges. And lastly, figuring out the way to maintain the freedom I have found as a solo artist and bring that element to my character work.
What’s coming up for you?
My friend and I have just sold a pilot for a musical TV show! I’m writing the music and she writes the script. And I suppose i need to start writing my 4th album!
Ryan on Shoshana:
When I was interning in New York City for the summer, I knew I had to see Wicked. I knew the soundtrack and I’d seen the Tonys, but I wasn’t prepared for Shoshana Bean. Her. Voice. I’m not ashamed to say I was a crying mess once she hit that top riff on Defying Gravity. Since then, she’s made some of the most consistently solid music of the Broadway performers who have released EPs. I think she’s epic. I think she has a voice that doesn’t come around that often. I’m thrilled she was a part of our 5th Anniversary Issue.