Shoshana Bean talks to us about Wicked, Broadway’s future, and how you can get in touch with the star!
Broadway and live theater has been in a weird spot this year, to say the least. But as every stage performer knows, the show must go on!
And one person who knows that more than anyone is Broadway star and musician Shoshana Bean, who has a stunning history in the entertainment world. Among her many roles as a musical theater actress, she performed as Elphaba in the long-running show Wicked, and most recently, she joined the cast of Broadway’s Waitress as Jenna.
But now that Broadway has gone “dark” as we get through the pandemic and wait for the safe re-opening of Broadway in the future, Bean is providing hope that there is still a way to stay in the loop with Broadway’s best. All you need is a device with a mic and a camera, and you’re set! That is, Bean has joined Broadway Plus as a way to connect with musical theater fans one-on-one. And it certainly will give you that VIP feeling knowing you can still find a way to bring the best of Broadway to you from the comforts of your home.
Read our full interview with Shoshana Bean below to see more about how Bean connects with fans on Broadway Plus, as well as what it was like for her to be a part of the Wicked cast and her thoughts on Broadway’s return.
Q&A with Shoshana Bean
Culturess: Every year, I can’t believe how much time it’s been since Wicked’s premiered on Broadway. And thinking about fans’ reaction to it and its popularity over time, what’s it like to be part of that legacy?
Shoshana Bean: I don’t really think about it, I guess. I mean… It was a long time ago, first of all. But I don’t think any of us could have really anticipated what a gigantic beast it would be and what it would go on to do, especially that early on.
But, yeah, it’s a great honor to have been one of the first and to still be so closely associated with it. And, you know… I did it long enough ago that children that came to see me in it have now played the role. So it’s always cool to see that kids who were inspired to go into the business or had a goal to be one of the witches someday actually went on to do it. And so I think that’s the best part about the gig is the people who we can inspire and the lives we can change. So it’s very cool to be a part of something that powerful.
And why do you think this musical in particular resonated so much with fans?
I think because people see themselves reflected back at them in some kind of a way. And I think because it’s at a time where… [it was] not as common to see a big, huge production value, massive fantasy Broadway musical. You know, they brought that back. And the music, of course. I think it’s visually stunning and interesting. I think… it was an innovative score. It was a beautiful combination of pop and classical musical theater combined. So, yeah, I think there’s a lot of things that keep people coming back.
When it was finally your time to step into this role, how did you make it your own?
Whether it’s Wicked or any other role I’ve ever played, it’s never really my intention to make it my own — like, to be different in any way. That’s never really the intention. I approach my art, whatever it is, from a place of truth — personal truth and authenticity which, just by nature, anyone who does that is going to have a fresh, new and different take on a role or material. So… as much as I tried to emulate Idina [Menzel’s] performance — especially because I started as a standby — my job was really to just be playful, you know, be a cog in the wheel. So I really tried not to be different, to be honest with you.
But just by nature of who I am, and the way that I interpret music, and the way that I interpret text, and the personal experiences of my own that I relate to the character and bring to the table, just by nature of that truth and honesty, it’s always going to be different. So if anything… the way that I make things my own is by bringing myself to the table and being as truthful and transparent, vulnerable and authentic as I can possibly be. And just by doing that, whatever I’m gonna touch — whatever anyone touches — it just makes it unique.
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Got it! And in more recent times, what accomplishments have you most been proud of?
Oh man, not losing my mind, to be honest with you. And especially in the past couple months, you know, when this all started. I had a cousin who was like, “This is gonna go on longer than you think.” I was like, “No it’s not.” Like, I think I’ll be able to stay sane through maybe August, and then I’m going to lose my mind.
Like, I’ll give you four or five months… and here we are, still going in this weird time where I can’t do live performances in a venue with an audience. I can’t travel the world freely. It’s really strange. So the fact that, you know, not just myself, but I’m proud of everyone that I know. We get up every day, and we keep creating… And we still somehow still have big smiles on our faces and are really appreciating our lives and what we have and finding joy in things and pivoting. And our whole industry has just figured out incredible ways to take care of each other and still give audiences joy.
So I think what I’m most proud of is just, A) being a part of a community that is not fatalistic or looking at the glass as poisoned — not even half empty, but you know, figuring out ways to make it work. So I’m proud of myself and all of us for showing up for ourselves every day, being in the quiet, which is so uncomfortable, and dealing with ourselves.
Yes, and that’s where Broadway Plus comes in during this time as an alternative way to experience Broadway. So how are you involved in that, and what can fans expect from getting in touch with you there?
Yeah, it’s actually been really cool. Because I know that Broadway Plus originally, I believe, created sort of like, in-person experiences, backstage experiences, VIP, cool things like that. But you know, those experiences… nothing can replace being backstage and touching and looking at the costumes and the sets. You know, meeting cast members in the flesh; there also is something, like, way more intimate and personal about just a one-on-one Zoom, which is what I’ve essentially been doing with people through Broadway Plus.
They get, like, dedicated quality time. I mean, I’m on there with people for a half-hour, sometimes more. And they can ask questions and they can take their five minutes to freak out and calm down. You know, sometimes when you’re on the spot at the stage door or backstage, it’s just a very heightened, strange experience, and you don’t always get to say the things you want to say in the way that you do. And you certainly don’t get to connect to us on necessarily the most human level after a show and all that.
So it’s really cool. And again, there’s just so many cool little miracles and blessings that have come from this weird time. And I think this is one of them. And I have quite enjoyed my time, you know, having these one-on-one meet and greets with people, and I think they’re having fun too. So it’s really cool what Broadway Plus has done.
That’s awesome. And finally, going along with what entertainment looks like during a pandemic, there’s been this huge push for streaming. You know, watching TV series and movies at home. So I wanted to know, do you think that puts live theater in danger or are you hopeful that theater will make a comeback in the future?
I have absolute faith and certainty that theater will make a comeback in the future. I think, for the time being, we’re learning awesome things that we can potentially filter in in the future. You know, for example, I host a concert every year at my alma mater, my high school, to raise money for the performing arts. And ordinarily, it’d be very difficult to get some of my fancy friends to come be special guests, to take that time out of their schedule; we don’t have a ton of money to pay them.
But this year, we pivoted and made the concert virtual. And in doing so, I’m like, there’s no reason we can’t get videos of people and project them on a screen for a duet with a kid. Like, I just got so many ideas of how we can bring some of the stuff we’ve had to do out of necessity into things we get to do when we get into when we continue to live into a different normal, you know?
And then, necessity is the mother of invention for sure. And [that] remains so. But I just don’t think that society will — I mean, there’s just no way that we can’t have live performance and live theater. In the meantime, I think it’s amazing what people are doing. But there’s nothing like the shared, connected experience of being in a space together physically and feeling the same magic. There’s nothing that can happen virtually that replaces that. Nothing!
For more information on how to connect with Shoshana Bean or any other theater stars through Broadway Plus, check out the official Broadway Plus website.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.