BWW Interviews: Jeni Walls and Gabi Epstein talk LIZA & BARBRA
This Saturday, Angelwalk Theatre is hosting a special fundraising event featuring two of the greatest female musical theatre darlings in the city - Gabi Epstein and Jeni Walls. Liza & Barbra...Together at Last will feature Jeni as Liza and Gabi as Barbra, performing classic numbers of two of the stage's biggest stars. They will be backed by a live orchestra featuring new arrangements by music director and conductor Donavon LeNabat. And for the Jersey Boys fans among us, there will be a special guest appearance by our own Frankie Valli - Jeff Madden!
The fundraiser is to support Angelwalk's fifth anniversary season, celebrating their mission to produce off-Broadway style musical theatre in Toronto. There will be a silent auction, raffles and prizes. Best of all? Great music that everyone will know and love!
BWW sat down to chat with both ladies about this unique concert, about their love of Liza and Barbra and about what people can expect from this exciting night of musical theatre powerhouses:
Tell us a bit about Liza and Barbra! What can we expect? How are you blending these two icons together?
GE: Well, these two have become not only icons on the stage and screen but also now in their concert tours. They are so totally different but remarkably have a lot of the same fans. Liza (if I can speak for Jeni) is much more outgoing and acts more as the host of the whole evening while Barbra is much more reserved allowing for a really interesting (and hilarious) dynamic between the two. But then when they come together to sing, it's pretty glorious (if I do say so myself). So we thought, since it's unlikely it will happen in real life, we'd give the audience a chance to experience a concert featuring these two divas for themselves.
JW: Expect anything! Liza and Barbra have never been cast together in a show. They are both huge icons but are both very different personalities with different voices so it's a very exciting combination of energies on stage. They complement each other so well. Expect the hits from both divas, some fun duets, nostalgic moments, hilarious banter and an incredible orchestra with Donavon LeNabat musical directing. It's also at the George Westin Recital Hall which is a breathtaking space. You'll forget you're watching a couple of crazy girls playing their musical heroes and be transported to an iconic concert starring two of show business' finest leading ladies!
We've previously seen Jeni tackle Liza in her Liza Live! show, has Gabi done Barbra on stage before?
GE: The only time I have done Barbra has been with Jeni in our Liza/Barbra show. A few years ago, I saw Jeni perform one song as Liza at Statlers and was totally taken by her performance. I went up to her and said, sort of jokingly, "If you ever need a Barbra, you know who to call." She totally took me up on the offer and we did our first show together about a month later. This has got to be about 4 years ago now! The Angelwalk fundraiser will be our 4th or 5th show together. And as my appreciation for Streisand has grown over the past few years and I have become more familiar with all of her concert material, my "impersonation" or "embodiment of character" gets better and better each time we do it.
JW: One of the first times Gabi and I met, she was familiar with my Liza show and oh so casually mentioned that if I ever needed a Barbra Streisand on the bill that she was in town. And so, I took her up on the offer and she was a guest on my second Liza Cabaret. From the first rehearsal we knew we had something special pairing these two divas together on stage and the rest is magical history!
How do you guys find the balance between embodying a character and simply characterizing them?
GE: I think it's about finding ways to relate to the stories you're telling. I can tell a story about an experience she had on tour or why she decided to do the film "Yentl" for example, but if I find a way to relate to it myself and write my banter the way I think Streisand would tell a story it makes me embody the character much more. It's one thing to belt out some high notes and talk in a Brooklyn accent but it's another to really engage with an audience for an evening through personal and humourous stories. It think having so much experience doing my own cabarets really helps this.