BWW Interview: Ingrid Michaelson Finds Her Way to Broadway by the Light of THE GREAT COMET
Following the release of her latest EP, Alter Egos, the multi-platinum recording artist moved in at the Imperial Theatre, playing Sonya in the Tony Award-winning musical NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812. Michaelson's trip to Imperial Russia will be brief, as the songstress will only be performing the role through August 15, while Brittain Ashford, who originated the role takes a temporary leave from the show.
Born in New York City and raised by her mother, a sculptor, and her father, a classical composer, Ingrid Michaelson has artistry in her DNA. At four she began taking piano lessons, but it wasn't until after she graduated college with a degree in musical theatre and was touring the country in a theater troupe that she began to write her own songs, which would connect with millions. Her music is released on her own label, Cabin 24 Records, which has sold over one million albums and 10 million singles to date including her Platinum singles, "The Way I Am," "Girls Chase Boys" and brand new hit, "Celebrate" featuring AJR.
Just days after making her Broadway debut, Michaelson chatted with BroadwayWorld about all things Sonya, and what comes next!
How has it been going so far at the Imperial?
It's great! I feel like I've settled in. The adrenaline and the sheer terror is gone. [Laughs] It's been really amazing. Exhausting, but amazing.
I hear that Broadway has always been a dream of yours...
As a young person that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be on Broadway and I didn't really know what that meant. I was in a theatre troupe all throughout middle school and high school, went to college for theatre, and I taught children's theatre for four years after I graduated. After I graduated from college I was going on a lot of auditions and hearing people through the doors. I was like, "You know what? I don't have that." Especially in the early 2000s, everyone wanted that high-belting, full, perfect voice, and I don't have that and I never will. I remember just trying so hard to hit certain notes and have a certain range and I couldn't.
So I started to write music. I felt like I was better suited for it because I could kind of control my own destiny and I didn't have to wait around for someone to tell me I was right for a part or wrong for a part. I left musical theatre behind, but I never stopped loving it. Every time I'd see a musical, I'd be like "Oh, I miss it!"
And this was a show that spoke to you?
Yes. Seeing Great Comet and seeing Brittain sing 'Sonya Alone' made me think, "Oh, I feel like I could probably sing that!" Also the song itself just calls to me. I went home and learned it that night on the piano. I can't even believe it's really happening. I don't think I'm ever going to fully digest it until I'm done and I can kind of look back and be like "Oh, that happened!" [Laughs]
That's wild to me. With your voice, I feel like you could sing anything!
Musical theatre... I just didn't feel like I was right for it. That's kind of presumptuous of me because it's me thinking, "Well, they only want a certain kind of voice." I think that in theatre now, there's room for everybody. A lot of the voices in Great Comet are quite outside the box and they're interesting and textured and beautiful. There was something about embracing a non-traditional voice that struck me with this show. I was just so moved that I blurted out to the producer: "Hey, whenever you want me to come in, I will!" Little did I know that he'd be like "Okay, let's make it happen!"
It's that easy!
It's that easy! If you would've told 21 year-old Ingrid, who went to audition after audition, didn't get anything... most of the time they were miserable. I realize that this is possible because I have somewhat of a name. I'm not a fool. I wouldn't be able to be in this position if I didn't have my own career, but it's still kind of baffling to me because it's all I wanted for so long. I gave it up because I really thought it wasn't in the cards for me and I wanted to be more proactive in my life. I wanted to be musical and to create. So I'm actually kind of thankful because I feel like giving up on theatre pushed me into writing music, and writing music got me on Broadway. So it basically worked. It took 16 years, but it worked.
What a great story...
For the past five or six years now I've actually been working on the idea of a TV show based loosely on my life. There have been different variations of it, different people I'm working on with, and it actually fell into the hands of Hulu. I'm working with a writer named Liz Tigelaar, who's actually the writer... I'm just giving her ideas.
So I saw the video of you as Marian Paroo in middle school. What other kind of roles did you get to play when you were a kid?
I was in a group called Staten Island Kids on Stage, which I ended up teaching for four years after I graduated college. I was Peep-Bo in The Mikado. I was one of the sisters in The Pirates of Penzance. I was the lead in Die Fledermaus! We did an abridgEd English version of that. I was in Cinderella, but I was like the steward or something. [Laughs] Then in college I was Dot in Sunday in the Park with George, Squeaky Fromme in Assassins. In college I got some good ones.
I know that you went to see your friend Sara Bareilles in Waitress recently. Has her journey on Broadway inspired you at all?
Yes, I really want to write something! I've been talking to different people and I'm trying to figure out where I'm going with it. I'm hoping by the end of the year I'll be able to talk about a project that I'm working on. So the writing of a musical I've definitely been wanting to do.
Then seeing Sara doing it was very inspiring. I was like "I feel like I should try this." Sara was like, "You should do something!" And I was like, "No, it's too much pressure." I remember having this conversation with her, and I really felt that way. So when this happened, it was so unplanned that I really was sick to my stomach about it at first. I was like "I don't think I can do this, this is too nerve-wracking." But I find that the best things I've done in my life are things that scare the shit out of me, so I forced myself to say yes. Then once I said yes and started taking pictures and doing interviews, I realized I can't back out. And now I'm one week in and I feel great!
I know that Oak is going in this week. That must be nice to not be the new kid anymore.
Totally. We actually have no scenes together. He's onstage for some things and he plays for some things, but we don't actually interact. But the things I have heard him do are great! He's great and I'm really excited for him. That part is so intense. I didn't realize, besides the actual memorization of the lines and the lyrics, you have to play different instruments, you're onstage the whole time... it's just an intense role. But he, from what I saw, was doing great.
So you have four weeks left in the show. What are you looking forward to the most now that the nerves are over with?
About halfway through the week, the adrenaline was gone and the really nervy nerves were gone. I started to just explore the character a little more. It's a matter of really putting my own life into it and bringing her to life. Not that I wasn't doing that at first, but there's something about just relaxing that allows you to open up a lot more. I do feel like I'm getting to know her. It sounds kind of pretentious, but it feels like I'm getting to figure out who this person is and how she feels about things. That's been really interesting and unexpected.
And by the time you have her all figured out you'll be done!
I think for me having it be such a short period of time, I'm never going to fall into complacency. It's going to be about keeping it new and keeping it fresh and then I'm out! For me, that's great. I know it's a very short period of time, but just with timing and scheduling and stuff I couldn't do more than the 5 weeks. I'm going to be sad to leave, but I'm not going to feel sick of anything. It's going to be good.
Created by Dave Malloy (Ghost Quartet, Preludes) and directed by Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown, Artistic Director of The TEAM), THE GREAT COMET began previews at Broadway's Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street) on October 18, and officially opened Monday, November 14, 2016. Josh Groban, who made his Broadway debut as 'Pierre' will perform in the show through July 2, 2017.
THE GREAT COMET features a thrilling mix of rock, pop, soul, electronic dance music and classic Broadway. Inspired by a 70-page slice of War And Peace, the immersive staging of this unforgettable epic story brings audiences just inches from the performers as they light up Broadway in an experience like no other.