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BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18

"There’s a trueness of myself that I feel when I’m singing."

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 What's more exciting than a new artistic venture? That's what Brandi Burkhardt is asking herself these days. The Broadway actress who found much success in the Los Angeles television community has returned to New York with a new concert titled FINDING WONDERLAND: BROADWAY AND BEYOND and it isn't just a new concert, it's her first solo concert. Ever. One of the stars of the long-running hour-long drama Hart of Dixie, Brandi Burkhardt recently returned to her work at songwriting, a passion she had set aside for a few years, and what that new exploration has given her is a collection of new songs, all of her own composition, that she is ready to share with the world. When the former Beauty Pageant contestant steps up onto the stage of The Green Room 42 on May 18th, she will find herself home again, at a microphone, singing, and performing those tunes, along with compositions from her life as a musical theater actress, beauty queen, and television star.

As the days and rehearsals grow closer to opening night, Brandi Burkhardt talked with Broadway World Cabaret about the excitement and terror of sharing new art, the thrill of working with a Hollywood legend, and high heels on New York City pavement.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Brandi Burkhardt, welcome to Broadway World.

Thank you. I'm Excited!

In an interesting twist of fate, you and I just met for the first time a couple of days ago.

Yes.

And during your interview for the Leola show at The Green Room 42, this entire Q and A put itself in my head and I didn't have to take any notes, so I'm just going to, without any notes at all, have a nice chat with you.

Fabulous.

I want to start with this: your career trajectory has taken you from the pageant circuit to Broadway to television, and now you are opening your first ever solo show, featuring your own musical compositions.

Yes.

Is that trajectory something that you vision boarded or was it just a question of being in the right place at the right time and being able to think on your feet and make decisions in real-time, that would take you in the right direction?

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 Great question. I often think of this. I think it's just responding in the moment to what makes the most sense and what, inside you, is calling you. I have dipped my feet in writing songs before, for instance; I actually used to write with John Legend, and while he went on to win an EGOT, I have never performed my music live for anyone. (Laughing) It just took me a little more time to grow, personally, brave enough to share that part of myself. I think, for me, as a late bloomer - I like to describe myself, I'm actually very shy - I think it took me all that time to reach that level of honesty with strangers.

I find it interesting that you own that you are shy, but in the pageant circuit there are all eyes on you at all times.

I think that there's a way that that operates, that I could understand and place myself inside of, just like with acting roles: you know what's required, so you can put on those things. And now it's been about taking it off. I think that's why one of the songs that I wrote is called "Transparency" - it's about revealing, and about the colors we wear, and the things we put on ourselves, but it's still a little see-through. How transparent can we be? How do we remove all of that and come back to ourselves? I think that's been my journey so far.

So you've reached a point in your personal journey where you are ready to be unfettered.

I guess. I mean, that sounds terrifying, but yes! I'm trying! I'm trying to get more and more there, into that place of truth and honesty, with the greatest amount of love and kindness and generosity that I can muster.

Is it a hundred percent terrifying or are you able to find the joy and exhilaration in what you're about to do as well?

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 It's so totally exhilarating. When I think of it, and I'm in my little cocoon, and I'm thinking of who I am on stage - cause there's a little bit of a discrepancy when you're on stage versus who you are when you wake up in the morning - you don't feel like those two things belong together but somehow it does. Somehow when I'm on stage (especially when I'm singing) I feel like I'm the truest version of myself. That's also something that's been a discovery, even though I haven't been back in New York for so long. I forget that I like to sing. You know, being on TV, you just do takes, and you don't have an audience in front of you. You don't have that communication, directly with people. To get back into that situation - and I felt it at The Leola Show that day too. I was like, "Oh, that felt like flying, and it's over already." There's a trueness of myself that I feel when I'm singing.

During your Hollywood years, when you were working on television, did you have no musical outlet?

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 I always tried to do regional theater in the summer, during our hiatus. That's when I got to work with Shirley Jones on The Music Man, I played Mary Poppins out in California, and I got to fly over the audience, which was amazing. I've always kept music as part of my life, for sure.

What a high, getting to play Marion The Librarian with Shirley Jones playing Mrs. Paroo.

Yeah, it was - to make it even more interesting... Hart Of Dixie, where we filmed on the Warner Brothers lot - our town square was basically River City. It was the exact same space. So even going into that audition for them that day was surreal because we were working on the library stuff that afternoon - it was so funny to keep imagining The Music Man being filmed exactly where I was working on Hart Of Dixie at the time.

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18

That's got a nice synchronicity to your work and her work and just the whole Hollywood history.

Yeah.

Marion the Librarian is a very legit soprano sound.

Yes.

And you've swung literally in the opposite direction - you've sung in rock musicals and you've sung very legit. When you sit down to write, what is the voice that you lean into for the creation of your own musical stories?

That's something I keep discovering. Sometimes the lyrics will come to me and what I want to say will come first, so it becomes about getting that message across. Other times it's, "Oh, I want to sing in this range today, that's open for me, and this is fun." So it's about following your joy where it's fun for you, to what's turning you on at that moment.

When you are preparing to sing something that is legit, like Marion, or something that is more rock and roll or modern musical based like Frank Wildhorn, is there a different preparation that you have to go through, vocally, to get ready to do a run of each different type of show?

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 I like to have just an open quality to my voice. But if I am doing something more legit, I would certainly tailor the role and my choices to suit that - even when you're speaking your speaking voice in the role. I would be always thinking about what I'm preparing to accomplish, what the character needs to accomplish. There is a level of certain warmups that I would focus on, but I think it's helpful to have all the parts of your voice available to you.

When it's time for you to sit down and do some songwriting, do you find yourself writing every single day?

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 Because it's something that I'm coming back to, I don't have a formula yet. This last go-around for these songs that I just recorded, they were just coming to me out of anywhere. And when I get the inspiration, I jot it down or keep working on it. Sometimes it wrote itself in 10 minutes, which was pretty crazy, and then there's the time when it goes a little blank and you're like, "Okay, well, I've expressed all of that." You have to keep putting back into yourself, living life and discovering new things to say, and what's happening to you: taking in, as opposed to giving out. After those songs were done, I just moved into another phase, kind of putting the show together, which is exciting in another way. It's been funny to go back down memory lane and pick out these songs that I haven't sung in a while, and what do I want to share in this show? Not just in my music: how do I get from one point to the next point? How do I share where I've come from and the different things I've done, and put it in one thing so people can understand me better?

I heard you just say the word recording. Is there going to be an album of your songs?

I've finished about... I guess I have seven in the can now. After this show is done, I'll probably go back into the studio - I have some half-written that I have to really focus on.

When you put together an album, do you find yourself formulating that entire listening journey while still in the act of creating the actual songs themselves?

Well, that's what's so funny is: I've never really been one to sit down and listen to a whole album. I've been just more (into) singles, like, listening to hit song, hit song, hit song, hit song - and I'm thinking, "Oh, that's interesting to me," - as a craft: to make a journey. So I am looking at it that way, but I am also trying to allow it to happen organically. I'm hoping to have more songs to pick from than less, but I have to keep following that road, right now, I think.

We do live in a time where people don't listen to the album from start to finish. They do just listen to the singles. and you have to ride the time that you're in.

Right.

You said that you had done some songwriting with John Legend.

Yeah.

Now you're writing on your own. How does it feel to be an independent artist: do you miss having somebody to bounce stuff off of?

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 Well, it's funny: when I sat down to write with John Legend, he would sing things back to me and they would sound so him. I was like, "I'm never gonna sound like that." That's what it was. It was clear what he was going to be from then. It was remarkable. And it doesn't surprise me to see what he's become. And, actually, I do prefer collaborating because I don't like to think I'm the most brilliant person in the room; I think other people are the most brilliant people in the room and what we can mix together is even better than that, you know? I prefer having collaborators for sure.

I have actually heard it said that the best way to be an artist is to make sure that you're never the smartest person in the room.

Yes. I think I'm good on that one then. (Laughing.)

FINDING WONDERLAND is not going to be exclusively your original compositions. I heard you say the other night that you will be revisiting some of the musicals that you've done in the past.

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 Yes. I was involved in quite a few of Frank's shows, developing them, and I never got to see them all the way to the stage, though. This will give me an opportunity to share the way I would do those songs, and in a concert setting that takes them out of the show a little bit, and also to explore some other missed opportunities, so to speak, like songs I didn't get to do on Hart of Dixie or songs that I wish I had done in pageants.

Speaking of the pageants: that part of your life was a big part of your history. Do you think that in today's world "Beauty Queen" is still an acceptable term, or is there any kind of a push to try and find a new way to describe the women who work in the pageant circuit?

I think there's definitely a push to find new ways to describe these things, but it's hard to put a name on the things that we are and how we identify ourselves, inside. I think there's a bigger thrust in that regard. Naming things and calling things are always going to make us feel trapped, eventually. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" for instance, or "beauty is what you make it." There are so many ways to understand that. I don't take offense to it. It is what it is. That's just part of my history and where I've come from.

You have great pride in those days.

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 I do. I wouldn't know a lot about myself without that platform. I wouldn't know I could sing, I wouldn't have even been introduced to... I mean, it's actually the reason I got my first agent and the reason I was included in the Jekyll and Hyde Tour and got to do all of these great demos. It was a great launching point for me. And, like I said, I was very shy: so it gave me a real structured way of coming out of my shell and building confidence - having goals that were in a place where I didn't really know how to do that for myself.

So how's your confidence now? You're about two weeks away from doing this. How's your confidence, Brandi?

(Laughing heartily) It's getting stronger every day! It's minute by minute, actually. But you know, once I get up there, like I said, it'll take care of itself, I think.

You have managed to conquer the beauty pageant circuit, you've done Broadway, you've done impressive amounts of television. This will be a fun new mountain for you to climb, won't it?

Yes. It has definitely shown me my own perseverance, endurance, strength of character in pursuing this because there are so many reasons not to do it, but why? Why not? You know, when you get the inspiration to follow a path, you gotta see it through. So, here we go!

Do you find that you get a lot of pleasure out of setting these challenges for yourself and succeeding?

Yes, I do. And what it also is, is like following the string and not having to know how it winds up, but having the faith that it will get you to the place that you imagined, like following the path and knowing it'll lead you somewhere better than you were before. I think there's great value in that hope.

The other night, when I saw you at The Green Room 42, I couldn't help but notice how high your high heels are.

(Brandi laughs hard.)

And, you know, men are wearing high heels now, and I have a young friend, and he and I have been talking about going out and buying a pair of heels and going out in high heels. I've never worn high heels before. How hard is it going to be for me to learn to walk in high heels?

You know, again, pageant training comes in handy here. (Laughing) I'm just saying it does take some practice, but, quite honestly, I only wear them for performances, now. I used to trudge around New York in heels all the time and I'm like, "What am I crazy?!" You know what? They're fun, and I think you'll enjoy it.

You mentioned that sometimes the songwriting inspiration hits just like that. Where have you found your greatest source of inspiration when you sit down to write a song?

BWW Interview: Brandi Burkhardt of FINDING WONDERLAND at The Green Room 42 on May 18 In listening. I think that we are so busy trying to talk, and be, and say, and own certain things... but when we can sit in a place of listening, even to our friends, that's where great ideas come from. It'll occur to you. It'll strike you from the inside when somebody says something that resonates with you. So if you can be in a listening posture, whether you're at the piano, listening to the actual notes in the music and losing yourself in those harmonies, or if you're out to lunch with your friends and somebody says something - because you're listening in a certain way, that can become a great inspiration. I think that's the best place to find inspiration for your music... for me anyway.

When you're writing, do you compose at the piano or do you use a guitar or do you just go sit in the park and write down the notes as they come to you?

Sometimes it's when I'm walking my dog and I'll just start singing something - I'll put it in my phone. Sometimes I'll be sitting at the piano, sometimes guitar - I like to switch it up because then it doesn't get stale. You go to different places.

What do you want to tell me about your dog?

Oh my gosh! My dog is so wonderful. She's so soulful. I think we're kind of, like, the same person. She doesn't like to leave me, she's very attached, and she's such a gentle little sweet little thing - much more human than a dog though. And I don't know how to explain that to people.

Dogs make everything better. And I think it's because dogs have two goals in life and two goals only: one is to eat, and the other one is to give love.

Yes, that's everything. Right?

As a human, to just get love unconditionally in the way that a dog gives it to you... because so many humans have so many ulterior motives; for dogs, the only ulterior motive they have is more food.

(Laughing) Exactly!

You are living in New York for the time being for this concert, but you're still based out on the west coast, right?

Yes. I grew up in Maryland, so I've been traveling back and forth.

How is she handling the New York vibe?

She's good. She is a little skittish, so she hasn't really walked the streets of Manhattan with me, but from the car, she likes it. (Laughing)

I am so glad that we got to chat today and I'm so happy to know you in person. I'm really looking forward to the show on the 18th.

Thank you. Your support means so much, it's such a pleasure knowing you.

I will see you on the 18th!

Thank you so much, enjoy the day!

Brandi Burkhardt FINDING WONDERLAND plays The Green Room 42 on May 18th at 7 pm. Information and reservations can be found on the Green Room 42 website HERE.

Brandi Burkhardt has a website. Visit it HERE.

All photos provided by Brandi Burkhardt.


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