BWW Interview: Catching Up With the Effervescent Christina Bianco, Who Brings DIVA ON DEMAND to The Green Room 42 on March 30
It can be said (quite literally) that Christina Bianco is a woman who contains multitudes. A powerhouse vocalist and gifted comedian, she has gained considerable prominence for her spot-on and loving impersonations of celebrities ranging from Spears to Streisand.
I was first introduced to this stunning and uncanny talent when I caught her performance in Forbidden Broadway and was absolutely blown away by both the accuracy of her impressions and the undeniable star power lurking just beneath the surface. A rare skill, to so perfectly capture the physical and vocal mannerisms of such divas as Julie Andrews, Cher, Patti LuPone, Kristin Chenoweth, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, and Christina Aguilera.
It came as no surprise a few years later, when she became a bit of a viral YouTube sensation and found herself spotlighted on "The Ellen Degeneres Show." Known since then as "The Girl of a Thousand Voices," Bianco has spent the recent years touring the world and dazzling audiences everywhere with her unparalleled gifts.
One thing that has always struck me about her is the quality of her natural voice. Strip away the humor and the character work, and Ms. Bianco truly possesses an instrument to be admired. Anyone who can sing "Glitter and Be Gay" eight times a week as part of a GAG... well, that is a national treasure in my book, friends.
This weekend, the New York native brings it all home with a much-anticipated solo concert at The Green Room 42.
Fans of a good "choose your own adventure" should be warned: this is the place to be on Saturday night." Anything from 80's-pop anthems, to weepy musical theatre ballads, to cartoon theme songs - the decision is yours. The evening will also feature some of Christina's signature unlikely interpretations, pairing a singer with an unexpected song."
The powerhouse international sensation took a few minutes to chat and offer a hint of what audiences can expect.
The following interview has been edited for content and length.
MB: How do you strike a balance between loving parody and crossing the line where it can come across as mean spirited? Everyone has their little quirks, which you capture so brilliantly and hilariously. I imagine it can be a little tricky to avoid fully "making fun" of a person.
CB: This distinction is very important to me! There's a fine line between parody and poking fun. I've always tried to make it clear, in person and online, that I truly believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Everything I'm doing comes from a place of love and respect. In my experience on stage or as an audience member, if you're not truly honoring and celebrating these stars from your heart, for all the right reasons, it's obvious to the audience and therefore will not have the same impact. It certainly wouldn't give you longevity as a performer and I'd like to keep my audience wanting to come back for more!
MB: And now you've got a huge international audience, having toured extensively in the UK and Australia! Do you find the audience reactions and expectations to be very different from The States? Clearly, you have to make some adjustments and include some celebrities who might not be as well-known in the USA. Tell us about some of the characters you've developed specifically for the international audience? I recall watching one of your clips from abroad and, even while still laughing hysterically, realizing, "I have no idea who what person is!"
CB: Oh, that's so great to hear! I try to put in something for everybody and I know that means some impressions don't make sense to everyone - but as long as you'll all entertained, I'm happy!
I absolutely love to travel and count myself very lucky that I'm now familiar with a wide range of audiences all over the world. I see it as my responsibility to then do what I can to connect to that particular crowd.
I don't find any particular audience more rowdy or more reserved (you may think the British would be, but that's not been my experience! They had to kick someone out of my concert in Cardiff!) I do find that my shows sell out a lot more quickly and have more media coverage abroad - but this makes sense to me. America is a very large country with a lot of options for entertainment, particularly in large cities.
For entertainers, there are so many people vying for one slot or one booking, and for audiences, there is so much to choose from. But in the UK and Australia, it's a smaller market so when someone like me comes from far away to their cities, it's a little more special to them so the level of loyalty and support in the UK and now I'm finding also in Australia, is stronger.
Because of this, I work even harder to put in specific content for each audience and location. Brits don't really know who Barbara Walters is and Americans don't know who Holly Willoughby is, so I rearrange my shows accordingly. It keeps it fresh and fun for me too!
MB: You have such an incredible, natural voice. One of the highlights for me is when you perform "as Christina." I showed some of your clips to my wife for the first time recently. Her response was a huge WOW. For the impressions, sure, but mainly because she was marveling at the health of your instrument and your amazing technique. Not to bite the hand etc, but do you ever want to distance yourself from the impersonations and be recognized more for being the stellar musical performer that you are? Have you had many opportunities for that lately?
CB: Well, that's the nicest compliment I can receive. Thank you and thank you, wife! I'm a singer in my own right, first and foremost and I can't tell you how grateful I am that my audiences understand that. Even though I got popular doing impressions, my audiences seem to have always understood that.
I split all of my show material up to be half my own voice and half impressions. I don't do this for my own ego - I do this because I think the audience truly appreciates my impressions more when they get to know my own voice. That way, they can better understand how I'm changing and manipulating my voice to sound like someone else. It also makes a well-rounded show.
I think hearing impression after impression can become numbing to an audience, no matter how talented the impressionist. I try to create an arc and a flow with lots of variety to keep the crowd entertained and I find that including songs in my own voice really help with that. I'll never stop singing as me, and I DO still work a lot of singing and performing in my own voice.
Whether it's in musicals, singing with bands, in concert events or performing with symphonies - I never have to sacrifice my own voice for those of "the divas." As it happens, I'm am currently planning some solo concerts without impressions, so keep an eye out for that!
MB: I think I was first blown away by you in Forbidden Broadway, particularly your scary accurate Kristin Chenoweth impersonation. And the parody of "Glitter and Be Gay"... you can't fake those high notes! What are some of your secrets to vocal health? You're not doing a lot of easy songs, from what I can tell. Then, to add in all of those different ways of singing, it has got to be a strain on the muscle. How do you keep healthy?
CB: I love that you mentioned "Glitter" because people always bring it up but to this day. I feel that I had absolutely NO right singing that song!!! I'm just not a true soprano! I'm well-trained, yes, and that helps.. but so much of it is natural ability and what you're born with. I know how to sing soprano, and I've worked hard at it, but it will never be comfortable or easy for me. I'm very lucky that I just happen to have some coloratura notes!
I approach all of my impressions from a place of vocal safety first. My favorite expression is "just because you can, doesn't mean you should." So many singers out there wanna belt all those high notes, at any cost - and yes, sometimes I want to sound like Tina Turner, at any cost - but I shouldn't. I do not have a raspy voice so why tear mine apart attempting to sound like I do? A five-second impression isn't worth the risk of damaging my love and livelihood. So I choose all my impressions carefully. Ego has to be set aside. And so I leave Tina to the others... I don't have the legs for it anyway.
MB: Not to presume that it's a goal of yours, but I personally want to see you on Broadway! As Christina, what are some of your dream musical theatre roles for the future?
CB: Of course, I'd love to star in a Broadway or West End show! Please feel free to tell all the casting people I'm happy to accept any of these roles. (clears throat to being a long list...)
Dot in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, Fanny in FUNNY GIRL, I'd like to follow in the footsteps of the petite 4ft 11-inch actresses to play Eva Peron in EVITA--- it's a life long dream to play Winnifred in ONCE UPON A MATTRESS and lastly, great supporting roles like Oolie/Donna in CITY OF ANGELS, Kate in Lippa's THE WILD PARTY, and Pennywise in URINETOWN.
MB: For your upcoming concert performance at The Green Room 42, what can the audience expect? New material, some of your classics? I've actually never seen you in a full concert, so is it a night of all impressions, or do you give us some straight-up Christina realness too?
CB: Oh, you get everything! Audiences have been very vocal about how they enjoy the on-the-spot musical mash-ups I do in my live concerts and online, so I wanted to turn that concept into a whole show. It all has some structure within the Netflix style parameters, with some multiple choice, fill in the blank, mix and match, scenes and songs - all as me and the divas. Brian Nash is one of the most gifted musical brains and accompanists so no matter what pops up, I know I'm in good hands and the audience will be well entertained!
MB: Finally, what's next for you? Any irons in the fire you can talk about?
CB: Next, I'll be hitting the West Coast for some concerts then spending a lot of time in the UK the rest of this year doing the Edinburgh Fringe festival into my second UK tour. After that, there are some very exciting theatrical projects pending for 2020 but you'll have to stay tuned to find out just what!
For more on her career and any breaking news, visit www.christinabianco.com.