BWW Interview: Chita Rivera and More Talk AN EVENING OF SONG at Birdland
For one-night-only on Monday, December 4, the Broadway at Birdland concert series AN EVENING OF SONG will be headlined by Chita Rivera, feature the artists of Yellow Sound Label, benefit the Art Attack Foundation. The star-studded show promises an array of standards, pop hits, and original songs. To get the inside scoop on this not to be missed evening, we sat down with the stars to chat about this important fundraiser.
How did you come to be involved in the Chita Rivera and Friends concert at Birdland in support of AAF?
Chita Rivera: I have been the Chairperson of AAF for 8 years and to be a part of the future of the arts is our obligation and a joy. Now, more than ever, young people with talent need our help with training, support, encouragement, and - above all - opportunity. This is exactly what the Art Attack foundation provides and why they need our help in order to accomplish all they achieve. That very next scholarship that is given could be the one for a future star in the arts. I am proud and delighted to be a part of this organization.
Anika Larsen: I got involved with the concert because I was lucky enough to have Dan Watt produce my album, SING YOU TO SLEEP. I would do any benefit he asked me to, but this one in particular holds an important place in my heart because I think arts education is critical. I was lucky enough to have a terrific drama program in my public high school, but I sometimes wonder where I'd be if I didn't. I had been singing since I could talk, but it wasn't until high school drama that I started to think I could act too. It breaks my heart that the arts are being stripped out of schools because of lack of funding. Whether or not you end up doing something artistic professionally, I think it's indisputable that arts education improves students' academic performance all around, and that the arts are a vital part of a healthy, vibrant society.
Marcy Heisler: Zina Goldrich and I are longtime and frequent collaborators of Michael Croiter, owner of Yellow Sound Label, a drummer, and producer extraordinaire. It's a lovely thing when you can work on a project that helps a cause very near and dear to our hearts with people you love working with.
Zina Goldrich: I met Michael Croiter when Marcy Heisler and I both played in the pit of AVENUE Q many years ago. He's an amazing musician and a dear friend. It's great to support a wonderful organization and a good friend at the same time.
Lynne Shankel: I became involved in this concert through my friend and colleague Michael Croiter. He and I have worked together many times. I have written orchestrations for Chita, and Mike produced my album BARE NAKED last year for his label, Yellow Sound Label.
Michael Patrick Walker: My involvement is a result of the kind of wonderful confluence of people and projects that sometimes happens in the theatre. I've worked with Michael Croiter at Yellow Sound Label for quite a few years. He and the label produced my debut album, a collection of mostly trunk songs called OUT OF CONTEXT, several years ago. We've worked on a number of other projects as well. I've also had the pleasure of working with Chita for the last decade, playing shows and concerts with her all over the world. So, when I was asked to be a part of the the Art Attack benefit concert involving both Chita and Yellow Sound Label, it was a no-brainer. A great cause and great people always equal a "Yes!" from me.
The AAF offers children scholarships for all avenues of the performing arts. What is it like, for you, to helping such a worthwhile cause?
Marcy Heisler: As a child performer in Chicago, I understand deeply how much an early arts education can resonate later in life. Whether or not you pursue a professional career, the lessons of collaboration, responsibility, pushing boundaries and navigating obstacles - aside, of course, from the sheer joy of performing - can never be learned too early.
Zina Goldrich: Both of my children went to public school in New York City. I've seen how thin the performing arts dollar has been stretched. If it's hard for a school to keep arts education going, it can be even more challenging for families. So, the fact that AAF gives scholarships to talented kids is very satisfying. Support is always needed when you're an artist, and having an organization that understands that makes all the difference.
Rob Rokicki: I've worked in education from elementary to college over many years, and all students who want to, should be able to have the opportunity to find their artistic voice. The world needs more empathy, and we need more young people pursuing the arts. I couldn't be more proud to help such a worthwhile cause.
Lynne Shankel: Participating in this amazing evening means a great deal to me. The arts were an incredibly large and important part of my childhood, and it breaks my heart to see the funding for the arts plummet the way that it has on a national level over the last 10-15 years. The arts are not just "a fun extra" that is expendable. The arts help you learn to communicate. The arts help to open your mind and learn to think in different ways. And, where would we all be in this world without art, music, dance, and theatre? What would we do without the magic of the arts to help us celebrate the great moments of our lives?
Max Vernon: We live in a country that systemically undervalues the importance of arts in education, so I'm happy to help AAF in stepping up to the plate to give children access.
Julie Foldesi: Well, I have a 3-year-old and, though I like to think of myself as having been empathetic prior to having a child, it is tenfold now. I want to help more and boost the underdog more than ever. And the arts are important to our wellbeing as humans and are under attack now. So, this is very important to me. I value the people who run organizations like this and want to help any way that I can.
The world of the theater - and arts in general - is truly a collaborative community. Describe how your partnering with AAF for this concert helps foster this aspect.
Marcy Heisler: Any activity that brings artists together who might not know each other not only creates new friendships, but often creates new projects too. As writers who are always working on various things, Art Attack experiences always inspires us with new ideas, new ways of looking at old songs, and renewed awe of our unbelievably talented colleagues.
Rob Rokicki: I love collaboration. Seeing peers I admire getting to share their talents all in celebration of one common goal is a joy.
What is your favorite aspect of performing in the cabaret setting, and how does it differ from the avenue(s) of the arts that you typically perform in?
Chita Rivera: Cabaret is a much more up close and personal experience, which I enjoy very much. This is a tremendous difference to being in a large theatre, doing a book show, where there is more separation. But, both have equal importance.
Zina Goldrich: I've always liked the intimate setting that cabaret provides. There's a closer connection between the performer and the audience. I've seen Chita do her act at the Carlyle. She was amazing, of course. And, we were so close to her that it was like we were in her living room.
Rob Rokicki: I love performing in cabaret spaces. It's a more fun, relaxed, intimate place to really connect with material and performers in a different way.
Lynne Shankel: I usually work on new musicals. In musicals, we are communicating a particular story to the audience, but there is what we call "the fourth wall," which is the wall between the stage and the audience. You generally do not break the fourth wall to communicate directly with the audience.
I love performing in a cabaret setting because you do get to break that wall. You can really engage with the audience in such a special and uniquely personal way.
Michael Patrick Walker: I've had the pleasure of performing and seeing my work performed in all kinds of venues from tiny clubs to Broadway, and everywhere in between. Each type of venue has a different upside, but, when it comes to cabaret, it's the informality and the intimacy with the audience that I enjoy the most. The vibe is usually much more "hanging out and playing some songs" than a formal show. And, the closest audience members are three feet or fewer from the performers. There's no way not to all feel a part of the same experience. And, with the right amount of adult beverages, that's a lot of fun!
Max Vernon: These days it's very rare that I perform my own material. I've gotten used to having actors and being able to hide in the back with a notepad. There's a fun adrenaline rush that comes with looking someone in the eyes and singing to them.
Julie Foldesi: Well, I like performing in an evening where I get to go and be a part of a lineup. You don't have the stress of carrying the evening or be responsible for the audience, the band, and the rehearsals. You get to show up, be included, and be valued for what you have to offer while enjoying the evening of other great artists. It is inspiring.
How are you preparing for this star-studded evening of song?
Michael Patrick Walker: I'm debuting a song from a new musical I'm in the process of writing, so most of my preparation involves making sure the song is ready to be performed. I've got two fantastic performers who are also colleagues and friends - Stephanie Rothennerg and Preston Truman Boyd - as well as Broadway pros joining me. We're rehearsing, refining, and having too much fun. Typical theatre stuff, really.
Julie Foldesi: Ha. Well, the way I prepare for anything, I guess. Practicing, so that I am well prepared for what I have to offer. With regard to the star-studded part, I have always tried to be the same kind of back porch person I like to be at home in North Carolina, even when surrounded by "important" people. It is my highest compliment to others, so that is always my personal goal as well.
Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about your specific portion of this evening?
Zina Goldrich: In addition to singing, I'll be playing for a few of the other performers as well. I'm really looking forward to that!
Michael Patrick Walker: Well, as I mentioned, it'll be a world premiere debut for this song, and I guess the best way to classify it - without giving too much away - is to call it a modern love song with a twist. There will be laughter, tears, joy, love, and some pretty high singing. But, that might be overselling it a bit! I guess you'll just have to come to the show, and see for yourself.
Max Vernon: I'm singing a song in its original form that was cut from THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, but it's one of my favorites!
Julie Foldesi: It is an original song I wrote. It is personal, but character driven. I am writing my own musical, and this one is from an abandoned story line, but I love the song.
For tickets to and information about the Broadway at Birdland concert series AN EVENING OF SONG headlined by Chita Rivera, benefiting the Art Attack Foundation, and featuring the artists of Yellow Sound Label on Monday, December 4th, 7pm at Birdland (315 West 44 Street, NYC), please visit http://www.artattackfoundation.org.
Founded by Dan Watt, the Art Attack Foundation's mission is to inspire community leaders, businesses, and individuals to participate and contribute in the education, enhancement and development of young performing artists. AAF is dedicated to providing opportunities, funding, and encouragement to assist young performers in realizing their full artistic potential.