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Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

I said, "I guess it's time to fly. And so I'm trying."

Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

Singing actress Abigail Brooks is about to take a leap - a leap into cabaret and a leap into Christmas. The American Idol alum and TikTok sensation will be making her nightclub debut and her New York City debut on the same night, and to make sure she feels completely comfortable when her foot hits the stage on December 9th, Abigail has chosen the theme of Christmas (which she loves) and the venue of Chelsea Table + Stage (where she works). To sweeten the deal, Abigail has invited some of her performing artist colleagues from school and from Chelsea Table to join in on the fun, creating more than just a Christmas show: she is making a holiday party.

As Abigail gets closer to Debut Day, she stopped by Broadway World Cabaret headquarters for a photo shoot and a chat about Christmas, Judy Garland, and the pressure of living up to social media stardom.

Photos by Stephen Mosher; Visit the Stephen Mosher website HERE.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Abigail Brooks welcome to Broadway World!

Hello!

You are making your New York City cabaret debut at Chelsea Table + Stage.

Yeah.

You've been living here since 2019.

Yep.

And you've been studying.

Yep.

So, what told you "I'm ready for my introduction to the New York Cabaret Society"?

I have been told by many people online that they are tired of hearing just little bits of songs that I sing and they want to hear the full songs live. They said one of the ways they wanted to hear that it was a Christmas concert. And I thought it's about time. It's nearing the end of the pandemic and it's about time I get my voice out there in a different way than online.

Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

You are a product of the social media machine.

Yes.

You have fans and followers because of your online work?

Yes.

Tell me how that happened.

That happened over the pandemic. I was going to school, then we had to go home for a few months because of the pandemic, and while I was home, I had a friend tell me, "You should sing on TikTok and see how it goes, if you can get some sort of following." I was like, "It's probably not going to work out for me - it probably won't happen." I recorded a really silly video in our garage singing "My Heart Will Go On" and made it into a joke, put it out on the internet, and woke up the next morning with a million views. I was like, "Interesting." All of the comments were saying they want to hear me sing more things, so I started off doing some silly videos of me messing around my coffee shop, which is where I was working at at the time,. One day I decided it was really kind of boring in the coffee shop, and I decided to grab a broom from the back, pretend that it was a microphone and sing into it. I put that out on TikTok and it also hit a million views. I thought I could probably turn this into a little bit of a schtick if I grabbed the broom and sing into it and start posting it. And it really worked out for me. A lot of people paid attention and started following, and they were like, "Why are you working in a coffee shop? You should be on stage, You should be performing." So I went back to school and stopped singing into the broom for a while because I couldn't be at the coffee shop but because of the traction of my videos from TikTok, I got offered American Idol and had several rounds of auditions and callbacks. I was cast on American Idol for the 20th season and did my schtick on American Idol with my broom. Then I was asked to do Postmodern Jukebox with Scott Bradley, who also found me on TikTok. So it just was something very small and silly that I was doing in my coffee shop that turned out (to be) something big.

Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

You are a singing actress who was on a track...

Yep.

Studying for Broadway, getting your career ready, and because of the pandemic and because of social media, you ended up going in another direction.

Yes. Which is difficult, actually, in a way, because my dream is to perform on stage and act. But because of the direction my voice took, I almost turned into more of just a vocalist instead of a serious actor, so it's kind of been hard for me to get back into the acting world because a lot of people don't take it seriously that most of my influence is on social media. I'm trying to figure out a way to get back into the acting world.

I have read articles about how casting directors cast off of social media now. So this can work to your benefit.

I think it depends on the casting director.

Are you auditioning for plays?

I'm sending in tapes and doing what I can to get myself out there.

Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

And you are getting ready to perform live in a Christmas show at the suggestion of your followers?

Yes.

Tell me about your relationship with Christmas.

With Christmas?

Yes. Are you a Christmas person?

Absolutely... probably my favorite holiday, for sure; more than any of the holidays, you spend most of your time on Christmas. I think everyone does. As soon as Halloween is over, everyone's in Christmas mode. All of my favorite artists have albums of Christmas music. You don't get a Halloween or Easter or Thanksgiving album from these people - it's all Christmas albums. So the music of Christmas has really affected me. Just hearing everybody, all their ways of putting themselves into Christmas music, and different varieties of singers singing Christmas songs. It's a time that's really beautiful for me, listening to music and understanding what style I like, and it's a time for everyone to come together and be one with each other.

Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

Tell me how a nightclub artist - because that's what you are now... how does a nightclub artist begin to put together a Christmas show that is authentic to themselves? It's a pretty niche programming task.

I am putting together this Christmas show based on the music that shaped me growing up, so there's going to be three different sections. There's going to be this section of music that was the kind of music I heard as a kid that first piqued my interest, like Barbara Streisand's "Jingle Bells," The Carpenters... "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas."

My favorite.

Yep. I'm going to go into more of a time when I was starting to really build on all of this, and most of my inspiration came from the movies. I was watching Christmas movies, so it's going to be the music from Christmas movies that I watched.

I'm obsessed with Christmas movies. Tell me your top five favorite Christmas movies.

It's a Wonderful Life.

Okay.

White Christmas, Christmas with the Kranks

Hilarious.

Holiday Inn and Elf.

Would it be appropriate for you to put in your Christmas show "Love You Didn't Do Right By Me?"

That is exactly the conversation I was having with a friend on the street, and it's still up in the air. I don't know if I want to do it because it's not necessarily Christmas, and it's the one song that, every time I heard it each Christmas, I was like, "Oh my goodness, who is singing this? Rosemary Clooney?" Obviously I had to discover who she was.

There are artists from years back that have to be discovered and rediscovered.

Yes.

And the fact that you have investigated the work of these great artists - that's wonderful.

I feel like, so often, I was born in the wrong era because everything that I love about Christmas is based in the forties and fifties. I turn on It's a Wonderful Life and I'm obsessed with it. And everyone else is like, "Can we watch The Santa Clause?"

Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

The telephone scene is the greatest, most romantic, sexiest scene ever.

Yes, it is. I blush every time.

Also, in this household, I can't tell you how many times throughout the year either Pat or I will say, "I'm Linda Mason."

Yeah. Those movies, they're classic.

Tell me something, before you had your social media success... you're an actress, you're studying, you're auditioning, and then this happens...

Yes.

Coming out of it, getting ready to do your first nightclub act, has your confidence level changed?

It certainly has. I was just talking to my roommate, my best friend Melissa Jones, about why I, sadly, feel a little bit less confident these days just because there seems to be a lot of pressure that I've put on myself, and that I feel other people have put on me to come out with albums or come out with an amazing first nightclub act, or to go and be in Funny Girl on Broadway. These are all things that people have said, "Oh, you're going to go and do that," and I want to please everybody. But at the same time, I have to remember that this is just the beginning. I'm just getting started. And while those things could happen in the future, I can't immediately rush and try to get there right now. It's been something I've been grappling with. It's like: just allow yourself to put on a nightclub act or a cabaret that is fun, and that's for the people you love. Don't put so much pressure on it. So when I think of it that way, I'm confident... but I'm struggling to find that confidence to fight against the pressure.

If I can offer some advice - you have to find a center of balance.

Mm-hmm.

Whether it's meditation or prayer or exercise, you have to find a center of balance in which you can see things clearly without all the outside noise, so that when it comes time to make career choices, you can be authentic to yourself.

Yeah.

Find people to surround yourself with that you trust - a good director, a good musical director. Listen to them, take their advice and make your own decisions, and always stay authentic to yourself.

Yeah.

It sounds like a lot, but it's actually remarkably easy.

Yeah.

Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

Tell me about your creative team. Who's your Musical Director?

Her name is Sharon Kenny. She was the pianist for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and she's currently the pianist for Beetlejuice. She has done The Music Man and Moulin Rouge. She's incredible, she writes her own music, she writes scores, she writes musicals. She's very young as well. She worked at the school I went to and she immediately noticed my voice sounded older, and she wanted to help me find music that would fit that genre of music I was singing.

Tell me about the older music.

Yes.

How did this become the music that you gravitated toward, as opposed to radio hits?

I truly don't know. It's the kind of music that hits you in the soul. You're not really able to explain why... the depth, I guess, of the voices, the maturity of the voices; it just felt like my voice felt like theirs. It felt like the stories they were telling with their voice took me to a place that was otherworldly. Like Barbara Streisand and Doris Day, their voices are just on another level - there's nothing shallow about it. They're singing from their soul. Like Judy Garland - I would watch her sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow, she was in this get-up, she was doing a show and she had a hat on and dirt all over her face, and she came out on stage to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and was on the verge of tears the whole time. I always felt that way when I was singing that kind of music, like I wanted to cry. It meant so much, it was so deep and meaningful. I feel like I connected in a way with their music that I can't connect to the music these days. There doesn't seem to be much emotion and authenticity and just raw realness in people's music these days. It's all beats and that kind stuff.

You're a storyteller.

Yeah.

It's all about the story.

Right.

What's your favorite Christmas record?

Oh my goodness. The Carpenters Christmas and Barbara Streisand.

I think those are everybody's favorites.

Yeah. You can't do Christmas without those two albums.

Have you done nightclub work before?

No, This is it. This is the first time.

How do you feel?

Ecstatic. I feel like I don't want to put pressure on myself, so it's not as big of a deal as I think it is... but it is a big deal. It's the first time I'm kind of directing my own thing, that I'm able to call the shots. I'm the one that's responsible for getting people through the doors and in the seats.

How are you doing that?

I'm posting on social media. I'm calling people up and messaging them, and especially on TikTok. I'm just putting content out there.

So you started out headed toward Broadway. For all the casting directors and directors across the country who are casting musical theater, what are roles you dream of playing?

Annie in Annie Get Your Gun. Fanny Brice. Eliza Doolittle. I want to originate.

Yes!

I think that everyone wants to take a whack at the roles that have already been played, but I want to be someone new.

Yes.

So I don't know who that is.

Every actor should get a chance to originate.

Yeah.

Interview: Abigail Brooks of JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT at Chelsea Table + Stage

Where are you studying right now?

I'm done. I graduated. It was only a two year conservatory, and then I said, "I guess it's time to fly. And so I'm trying."

What day is your show?

December 9th.

Just you or guest artists?

Guest artists! I'm doing a quartet with my coworkers because they all are also artists.

At Chelsea Table + Stage, where you are a server?

Yes. My server friends, we're going to be doing a quartet. My roommate, Melissa Jones, who is an incredible artist, was just on the tour of A Chorus Line - she is going to be doing a duet with me, and she's going to tap, as well, because she's an amazing tap dancer. And my friend, Sadie Kennedy, who is just as much in love with Barbara Streisand as I am, is going to be doing a duet with me as well - Melissa and Sadie are both from (my) school.

So it's sort of like a Christmas variety special.

It is. I love singing with people. I love telling stories with people. It's so daunting, just me on the stage. I want to be able to ease into that, so I want to have some friends there with me to start out.

It sounds like a lot of fun, and I love getting to see new artists get into the light.

It's going to be so fun.

Abigail, thank you for visiting with us today and have a wonderful New York City nightclub debut.

Thank you for doing this and Merry Christmas!

Abigail Brooks JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT plays Chelsea Table + Stage on December 9th at 9:30 pm. For information and reservations visit the Chelsea Table + Stage website HERE and there is a live stream of the concert with that event page accessible HERE.

Abigail Brooks can be found on Instagram HERE, on YouTube HERE, and on TikTok HERE.



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