Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th

“Wait a minute. This isn't so scary after all."

By: Jun. 06, 2023
Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th

Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th These are exciting times, not just for Janine LaManna, but for all of the fans of Janine LaManna.  After a respectable (some might say enviable) career on the Broadway stage, the stages of theaters throughout this country, and the stages of symphony halls everywhere, the singing actress who captured, forever, the hearts of theater lovers for her portrayal of Gertrude McFuzz in Seussical, will be making her solo show debut on the cabaret stage.  

Saturday night (June 10th) at 7 pm, Janine LaManna will take the stage of The Green Room 42 to present the world premiere of BLACK & GOLD.  With Musical Director Steve Marzullo by her side, Janine will present a program of music that has resonated for her personally and professionally throughout the years, sharing the stories that have made those years the resplendent journey that it has been.

As Janine rehearsed her new venture (and adventure) she was kind enough to spend a pleasant half hour on the phone discussing the evolution of an artist, a historic role she recently adopted, and the feeling she felt when she realized that Gertrude had made her a legend.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Janine LaManna, welcome to Broadway World!

Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th
Sheila Perrotta, Photographer

Thanks. I'm so happy that you wanted to do this interview with me about the show because I'm really excited about it and excited to get the word out. It's been a long time coming.

It is my understanding that this is going to be your solo nightclub debut. 

Yes. This is my debut. I've been dreaming about doing this for so long and never really got it together. It’s really to Ben Rimalower’s credit that he kept asking me to do it. And I was like, "I really should do it… I'm just going to do it." Once you put a date on the calendar, that's it. You commit to it and you go for it and you put all your fears aside. And I've been cultivating this material for so long that it just kind of fell into place.

Do you have fears about this?

Yeah...  I'm really accustomed to being on a larger scale stage and having the fourth wall between me and the very large audiences… it wasn't really intimate. And, I think, for such a long time, the intimate platform had scared me off. I didn't know whether I was going to be able to talk to the audience, if I was going to be too big for a smaller space, but I think those were just my own issues that I kind of fabricated in my brain. I don't think they were real things. I think the pandemic had kind of worked us all into a time of reflection, and it made you kind of look back at your career and say, “Oh my gosh, now that we're not performing, we’re  all sitting here with our memories," - it kind of made me go, “I've done an awful lot and it would be really wonderful to share it and tell the stories.” I feel like I've grown into a more mature performer, and even though I had done a lot of concerts with different Philharmonics and symphonies and bands, on a larger scale, I had never done anything intimate. I think that sharing stories was the one thing that was going to make or break me wanting to do this, because sharing stories became so second place and second nature to us.  During the pandemic I kind of conquered that fear. I'm very happy to do podcasts.  I'm very happy to do interviews and talk about my stories and talk about my experiences in my very long career in theater and film and television. I think that's really kind of what happened: I went, “Wait a minute. This isn't so scary after all," and it's nice to know that people wanna hear the stories.  I certainly have experienced that with the last couple of shows that I've done with very young cast members, these young actors that grew up with the album and they kind of had this thing about Gertrude and Seussical.  It was so refreshing to know that that was even a thing, and that people were really still tuned into Seussical after all these years: it had made an impact on them as young actors wanting to go into the business, or shaping them as singers or actors. That was another thing that made me go, “I guess I have a lot of stories to share, and somebody's interested.”

What was the gut reaction when you found out that your personal trajectory was a part of these young people's history?

Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th
Joan Marcus, Photographer

Number one, just flabbergasted. I knew Seussical was big and I knew that it was one of the top three most produced musicals of all time because of the youth groups and the high schools and the young theater companies that were doing Seussical. When we had our reunion a few years ago, we kind of, collectively, realized that it was way bigger -that all the original cast members were all having this experience, that people would write to them or ask them to come and see their production or ask them to choreograph it or to direct it. I certainly am no stranger to that. And I always go and see the show, if I can, if I see it happening, I'll go and see it, whether I'm invited or not.  I love to go see Seussical and  I love to see what people are doing with it.

There's so many different ways that you could approach the show, and that is such a wonderful thing that people create. This show sparks such creativity in younger people, so when I realized that there was such a young audience for it, still, and that I was a little bit revered, as Gertrude, I felt so privileged that I was a part of it. And whenever I see Lynn (Ahrens) and Steve (Flaherty) or talk to them, I tell them, all the time, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for choosing me to be Gertrude, because it's a gift that will never stop making me feel proud to be a part of the show and a part of that history.   I mean, my gosh, to be able to touch so many young people, I can't say enough about it.

Once you had decided to take the cabaret jump, did you find that the show presented itself, organically, or did you sit down and draft, and outline and script it?

I have cultivated so many arrangements over the years, and I started to put them together. I was like, if I were to put down my favorite songs to sing, my favorite arrangements…  I started there and I realized that there was a little bit of an arc in my life, as well. There was this one song called Black and Gold that I just love because I really kind of lean more towards pop and rock and blues. I really kind of love and live and breathe in the pop world. There's this one song that was a pop song that was reimagined as a standard, and I thought, you know what? That seems to be  a running theme in my life, black and gold, in many incarnations. So I started from that vantage point, and it kind of fashioned the whole arc of the show, from when I was a teenager to now, and it's a running theme that the colors mean something to me, in personal ways, professional ways, and spiritual ways. 

A lot of Broadway performers have dipped their toes in the cabaret waters. Have you had friends give you advice as you approach your solo show debut?

Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th Over the years, I definitely have gone to see a lot of people do their shows, and I have a lot of good friends that have great eyes, and, I really have been working on this for a long time. I would work on a little bit of it, and then I would go away from it, and I'd work on it again, and I'd go away from it. So that advice over the years has always been: decide what you wanna do. Do you wanna tell a story? Does it just wanna be a collection of songs that are all in the same vein? What type of show do you wanna do? 

Then, all of a sudden, it just was all there.  I was like, “Oh, this is a really good mix of songs that have nothing to do with my career, and songs that have everything to do with my career." I did take class with Marilyn Maye, the master at this type of art form, and she gave me a lot of great advice. You can't watch her show and not go, “Well, she's perfected the art form.” She is really perfection in every breath that she takes, in every story that she makes - everything that comes out of her mouth is her own arrangement. The arc of her show is just perfection. So I'm trying to learn from the people that have done it for a long time, and that have the most sage advice to give. I have a feeling that I'm gonna make a lot of mistakes, but the only way to learn those mistakes is by doing it. 

Mistakes are most welcome because it's just humanity with music.

Exactly. Exactly.

What kind of reflections do you have about the need for artists to stretch and grow and evolve throughout their career?

Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th
Joan Marcus, Photographer

Wow, that's a great question. I think that the younger generation is really proficient at that. In my generation it was - you audition, you get a job, you audition, you get a job. I think the younger generation is looking outside the box and not just auditioning and doing a show and auditioning and doing a show. Nowadays they're self-promoting. They are self producing and they're thinking of other ways to be creative, for their survival jobs, for their creativity, for their mental acuity. I think that what they're doing is branching out. They're doing graphic design, they're doing cabaret shows, they're doing videotaping, and filming themselves, and making reels.  It's just incredible how that feeds them, as an artist, and also gives them the power to be in charge of their own destiny. Actors are starting to branch out and do podcasts, actors are interviewing now; there's so much else that young actors are doing, that they're taking their career into their own hands. I think that that is a really positive thing and something that I'm in awe of, and trying to learn from them. I'm trying to learn from the younger generation.  It's amazing how open the field is now.

I think it's very important as we get a little more advanced in our glamor to keep young people around us: it helps us to be aware of what's going on and all that we have open to us.

A hundred percent.

So , I can't talk to you without doing this: you've just come off of doing Woman of the Year.

Oh, yes.

From Lauren Bacall to Raquel Welch to Debbie Reynolds to Janine LaManna. How does that feel?

Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th
Russ Rowland, Photographer

I'm completely honored. I couldn't believe it when the show happened and it was me - I just felt so honored, and I was like, “Wow, I'm in really good company.” Because I think each one of those women brought something completely different to the role:  one had a strength in one area, the other had a strength in another area, and the other had another strength. And  I'm hoping (of course my close friends tell me this - I don't know whether the public felt this - but my close friends are like, “You're somebody that has all of it.”)  It was interesting that you could hear the score sung.  Some of the original cast members came to see the show, and they were like: it was so nice to hear the score sung.  Debbie Reynolds was such a beautiful singer, but I think that Lauren Bacall was not necessarily known for her singing prowess. Mr. Kander was so sweet and said, “Can we add the ballad back in?"  There was a ballad that they wrote for Lauren Becall, to kind of pump up her vulnerability as Tess Harding, and it just wasn't working, so they cut it this beautiful ballad. It ended up being in the show with Debbie Reynolds - it was a song called "Who’d Have Dreamed" and Debbie did it, but Debbie didn't really do it as a ballad, it was more like a “Rose’s Turn” anthem. Miles Plant was our musical director, and we took a look at it and we pared it down to what we thought Fred and John wrote to begin with.  And it was really a beautiful, simple ballad, and it's a moment for her to, finally, not be so in control of everything, and to be vulnerable at the loss of her husband walking out on her on her highest achievement moment in her life. That was really quite an honor to be able to do that. It's such a great part. It is so well written. She's so smart, she's so funny. She can be so warm. I really love it when the story is centered around a woman. I think those moments are few and far between, and to get a piece of musical theater that is written so well for a woman and her storyline, it's a privilege. It's one of those rare things that happens and you go, “Oh my god, this is incredible.”  I was thrilled to do it. Unfortunately, this show is one of those shows that the writing is so centric to the Eighties that, unless you rewrote the lyrics and the script, you couldn't do it now because it wouldn't appeal to a younger audience. That humor would go over their heads because they don't know who Rona Barrett is. They don't know why we're talking about jelly beans with the White House. There's a lot of cultural and pop references in the show that I don't think would necessarily fly today, unless you rewrote it, but you'd have to rewrite the entire thing.

So you presented it as a museum piece.


Interview: Janine LaManna of BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 June 10th

All right, back to Black and Gold: on the 10th, you're going out for your very first solo show. You've got two shows at the Green Room 42.  If you feel good about it, is there a chance this could become a regular thing for you?

I think that I've been dipping my toes in this water in very small ways, not as a soloist, but I've been singing at Green Room 42, I've been singing at 54 Below, I've been singing at The Cutting Room, in the last several years. But I've never done my solo show. I think that was a really good stepping stone for me, in order to go, “How do I feel about this intimate setting? Can I do it?” And I've actually grown to love it and absolutely have embraced it 100%. So now that I feel like I'm ready to do this, I think I have some really interesting stories to tell.  I love all the rooms in the country, I have seen them. I would be in such incredible company with these smaller jazz clubs - I would be so thrilled to start doing that and keep exploring new arrangements, keep exploring new songs. I'm really excited about it. I'd like to start traveling and doing it more.

Janine, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I'm so excited to come see you on the 10th.

Thank you!

Janine LaManna will play BLACK AND GOLD at The Green Room 42 on June 10th at 7 pm (ticket link HERE) and on June 26th at 7 pm (ticket link HERE).

Follow the official Janine LaManna Facebook page HERE.


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