BWW Interview: Christina Bianco Performs her 'Woman of a Thousand Voices' with the Baltimore Symphony SuperPops 2/28 - 3/3/19
The Baltimore Symphony SuperPops presents vocalist Christina Bianco this week-end. Her concert is entitled "Woman of a Thousand Voices". Known for her incredible vocal impressions and comedy, you will hear hits from HAMILTON, LES MISERABLES, MAMMA MIA!, TITANIC, and more. Jack Everly will conduct.
This concert will take place Thursday night, Feb. 28, 2019 at 8 p.m. at Strathmore in Rockville, Friday, March 1, Saturday March 2 at 8 p.m. at the Meyerhoff, and Sunday afternoon at the Meyerhoff, March 3 at 3 p.m.
For tickets, call 410-783-8000 (Meyerhoff) or 877-BSO-1444 (Strathmore) or visit www.bsomusic.org.
Here is an interview I did with Ms. Bianco.
How did you become a vocalist? How old were you when you started training?
I was lucky to grow up in a very musical home. My mother played the piano and my father worked in radio, giving me access to records and CDs of every genre. I was always singing around the house, so when I was 6 or 7, my parents took me for voice lessons and I immediately decided I HAD to sing as a career. Even then, in my young mind, I knew that if I sang one way and in one style, that would be limiting. So I tried to learn as many styles as I could. My parents encouraged me and enrolled me in tons of of classes, I performed in after-school programs and was in my first professional show at age 9. From there, I took every opportunity to perform in different ways. I mostly did theatre, but even when I was training at NYU (Tisch), I sang with jazz trios and wedding bands, and I did jingle and demo work, etc. I think growth as a performer is as much about training and classes as it is about getting out there and having experiences to learn from.
Do you enjoy traveling all over the country and around the world?
I absolutely love it. Even as a kid, when asked what I'd do with all the money in the world, I'd answer by saying that I would travel. I've always wanted to see the world and the fact that I get do to it through my work, doing what I love, is icing on the cake. It's fascinating experiencing the different landscapes, cultures and cuisines. The only downside is that when you're traveling for work and not strictly for leisure, there isn't time to see and do everything I'd like. I remember once, I was doing some voiceover work in Paris and I could see the Eiffel Tower from the building I was working in, but there was no time to go. It was torture being so close and only seeing it in the distance, through a window! But anyone who gets to see the Eiffel Tower during a Paris sunset is lucky. Even if it's through glass.
Do you perform only with symphonies or do you work also with small group of musicians?
My varied work has led me to perform with a wide range of musical configurations! Typically, I tour with a 3- or 4-piece band. In those instances, I know the musicians well, we rehearse for an extended period and we're a well-oiled machine by show time. But I do many events - galas, corporates, award ceremonies, etc. - in which I have bands with as many as 16 players performing my charts, and I'm usually meeting them all for the first time, just prior to the show. It's exciting and stressful! My two favorite ways to perform, though, are the most extreme: with a solo pianist and with a full symphony. Solo piano accompaniment can work in venues large and small. I love the simplicity and intimacy, and it's always a treat for me because the performance can be a lot more flexible. Together, the accompanist and I can play off what the audience is giving us. Over the years, I've created a great rapport with many of my accompanists who also work as my arrangers. There's nothing like having a musician who knows you so well instantly enhance a dramatic or comedic moment because they have the same mindset. Alternatively, there is absolutely nothing like singing with a symphony! Hearing that 'wall of sound' instantly affects me and causes me to perform in a different way. A chill of excitement goes down my spine whenever I walk on stage with all those incredible musicians. I know how fortunate I am. Having a maestro like Jack Everly only enhances this. His musicality, timing and understanding of this wide range of material, takes everything up a notch. It all becomes more dynamic.
How do you choose your programs?
I tailor each of my programs to the city, audience and venue I'm playing. This is especially necessary if you're including anything comedic and of course, you're doing impressions. Because someone who is famous in America may be completely unknown in Australia, and vice versa! I'd never use the same cultural references for my audience of 20-somethings in a London nightclub that I would for my audience at The Sydney Opera House. I do cast a wide net with my programs and pride myself on delivering content that can appeal to the whole family, so it's up to me to make the applicable changes to my program for each booking.
How did you get your comedic ability and when did that begin?
I've always been a bit of a ham. My mother often had to calm me down and gently suppress my comedic tendencies and sarcasm at the dinner table. Artistically, I've always been drawn to the work of funny female performers. Carol Burnett, Madaline Khan, Andrea Martin, Tracy Ullman and Bette Midler are my top 5 and have definitely influenced my work and performances.
When did you start doing impressions professionally?
In 2007 decided to audition for the long running Off-Broadway show, Forbidden Broadway. I grew up going to see the show and listening to the cast albums and I would always sing along to the recordings - essentially impersonating the impersonators! So there I was, a working actress out of college, and I saw that the audition notice said they were seeking people who could do impressions. I'd never taken my impressions seriously before but I thought, 'what the hey!' I practiced a few specific impressions fora week leading up to the audition. I could never have imagined that I would ultimately get the job, be blessed to get great reviews and receive a Drama Desk Award nomination! It was only then that I realized I could do a lot more with impressions and I worked to create content of my own to perform.
Do you have favorites?
I always say it's too hard to choose, but then I always end up saying that it's Celine Dion! First of all, I've been a massive Celine fan since I was a kid, so I feel like I know her and her 'isms' very well. Celine gives me so much to work with as an impressionist. She has so many specific mannerisms, her physicality is clear, she has funny ways of moving, her speaking voice and accent are easily identifiable, and then there's that incredible voice. Just performing something from her repertoire is a great challenge, singing in her key, with so many difficult riffs and melismas. It's then additionally fun to have her sing something she's never performed! I love trying to get into Celine's head, figuring out how she might approach singing something like the The Golden Girl's theme song or a Backstreet Boys hit. I do a lot of those 'unlikely interpretations' in my shows and Celine is definitely one of my favorite subjects!
Do you get any objections?
Thankfully, no celebrity has ever contacted me with a negative reaction to my impression of them. But I know that you can never please everyone. All you have to doit look at YouTube comments to see that (which, by the way, I absolutely do not recommend.) However, one of the reasons I think my audiences keep coming back for more is because I make it very clear, in person and digitally, that I truly believe imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I do everything with love and respect. If you're not honoring these stars from your heart, for all the right reasons, it's obvious to the audience and it will not have the same impact.
Have you performed before artists that you impersonate and what reactions have you received?
I've received lots of positive comments from the likes of Kathy Griffin and Bernadette Peters (I died!), but it has mostly been digital. I did have a fabulous encounter with Kristin Chenoweth though! We were singing at the same event and the bookers specifically told me to not include my impression of Kristin in my set. I told them she'd always been very supportive of me via social media, but they were insistent so of course, I obliged. After my performance, Kristin came up to me, grabbed me by the arm, looked me in the eye (she really could, because we're the same height) and she said, - 'You didn't do me! Why didn't you do me? Next time, you show them all what we've got!' It was the best sort of reprimand I've ever received in my life!
How do you keep your voice fresh?
I'm sure the world is tired of hearing it, but the simple answers are ample water and sleep. I travel all the time much so I do carry a pouch of all things health, but all the supplements, teas, gargles and steamers won't do a thing if you're not well rested and well hydrated. I should say that I also suppress my usual urge to belt along with Christina Aguilera albums at full volume. #Truth
How do you enjoy performing with the Baltimore Symphony?
It's a thrill! I'm so lucky to say that this will be my fourth time with the BSO. As this is a solo program, I'll get to work with them more closely than I have in the past, so that's extra exciting. I know I'm supposed to create these programs for the audience but my not-so-secret hope is to also entertain the BSO musicians and perhaps make a few of them laugh on stage (though ideally, not a reed player in the middle of a solo. Maestro Everly would never forgive me!)