Interview – woman of a thousand voices Christina Bianco on loving UK audiences and plans for Little Voice on Broadway

Picture: Kevin Thomas Garcia

YouTube sensation [23 million views worldwide] and woman of a thousand voices, CHRISTINA BIANCO is heading to Viva Blackpool for the final date of her UK tour.

Despite being a solo performance, her unique vocal impression show fills the room with icons across every musical genre during An Intimate Evening With Christina Bianco.

Christina has previously been nominated for two Drama Desk Awards for appearances in the one-woman, 40-character comedy Application Pending and hit musical Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab [she made her West End debut starring in the Menier Chocolate Factory production of Forbidden Broadway at the Vaudeville Theatre], as well as originating the role of Dora in the long-running US tour of Dora The Explorer Live.

The performer has performed her critically-acclaimed solo shows at NYC’s Birdland and regionally across the US. Overseas, Christina has sold out extended runs headlining at the London Hippodrome, the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Christina has also made numerous TV appearances in the US including The Ellen DeGeneres Show, while in the UK she has featured on The Paul O’Grady Show and This Morning.

Christina is in conversation with Tal Fox.

Tell us a bit about this tour…

I’ve been really lucky to have performed in the UK many times now, in London a lot, a few times at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and last year I did my first tour in 13 cities.

Christina Bianco in Sondheim mode in Forbidden Broadway. Picture: Alastair Muir

This particular concert is a little different. Usually I’ve got a band and it’s just a little bit bigger and brassier. Now I feel I know the audiences really well and they know me, I feel I can put together a show that’s just a bit more personal.

I think you have to earn a show like this, I don’t think every Tom, Dick or Harry can just say “this show is about me”. Now, because the audiences know me, and they ask me a lot of questions, I thought it would be fun to do something a little more intimate and interactive.

My shows always involve some audience interaction, but this time breaking that fourth wall is very important. I’m so grateful to these audiences for supporting me, not just watching my YouTube videos and following me on social media, but making the choice to come see me live and come back to see me so many times.

So I thought it would be fun to do something a little different, something more stripped down. For anyone who comes, even if it’s the first time, they’re going to hear lots of impressions from every musical genre. They’re going to hear me sing in my own voice, which thankfully the audience really loves, but I also think when the audience knows my own voice better, it helps them appreciate the way that I change it to do the impressions.

It’s very balanced, gives the audience a lot of variety. I will, of course, be doing my unlikely interpretations too – that’s where I take a song and pair it with a singer you would not expect.

For example you wouldn’t expect to hear Julie Andrews sing ‘Bang Bang’, but at my shows it just may happen. I take requests from the audience, so every night is a little bit different. You don’t know what suggestions might pop up, I’m really excited.

When did you first realise you had this talent for impressions?

My parents tell me I was always singing along to various artists and I could particularly sound like Judy Garland, I just did it naturally.

So it wasn’t really until years and years later when I was working as a professional actress and singer that I realised it was an asset that I could change my voice to sound like a little kid or an old lady.

When I auditioned for the long-running show in New York, Forbidden Broadway, which spoofs Broadway and West End shows, I was asked to do impressions. It was only then that I really took it seriously as something I could do, and only when I was reviewed positively by the New York Times that I thought: “Oh wow, people might actually want to see this.”

So I turned it into something. It’s something I had never taken seriously until I’d been hired to do it. That being said, what happened with the attention I got from posting some videos of myself doing impressions on YouTube opened up a whole other world to me. I’m very grateful that impressions have become such a big part of my life, I never expected it.

You probably get asked this a lot, but who is your favourite person to impersonate? 

I always say I can’t choose, but then I always settle on Celine Dion. It is very hard to choose, because I love doing so many of them, but it’s no secret that I’m a massive Celine Dion fan and I find impersonating her is just so much fun and so gratifying.

It’s always a challenge for me personally as Christina to want to sing her songs in her keys, the way she sings them, which is of course a challenge because she’s insanely talented [slips into Celine Dion impression].

She’s very distinct in the way she talks and the way moves [slides back into own voice] and she has a certain pattern and funny mannerisms, so for an impression she is a complete package. She’s not just a voice, you have to get the whole physicality and facial expressions, so it’s really fun to try and embody her in my 4ft 11-inch frame.

Is there any impression you would like to master but haven’t quite been able to yet?

There’s a lot of people I really can’t do because I don’t have a very raspy or deep voice. People always ask me to do Tina Turner and I find her quite difficult because I don’t have a lot of grit to my voice.

I’m trying to put something together that might not damage my voice but still be enough Tina to give the people what they want. I’m looking forward to unleashing some Sia and some P!nk. I’m working on those two right now, so maybe they’ll make debuts at the show.

Does you performance change for UK and US audiences?

My love of UK audiences is quite known now, it’s why I come back so frequently. I find UK audiences to be so supportive and so appreciative and enthusiastic.

That’s not to say that that doesn’t happen in America, but I think it’s just a bigger country. There’s so many options for Americans that I don’t know that it’s as special to them when someone like me comes to perform.

Very few people put on a show like I do, it’s not very common for people to do impressions that are not stand-up comedy based and I do it with a band and sing. My act is pretty unique and Americans appreciate it, but the level of loyalty and enthusiasm in the UK I think is stronger, and that’s why I love it so much. It’s why I keep coming back, as long as they keep wanting me, I’ll be coming.

Is there any part of your show that speaks more to one audience over another? 

Definitely, for example I love the television show Absolutely Fabulous. So when I go into the characters from Ab Fab people in the US who know it will absolutely laugh, but the response in the UK is obviously bigger and it makes me want to do it. I think every person is individually different, so that’s what I try to do, I try to do something for everybody.

British people are known for being more reserved, so do they interact as well as American audiences? 

I haven’t found that to be true at all. I think the sort of Brits who come to my shows know what they’re getting themselves into, and if they don’t, they quickly learn that you can’t just sit back and enjoy the show and just applaud politely and smile. I like an interactive show and I encourage that by being very familiar with the audience, trying to ask them questions. So I’ve always been blessed to have a very active UK audience.

What is the most bizarre thing to have happened on this tour?

Not bizarre, but in all of my shows I do my unlikely interpretations, so when I do those I get audience suggestions. Some of them are pretty standard like Celine Dion singing something from Wicked.

In Scotland they asked me to do ‘Ye cannae shove yer grannie aff the bus’, and they had me do it as Shirley Bassey, and I got a two-minute standing ovation for a 60 second version of that! That was completely unexpected, I didn’t know the power of ‘Ye cannae shove yer grannie aff the bus’ but that was a surreal moment I’ll never forget.

Is there more pressure doing impressions on a tour such as this or in a show like Forbidden Broadway?

I think it’s always more difficult when you’re doing a show on your own, because when you’re in a shared show you get to leave the stage and let somebody else have their moment, but you can also play off of somebody.

If the actor across from you gives you a different line reading, then you’re going to respond differently. You need to keep it fresh and you’ve got other people to bounce your creativity off.

When you’re a solo performer, you have to find a way to say similar things every night and make it sound fresh and organic like you do with theatre, but you’ve got no one to bounce that off of, it’s just you.

The people I choose to bounce it off of is the audience, that’s why I like to break the fourth wall and keep it very interactive. Nothing is ever too rehearsed or seems disingenuous. So I do find it more difficult as a solo performer, but when you do have an interactive audience it becomes infinitely easier and more enjoyable, and that’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to the UK.

What is your dream role in theatre? 

There are a few and you can tell all the casting people I’m happy to take any of these roles. I’d love to play Dot in Sunday in the Park With George, I’m a life-long Sondheim fan.

As a funny New Yorker I would of course love to play Fanny in Funny Girl, who says she can’t be petite? I’d like to follow in the footsteps of the petite 4ft 11-inch actresses to play Eva Peron in Evita. Last but not least, I’d love to do the show that I’m attached to that’s hopefully going to be opening on Broadway next season which is The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for that one.

Where can we expect to see you next? 

Hopefully the next big thing will be doing Little Voice on Broadway, I’m waiting with baited breath for that announcement.

In September, right after this tour, I’m going to be making my solo symphony show debut. I’ve done lots of performances with symphonies around the US and Canada, and there’s a new show I’m working on with the famous maestro Jack Everly in the US.

I’m the only singer and it showcases me and my impressions as a solo show. I’m very excited about that, singing with a symphony is an experience unlike any other, and to have them entrust me with my own show is just stupendous.

* Christina Bianco plays Viva Blackpool on 20 July (www.vivablackpool.com)

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