David Allen catches up with Broadway star Eden Espinosa to chat about her upcoming show at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival… and more
If I were a smoker I would be chain-smoking. I am pacing up and down my apartment like a caged animal and my housemates have made themselves scarce to avoid my telling them for the six-millionth time what is about to go down and the significance of it. It hasn’t sunk in at all – I am about to talk to Eden Espinosa and I am in no way emotionally prepared.
When interviewing people I like to go for an organic feel. Let the mood carry the questions and the conversation will form itself. But this is a major Broadway star and I’m nervous so I’ve prepped studiously with strictly researched questions and lengthy conversations with friends as to what I should ask her. Even so, I’m drinking coffee like it’s going out of fashion and watching the clock like it’s going to run away somewhere as High Noon (9am – the time of the call) approaches. Finally the phone rings and a lady from Telstra tells me I’m going on hold as she reaches Eden in New York.
I restrain myself from asking her why my wireless coverage isn’t all that, and down some more coffee.
Eden comes on the line. She has a voice which completely belies the fact that she is one of the most dynamic beltresses on Broadway. It’s low and lyrical and very Californian – although you can hear the influence of over a decade lived in New York. I know well from many, many, many hours on YouTube that, in person, Eden is a beauty with a very striking and expressive face and eyes almost the same shade as the Elphaba make up she wore for so long.
I ask where she is and what time it is and she turns out to be in Manhattan where it’s about 7pm.
My mind floods and after a gushing “it’s so wonderful to get to talk to you,” instead of introducing myself I dive straight into the interview!
I ask if this is to be her Australian debut. Consummate professional she doesn’t even skip a beat!
“Yes! Yes I’m so honoured and so thrilled to be able to perform at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. I’m really looking forward to coming to Australia. I’ve never been and I’ve always wanted to and so this was just such a great opportunity for me.”
Me: Will you be in Sydney at any point?
“Well the flight takes me from New York with a layover in Los Angeles, and then we fly to Sydney and then on to Adelaide. It’s going to be quite a long trip!”
I ask about the possibility of a concert and she’s genuinely astonished by the idea that people would come!"I didn’t think people would know who I am, and yet when the Adelaide line-up was announced people got in touch with me straight away on Twitter"
“I honestly didn’t think about it” she says. “I didn’t think people would know who I am, and yet when the Adelaide line-up was announced people got in touch with me straight away on Twitter and were asking me ‘any chance of a concert?’ in Sydney and Melbourne. So next time for sure I’ll try and be more extensive. As it is I’m just really looking forward to seeing Sydney and seeing Adelaide. I hear Australia’s just the most incredible place.”
I promise her it is and add that the buzz surrounding this year’s Adelaide line-up has been phenomenal. I ask what the show is going to be like.
“Well I’ve been touring extensively for the last few years in the States with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, and I’m about to release my first solo album. I’m really looking forward to performing on an intimate scale like this. The show is very organic, it’s songs I love, songs I’ve performed before – so we’ll see how it goes!”
There have been Broadway stars on the stages of the Cabaret Festival before so I ask if there is anyone she spoke to for advice about her forthcoming trip.
“Well I knew Shoshana Bean had performed there so I went and spoke to her. She told me it’s just the most amazing experience.”
Shoshana Bean – a fellow Broadway Elpaba – debuted at Adelaide in July 2010, followed by performances in Melbourne and Sydney. I was at her performance at the Factory theatre and she tore the place apart! I press for more details.
“Well I know Shoshana from when I was understudying for Idina Menzel [in Wicked on Broadway] and we are both friends with Megan Hilty – who was Galinda then.”
The name Megan Hilty instantly distracts me as I have spent the night before obsessing over an episode of the hit NBC TV series Smash – in which Megan Hilty is starring. I ask if Eden watches Smash. She laughs.
“Yes! I love it! It’s such a great show – and of course I have friends in it so I just can’t not watch it! Wasn’t last week’s episode great? I texted Megan afterwards and said ‘Ivy Lynn – you’re such a bad girl’!”
I ask if she has any details about the season final cliff-hanger.
She doesn’t – so I move on and ask about the show that marked her Broadway debut – Brooklyn."Brooklyn was such an incredible experience. And it always makes me so pleased when people say they loved the show. It was important for me because it helped me get to New York"
“I’m actually headed out to a reunion later tonight with some of the cast!” she gushes. “Brooklyn was such an incredible experience. And it always makes me so pleased when people say they loved the show. It was important for me because it helped me get to New York.”
“I was living in LA and I wanted to go there but then after having been in the workshop for Brooklyn the Creatives spoke to me and said they wanted me to be in it. So moving to New York was suddenly much less daunting because I could go there and work.”
Brooklyn is what Anyone Can Whistle must have been to Broadway babies of the 60’s. It’s a show with a fiersomely dynamic score and what sounds like such a great premise that bombed so heavily on Broadway – having never seen it, for years I was astonished as to why.
I ask about her most defining role to date as the iconic Elphaba in Wicked.
“Defying Gravity” is the most recognisable Broadway showstopper of the last 30 years – and any shortlist of the finest performance of that song would be incomplete without Eden. I tell her that from a multitude of YouTube stalking I consider her performance as Elphaba to be one of the most spectacular I have ever seen and I ask how she can build to such a fire and brimstone dynamic?"There was always a new layer there every time I played Elphaba"
“Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz have done such a good job with constructing Wicked and the character Elphaba – really, by the time you reach “Defying Gravity” you are in this incredible emotional place. And you just go with it! I played Elphaba for seven years, and each time I was contracted to play her again, on Broadway, on tour, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, each time I think I had grown as an actress. And the directors told me to just go with everything I had learned as a person, as a woman and just add it to the character. There was always a new layer there every time I played Elphaba.”
As part of my researched a friend has asked me to confirm or deny with Eden the urban legend that began during the course of the Australian tour of Wicked that actresses are told to train for “Defying Gravity” by singing it full out while jogging on a treadmill.
“… I never did that! How fascinating – I can’t speak for what the Australian cast did, but I was never asked to do that. Before you sing “No Good Deed” you have to run a bit to get to your position and so I was told to run up and down a flight of stairs before rehearsing it to give myself an idea of how it would be to perform. But never a treadmill. I do know that Jerry Mitchell, the choreographer of Legally Blonde on Broadway, made the cast do that. But then you just have to look at the choreography for that show to see that it was a good idea!”
(Erika Heynatz – take heed!)
Another question I have been told to ask is if the green Elphaba make up ever proves stubborn and won’t come off.
“Around the back of my neck – my Mom noticed once there was a line of green around the roots of my hair. She pulled me over and said ‘what’s that?’ and I checked in a mirror and went ‘Oh!’ So I was always more careful to scrub there more thoroughly every time after that.”
So no build up over time?
She laughs. “No – just a lot of time spent putting it on and taking it off!”
Now I have to turn to the future. Eden is an established Broadway star in the prime of her vocal powers with the cult of Wicked firmly behind her. A debut album is on the way. What’s next after Adelaide?
“Well I’m coming back from Adelaide and walking straight into the recording studios. The album comes out later this year. After that – there’s a new club opening up beneath the old Studio 54 called 54 below. I think Patti LuPone is going to play there and then my cabaret is next.”
“Beyond that I’m just so delighted and so humbled to be able to come to Australia and make my debut in Adelaide. I’m just looking forward to it so much.”
Eden Espinosa will be playing from Wednesday June 13 to Friday June 15 at the Dunstan Playhouse at 6:30pm.
Book your tickets NOW! This is a legend of the Broadway 21st century revival and her future as a leading lady looks well assured.