O Come All Ye Divas! At Sydney Opera House
The ENORMOUSLY talented Christina Bianco is heading back down under to spread some Christmas cheer with her incredible impersonations, beautiful voice and hilarious stories. We are so looking forward to seeing Christina take the Opera House stage next month but before that, we asked a few questions about her work, her show and what audiences can get excited for this time. Have a read below:
You have been described as “a girl of a thousand voices“ – how do you select which Divas to portray and what is your process in beginning to put them into your show?
Now that I’ve been lucky enough to perform in various cities and countries around the world, I definitely can see which divas are the consistent audience favourites. Whether it be from an audible response or messages on social media, the public makes it pretty clear which ‘all stars’ should appear in my shows. Initially though, I start with what I know best. I’ve grew up with very eclectic taste in music, listening to everything from Broadway to jazz to country to rock. I listened to the famous vocalists from those genres so often that I kind of started doing the impressions through osmosis! Those artists who influenced me early on, like Bernadette Peters, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, are the artists I am most comfortable impersonating, so I start with them because I can place them almost anywhere in my shows. Then, I build around that foundation. When choosing new impressions, I look at who’s relevant, who’s lasting, and who may be a flash in the pan but I simply have to do! Then of course, I have my own vocal limitations. I simply can’t do very raspy voiced women like Elaine Stritch or Joan Rivers and I include Mariah Carey in that category too. It’s frustrating but I have to take care of my vocal health first - no matter how badly I want to do a Bonnie Tyler impression!
Who is your favourite Diva to perform and why?
It’s really impossible to choose just one! It’s like being asked to choose a favourite song. What genre? What era? But I do have a soft spot for Celine Dion. Celine is the whole package for an impressionist. She gives you so much to work with! Her voice is obviously astounding so it’s a challenge to sing her material. It’s also a challenge to guess how she might interpret something we’ve never heard her do and execute that. Then, she has so many great mannerisms. Her physicality is very specific, her emphasis and phrasing when she speaks is so unique… I just can’t get enough! (I totally said that in Celine’s voice while typing and may have pounded my chest in public)
You have worked in both stage and screen around the world – when did you realise that you had this great talent for impersonation?
You’ll hear me explain a little bit about this in my concert, but I’ll give you the short version. (Always hard for an Italian to do!) My parents tell me that I did impressions at a very young age, but I never did it intentionally. I just had an ear for it. They’d hear me singing along to someone like Judy singing Over The Rainbow, and they say they could hear me taking on her tone & vibrato speed. It was very innocent but apparently I did it a lot, covering singers of all genres.
Thankfully, as I got older, it never got in the way of my own voice and interpretations. It really wasn’t until college that I took ownership of my ‘many voices.’ I remember friends laugh when I sang along to a Celine Dion song at a party and a little voice inside me popped up said, ‘I should do more of this!’ The funny thing is, I didn’t listen to that voice until a few years later when I saw a rare audition for Forbidden Broadway. The rest is history!
And further to that, how did you go from recognising this talent to turning it into a show? What were some of the steps along the way – for example, many readers may be familiar with the videos that were online of you singing a single song as a variety of characters, etc.
That’s a very good question! I had a few interesting experiences that lead me to creating my own show. Forbidden opened many doors for me. It was a little odd but obviously lovely to be singled out as ‘the new one to watch’ in a show that had been running for so many years. It seemed that every concert event in NYC in 2009 wanted me in the line-up! Very quickly, I realized that I couldn’t just do material from Forbidden. Some of it is very niche but I also didn’t want to repeat myself. I put on my thinking cap. My father, who I thank for exposing me to so many artists and genre of music, always said that the greatest entertainer of all time was Sammy Davis Jr. Sammy had always been an inspiration to me and I thought of those fabulous performances, in which he’d sing one song, impersonating all the other members of the Rat Pack and more. Other impressionists over the years, like Christine Pedi, have done this too. So I thought I’d give it a try. My very very very first attempt at this is on YouTube. I was asked to sing at the famous Friar’s Club and I decided to do a ‘diva mashup,’ sing a song everyone knows, ‘Tomorrow’, from Annie, as a bunch of various vocalists. I look back now and think it was such a hot mess (even my husband awkwardly filming it from the side of the room…and my overly long hair…what was I thinking?) But it was a hit! And I learned a lot.
I started thinking of other songs I could do as ‘diva mashups’ and began putting together my ‘unlikely interpretations,’ which are shorter song clips that are a little more ridiculous, pairing a sing and you wouldn’t expect. Not long after that, I was testing out one of these new ‘mashups’ at Birdland’s open mic Cast Party and the host, Jim Caruso, who books the non-jazz entertainment at the club, asked me if I’d like to do a concert. I wasn’t sure who would come but I knew I should take the opportunity. I spent a lot of money and got my dream charts created (never skimp on this – it’s an investment for life!), I hired a 5 piece band, printed flyers, did a million eblasts & prayed people would come – and it sold out. By the end of that night, ‘Diva Moments’ version 1.0 was born and I was already itching to create a new show and do it all over again.
What is the most challenging part of tackling a one woman show as opposed to working in a company like you did on Forbidden Broadway?
Well, you get sick of yourself! It sounds harsh but I do mean it. Having the freedom to create my own work and write my own show is something I never take for granted. It’s incredibly satisfying. But I grew up doing theatre and being part of a team so I do miss that. I love interacting with others on stage and finding that my performance changes depending on what they’re giving me. Acting is reacting, right? So when you have no one else to connect with, it can get very lonely. Also in a cast, you also sink or swim together but in solo shows, it’s all on me which can be a lot of pressure. Add to that the fact that I have to listen to only myself rehearse, writing, singing and reciting the patter… the sound of my own voice ends up annoying me, so it’s a good thing I switch it up so much!
To compensate, I go out of my way to work with music directors like Joe Louis Robinson, who is a true friend and is very spontaneous on stage. He never hesitates to give back anything I throw at him. I also make sure that I get to know my musicians so we have a real connection. I think that audiences are smart and can see if an artist really cares about who is on stage with them. My name may be in the title but it’s not just me show. I can’t do it without them! Lastly, I interact with my audience A LOT. I ask them questions, take requests - responding to whatever I see or hear in the moment. This keeps the show fresh and allows me to have a slightly different experience every night. That’s what makes live entertainment so great!
What can fans who last saw you at the Hayes Theatre expect in this show? Why do audiences need to ensure that they don’t miss this one?
I was so thrilled by the response I received at The Hayes but I confess I am chomping at the bit to do what I’d call a ‘full on’ Christina Bianco experience! I love intimate venues and having performing to only piano accompaniment like I did last year, but most of these divas I’m embodying are larger than life and super theatrical - and you know my background - so if you give me a large stage to cover, fabulous lighting, a band and time for a gratuitous costume change, I’m going to make the most of it! This show will definitely be bigger and more divine! It’s also more playful in that an entire segment in the show depends on some audience interaction. I look forward to getting to know all the diva lovers in Sydney! And if I have anything to say about it, by the time I’m done, they will certainly know me.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Video of The National Theatre Live’s Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. I saw it in the theatre multiple times, with each role swap! #Nerd
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Italy. I want to spend more time there & learn about my heritage.
Dream role to perform?
It’s a tie between Dot in Sunday In The Park & Fanny in Funny Girl.
Plays or musicals?
My heart is in musicals.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Sugar Art. I’m untrained but am notorious for attempting projects that are way too ambitious.
What’s next for you after this show?
A cozy Christmas at home then more concerts in Australia and the UK in the New Year. I’m just getting started!
You'll need to get your tickets quickly for this one because you definitely won't want to miss out! Click here for tickets