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Christina Bianco Interview: Forbidden Broadway

5 October 2014 Tom Butler

"Some pop rock songs sound great when they’re performed by Britney or Christina Aguilera, but they’re much funnier if they’re performed by Julie Andrews!"

Christina Bianco is a YouTube sensation for her amazing impressions of singers. She’s also a brilliant actress and thoroughly lovely person. You can currently catch Christina in Forbidden Broadway at the Vaudeville Theatre following a transfer from the Menier Chocolate Factory. London Calling were lucky enough to speak with her.

London Calling: When did you first see Forbidden Broadway?

Christina Bianco: I first saw the show when I was a very little girl, I mean the show has been running for over 30 years. I remember when my parents first took me, I loved theatre, I loved to sing and it was a show that if you went to see theatre in New York you always heard about it, you always knew about the. I absolutely loved it and I bought all the cast albums, I have about 15 of them!

It was then such a dream come true to be in the show and be on a cast album from my time in the show in the US. It’s such an amazing part of my life and now six years after having done it in New York to get to perform in the West End is just the icing on the cake!

LC: When did you get the call to be asked to join the show for the west end transfer?

CB: Not as long ago as you might think! With transfers it has a great deal to do with the availability of theatres and so it was quite last minute. When they knew a west end transfer was a possibility they were thinking about me because they knew a cast member at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Sophie Louise Dann, was contracted to go into Made in Dagenham.

So I think they were thinking about me for a while before they called but I was about to run off to Edinburgh for three weeks and I believe I got the first call about two weeks prior to that. So five weeks from start to finish, from getting the call to being in rehearsal.

After Edinburgh, I had a day to fly to London, learn the show and get into it! But that’s what the fun is and everyone was very helpful. I have a reputation (not to pat myself on the back!) for being pretty quick in picking things up.

LC: Is it vastly different from the New York production you were a part of?

CB: In its make and essence it’s the same show, but for me I had to learn a lot of new material, and as it happened, a lot of the material I had done in the show before was currently being done by Anna Jane-Casey, so I had to learn the bits I’d never previously gotten to do which was really exciting.

LC: What’s the difference in reaction between US and UK audiences? There’s a perception we’re more restrained!

CB: I have to tell you, that’s not true at all! I’ve not found that in my solo performances in London and also here in Forbidden Broadway. The only difference here is that the writer put some more emphasis on west end shows instead of Broadway shows. But the difference I’ve found has been more to do with the size of the theatre. Forbidden Broadway is typically done in a smaller space and a more fringe audience, so being done in a house that seats over 600 now, there are elements of the show that would get a laugh in smaller venues that don’t here because the majority of the audience can’t see it. Whereas previous jokes that didn’t get laughs now do because it reads to a bigger audience. That’s a learning curve, finding where the new laughs and new pauses are!

LC: Do you think you need to have seen the west end shows that are parodied to ‘get’ Forbidden Broadway?

CB: The answer is no, not at all. It’s actually very frustrating when people say that! The show’s been going for over 30 years and if it was for an insider theatre audience then it never would have lasted that long! It wouldn’t have been able to tour the US and then come to London.

The writer of the show, Gerard Alessandrini is very, very good about picking the most popular, well known songs from each production included. So even if you haven’t seen Les Mis or Phantom, you know the signature songs. So he picks those songs and he changes the lyrics to be about something accessible. Whether it’s about poking fun out of a performer, the fact that the sound is too high, the crazy costumes or that everybody dies!

So again that’s really the appeal of the show. We see a lot of families in the audiences. Now the children haven’t seen a lot of these shows, but children love seeing us be silly. They love the concept, it’s a very broad concept of sketch comedy and I will say if you’re watching it and if there’s three songs in a row that you don’t know the show, it’s still sketch comedy which you’ll love!

LC: You’re a YouTube sensation, with over 6 million views of your impressions of other singers and divas. How do you choose who makes the cut for your public performances?

CB: That’s a good question. Sometimes, now that I have an audience on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the audience indicates who they’d like to hear. Now for my shows in the UK I’ll include a lot more British performers. For example a lot more people over here will have heard of Katherine Parkinson than they will in the US.

But on the videos I post, those I impersonate were just the singers who I felt were the funniest singing that song, or sound a little too good singing that song! Some pop rock songs sound great when they’re performed by Britney or Christina Aguilera, but they’re much funnier if they’re performed by Julie Andrews! I try to find humour in who is singing the song.

LC: How long does it take you to perfect the version/impressions we see?

CB: Well both the videos posted were off the cuff and the first time I ever did them live. You never know what’s gonna happen and that’s the fun of it! If you post things on YouTube that are very polished then people don’t feel in on the joke.  The Total Eclipse Of The Heart video, I wasn’t going to post that. I mean you’re looking over people’s heads all the time, it’s so noisy and it’s the first time I’d ever done that.

I had a structure. I’d told the person playing the piano that for the first verse choose from these people but I didn’t know who was coming.  I just needed to know that Cher – with her low voice – wouldn’t be called out at the highest part of the song. I like to have variety so the next thing I post which will hopefully be in the next week, you’ll see a lot of new impressions included.

LC: On your twitter profile the word anglophile pops up! Have you had time to see the sites whilst you’ve been here?

CB: It does, and was on there long before I ever came here. I’ve not had much chance, you know, eight shows a week and all that! By the time you get to Sunday, you want to gallivant around and see everything but the reality is you’re very tired so you don’t get to see as much as you’d hoped. But I have gotten to see some of the touristy things and I’d still love to get over to Buckingham Palace because I’ve never been inside!

You can see Christina in Forbidden Broadway at the Vaudeville Theatre until the 22nd November. For more information and to book tickets please click here.

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