"For many, many years I wanted nothing to do with theater," says Shoshana Bean, who made her Broadway debut in the company of Hairspray understudying Tracy Turnblad, followed by a stint as Wicked's very first replacement Elphaba. Bean's singing and songwriting career became a priority, and she now has two solo albums and an EP to show for it. However, she broke her own no-theater rule last summer for a run as C.C. Bloom in the new musical adaptation of Beaches at Drury Lane Theatre. After that, "once in a lifetime opportunities" became the new standard bearer for her stage career, and the universe has thrown another her way with the opportunity to take on her dream role of Fanny Brice in a North Shore Music Theatre production of Funny Girl.
Bean was raised on Barbra Streisand's Tony-nominated and Oscar-winning performances of the Jule Styne and Bob Merrill score. As both a performer and one of the only Jewish girls growing up in Olympia, Washington, she saw herself — or at least potential for herself — in Brice's journey from Henry Street to Ziegfeld stardom.
"And obviously," Bean says, "it's the best score of all time."
She can tell you her favorite songs from the film score ("I'm the Greatest Star" and "My Man"), her favorite songs from the Broadway score ("The Music That Makes Me Dance"), and her go-to Funny Girl number for benefit performances ("Who Are You Now?"). For years, she has had a marked-up copy of the script with thoughts of maybe even mounting her own production.
Now that the opportunity to do the show cover to cover is finally here, the only word she can find to describe it is "terrified." But considering that the similarities between her and Brice have only grown frighteningly stronger over the years, her time with the part seems to be beshert.
It must be exciting to finally get the chance to perform your dream role.
Yes. And it's terrifying. I've wanted it for so long. The script's been sitting in my house for years because there have been times where I think, "Maybe I'll mount my own production." This has been in my life for so many years that now that it's literally, "You get to do it." I'm terrified. I don't want to mess it up. I don't want to not be great at it if this is my one shot to be Fanny Brice.
How have you been prepping for the part?
I read the Fanny Brice biography, and I'm watching what little you can find of her [online]. The challenge for me is I've seen the movie and heard the soundtrack so many times, I'm trying to get Barbra out of me and be more authentic to who Fanny was — which is very different from the way that Barbra portrayed her.
Who first introduced you to Funny Girl?
My grandma was a big Streisand fan. I was raised on a lot of those records, so I guess it started with the music, and then the movie. I was a Jewish kid in Olympia, Washington, of which there were not many. [laughs] I was in theater and I didn't understand why I was never front and center, and this was just the character that I immediately identified with. It [showed me], "Oh, it's OK to be different and still have something special to offer." That all sounds so corny and canned, but that was who I identified with.
At the beginning of the show, Fanny Brice tries to take jobs that are distinctly bad fits for her. Did you go through a similar phase of trying to be a chameleon?
One hundred percent. I think that's part of being a performer as a younger person because you're already going to play roles that you're not really right for. In college, I played sixty-year-old women. Because of that, I thought, coming to New York, that I could play everything. So [I thought], "Yes, I'm going in for Belle in Beauty and the Beast," and "Yes, I'm going in for Madame Thénardier in Les Mis." Very quickly I learned that's not actually how it works. I was lucky enough to come into New York at a time when Hairspray happened and Wicked happened — when these nontraditional ingenues started being developed. I can look back and go, "That's so cool, I got to play a leading lady in a fat suit." I was a leading lady and I never lost all the weight that they told me to lose in college.
You've been focusing more on your music career recently. Is this production an exception, or do you want to add more musical theater to your schedule?
[After Beaches], I decided to start taking it case by case. And obviously Funny Girl, there was no question. In my wiser older years I'm aware that you can do everything and that they all serve each other. I'm really glad that I took this time to do my own music because what I've learned about myself onstage and off can only make me a better performer. All the life that I've lived and the sh*t that I've gone through — it all comes with me.
All of that life experience will probably give your Fanny Brice a lot more depth than it would have had fifteen years ago.
I never could have done her fifteen years ago like I thought I could. I read her biography and it pains me because I understand so much of what she went through, personally and professionally. I'm sure it's a struggle that many women have had — trying to prove themselves professionally, trying to make the right decision when you're choosing your life partners. But reading it I was blown away. I just feel so much of a kinship, and I wouldn't have had that to share fifteen years ago — or even five years ago. I could have splatted my performance all over and chewed the scenery, but would I have understood the heart of the character? No. The universe is slow but it knows the right timing.