How Joni Mitchell Gave Bridges of Madison County Star Whitney Bashor "Another Life"
Whitney Bashor's Broadway debut in The Bridges of Madison County was a brief three-month run in a role with no dialogue. And yet her performance became one of the most memorable of the season, earning her Actors' Equity's 2014 Clarence Derwent Award as the year's most promising female performer.
She did double duty as Marian and Chiara — two minor roles compared with the musical's central characters Robert and Francesca (played by Steven Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara). But as Marian, Robert's folk-singing ex-wife, the show's Tony-winning composer Jason Robert Brown gave Bashor the song "Another Life" — a musical homage to the great Joni Mitchell, which she performed beneath the Broadway spotlight each night at the Schoenfeld Theatre.
The song has become an indelible part of the actress' repertoire and is now the epicenter of Bashor's September 15 solo show at Feinstein's/54 Below, which pays tribute to Mitchell along with some of her musical influences such as Joan Baez, Laura Nyro, and Judy Collins. This will be Bashor's second solo appearance at the Broadway supper club, but unlike her last show, which she affectionately titled her "shower set list," this new program will toast the artist who — at least tangentially — gave her "another life" in the theater.
What inspired you to put together this evening of Joni Mitchell?
I grew up listening to her music and love her as an artist, so after [singing] "Another Life" in The Bridges of Madison County, I thought I would put together a show that really got to explore more of Joni's music. [Audiences] really felt Joni Mitchell in that moment and in that song and so many people expressed their love of her.
What was it like being able to perform "Another Life" on Broadway eight times a week?
It was the most thrilling theater experience I've had so far. To get to work with Bart [Sher] and Kelli [O'Hara] and Steve [Pasquale] and Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman — the head of the class in every department. And then to be given the gift of this beautiful song that helped tell the story of Bridges. [It] was just a beautiful solo moment for my character. It was such a gift. I just love every memory I have from working on the show. Not only did The Bridges of Madison County change the trajectory of my career but that song speaks to me personally — just as a human being and what I've gone through in my life. [It's] also just the type of music that I really love to sing, so it was a perfect melting pot of everything.
Did you feel an immediate shift in your career after Bridges?
Most of my career has been me going out of town to work on new shows, which is what I love to do more than anything. But when you go out of town, you're kind of out of sight and out of mind. I think when you get to do a show in New York City — especially something like The Bridges of Madison County — [you're] a part of something that [is] on the theater world's radar. It was the type of show that every actor I knew wanted to be a part of and everybody who loved theater— It just really spoke to them. When I would come into a room and audition, they'd be like, "I saw The Bridges of Madison County and I loved the show!" So it was kind of this great grounding point that people associated me with that show. [It's] been nothing but wonderful because so many people love it.
You've definitely kept busy since Bridges.
From last August to this August I've done three new musicals, so I've been out of town nine out of the twelve months of that time frame, which has been crazy. First I got to do The Unsinkable Molly Brown in Denver with Kathleen Marshall and Beth Malone and Dick Scanlon and that was so much fun. Then I went to D.C. and did Diner again with Kathleen Marshall and Sheryl Crowe and Barry Levinson. And then I went and did Beaches in Chicago with Eric Schaeffer and Shoshana Bean and we had a blast. So it's been a very busy year and I'm happy to be back in the city for a bit.
Why is this the program you wanted to bring to New York during your hiatus from life out-of-town?
I'm really excited about doing this Joni concert because I just feel very close to her music. In the first part of her career, she put out an album every year, which as an artist, is overwhelmingly inspiring and makes you feel terrible that you're not doing the same thing. [laughs] I feel like everybody has either the Joni album or at least the Joni song where they're like, "Joni wrote that for me. That song speaks to my heart." I'm definitely that way with her album Blue and with Court and Spark, so there are going to be some songs from [those].
What did you enjoy most about your first solo show that you're excited to experience again with this new show?
I really loved doing an hour set of just music and getting to tell a story through the songs that I picked. It just feels really personal, and I'm excited to share that part of myself with a New York audience. When you're an actor in a show, so many other people are in charge. When it's you and you're creating the event, you're more of the CEO. After the first one I was so exhausted but at the same time I was like, "I'm unstoppable!"