When vocalist, impressionist and actor Christina Bianco is in Indianapolis she says that she enjoys” a big lunch at Cafe Patachou.” Bianco will have a chance to visit her favorite downtown Indy eatery soon, when she performs with Principal Pops conductor Jack Everly and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in “Broadway Divas” Friday and Saturday at the Hilbert Circle Theatre on Monument Circle.
Bianco will join Broadway colleagues N’Kenge, a Julliard graduate who sings in 11 language and known for her riveting vocals and Mandy Gonzalez, best known for her award-winning role in “In The Heights,” and sparkling soprano Kristen Plumley, as they sing tunes from such Great White Way hits as “Les Misérables,” “My Fair Lady,” “Dreamgirls,” and “Chicago.”
Bianco, a two time Drama Desk nominated Bianco has previously performed with the ISO in several Pops Series concerts (“Mysterioso!” in 2009 and “Hello Dolly” in 2012) and Symphony on the Prairie concerts (“Best of Broadway!” In 2012 and “Broadway Standing Ovations!” in 2013). She is best known for videos of diva impressions on YouTube. Bianco has also appeared in “Forbidden Broadway,” on the West End in London and most recently Off-Broadway in “Application Pending,” a one-woman, multi-character play. A cabaret artist, Bianco has performed at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency, Birdland and other prestigious rooms in this country and abroad. In addition the ISO, she has also performed with major symphonies throughout the U.S. and Canada.
A few days ago, atombash.com spoke by phone with Bianco from her home in New York City about the upcoming ISO concert and her impressions.
How do you feel about returning to Indianapolis?
I love playing Indianapolis. It’s nice to be doing anything with Jack and the ISO so it feels good to be ‘coming home’ so to speak. It’s very rare that you find people that are very talented and very well respected who are also so keen to keep a wonderful relationship offstage as well and I think. So many artists like me are so eager and ready to come back and to perform for them. It is a really lovely environment. Every little step of the way, as a performer, especially someone from out of town, we feel so taken care of and of course erybody is so lovely. All of the musicians that are there make us all feel so welcome. When you have people at the top who really care, it trickles down to everyone else so it definitely makes an impact.
Do you know your fellow performers?
Yes I do. We’ve done the concert a few times together outside of Indianapolis. It’s wonderful. In New York, being in a huge community, you run into a lot of the same people. Of course, I was very familiar with Mandy Gonzalez. She such an incredible talent. As far as Kristen, we have a lot in common, plus we are the two most petite in the group so we bonded very quickly. (Laughs)
What do you love about Broadway music?
It’s my first love. When I was a kid, the first music I listened to really was Broadway musicals and Disney and movie musical soundtracks. When you are a kid and want to perform, at least when I grew up; you didn’t have all these crazy TV program and video games where you could sing along. There was no “GLEE” on TV. Really, if you were a kid and wanted to sing, you auditioned for community theatre and you started in shows. I could tell you stories. (Laughs)
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Rockland County. New York and that is about 40 minutes outside of the City so, as you can imagine, I was always going to see and even auditioned for all these Broadway shows and then I then I went to NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts. I never left. I am sort of that New Yorker who grew up here and never left. I actually live downtown in the NYU area.
Do you enjoy being on the road?
I do like being on the road. I figured that out pretty quickly. One month out of school I booked the national tour of “Dora the Explorer Live” and I was Dora. I was on tour with a few layoffs for 18 months. I loved seeing the country. Now I am so lucky because I have been able to perform in so many places all over the world. I just did something in Johannesburg; I have been spending a lot of time in the U.K… I love to travel. If I had all the money in the world I would spend it on travel. I am just so fortunate.
Are you married? Do you have a family?
I am married. I have a very wonderful, very tolerant husband and we have been married for seven years now. His name is Bill and in fact, he grew up in Cincinnati. Whenever I come to do gigs in Indianapolis, my family or his family from Ohio always comes to visit. We have a dog named. Jeffrey. He’s a Schnauzer/Poodle mix—a Schnoodle.
Will you be doing any of your impressions in the concert?
I just might. I think it is a really lovely thing that Jack and Ty (Pops exec. producer Ty Johnson) embrace the other side I do which is impersonations. Since I love to impersonate great divas it does seem to tie in very well to this show. Yes, you can expect some impressions.
When did you start doing impersonations?
Well, according to my parents I was always doing voices and as a kid I would mimic kids and family but I never did it thinking ‘Oh, I am doing an impersonation of this person.’ It really started quite innocently. It was only about seven years ago when I decided to audition for the long running Off-Broadway show, “Forbidden Broadway.” I went to the audition and I had been working in the business and I had been singing very different styles of music and, you know, as you get older you hear the same thing a few times and a lot of people told me “You take direction very well and you are very versatile. You have a good ear and you can really change the sound of your voice.” I started to realize that could be an asset and so I got a little more confident doing that. I had been a fan of “Forbidden Broadway” for years but when I saw an audition notice, and I thought “Wait a minute, I don’t know, I think I might be right for this.” So I locked myself in my apartment for about a week and I tried to do as many impressions as I could. I had never done them in public before so I called my mother and I did a few of them for her over the phone to see if they were any good and I went into the auditions and two or three call backs later I got the job. And all of a sudden I was being reviewed in the New York Times, and people started calling on me to do impressions around town at concerts and events and other jobs and all of a sudden I became this impressionist.
Of course I posted some video on YouTube, mostly to my friends and family and not thinking other people would every watch. A couple of those videos went viral and now I am known as somebody who does impressions. It is something that began very gradually and innocently and I really only embraced it only when the videos went viral. So it has only been the last two years that I really grabbed hold of it and now I like to challenge myself and see what I can do with impressions.
Let’s talk about Christina Bianco’s voice. Are you ever worried that the ladies you do impressions of will show up?
You know many people ask me that. Actually it is not an issue at all. I have spent most of my life singing as me and working as me and though it does come easily for me to change my voice I don’t consciously sing something and say “Oh no, I am becoming so and so.” It doesn’t happen. I just sing as me. There are certain similarities. Some of the impressions come easily, such as Celine Dion. My natural vocal timbre is fairly similar to hers so occasionally I might be able to catch myself and say “You know what, when I sing that line I sound a lot like Celine maybe I want to phrase that differently.” —especially in front of an audience that knows I do impressions, but it’s an afterthought.
I have been very lucky. Both in the symphonic concerts and the solo concert that I do, I always split the show. If it is my own show it is 50/50 or 60/40 in favor of my own voice. I think the audience really appreciates the impressions more when they know what my own voice sounds like. Then they know how I am stretching it and how I am manipulating my voice to do it. Luckily my fans and social media followers all seem to be just as interested in hearing me, for me, in addition my impressions. I keep performing and doing lots of theater where I get to be myself, so I still get to build a career and a resume as an actor and singer in my own right.
Are there any impressions that you’ve tried and you just can’t?
One of them is quite fitting because Jack (Everly) worked so closely with Carol Channing doing “Hello Dolly.” It would be wonderful if I could impersonate her. The only two that I can no do are Carol Channing and Elaine Stritch because I have a relatively clear voice and they have a lot of rasp and a lot of grit in their voice. Were I to try and replicate their voices, I would probably damage mine and that is why I leave those two alone. (Laughs)
For tickets and information about the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Printing Partners Pops Series “Broadway Divas” concert, call (317) 639-4900 or visit indianapolissymphony.org.