5 Questions: Anastasia Barzee Harkens Back to Bacharach
When it comes to popular music, what the world needs now is love — the pure love of song. It needs someone who can take a song, grab a firm hold of some or many of the messages and meanings embedded within it and begin to transcend it, reinvent it, re-explore it, and by doing so thrillingly remind us why great songs, truly great songs, possess a kind of unlimited emotional mileage. What the world needs now is more insightful performers capable of harnessing that unlimited mileage to ship us off to parts unknown, to musical and lyrical vistas we never thought reachable by mere measures and notes and harmonies and words. You need to have craft for this, of course, much as you need to have passion and a core talent and clear believability and credibility, much as you need fearlessness and adventurousness and whatever other qualities you can spot in someone like Anastasia Barzee.
Barzee is a well-known and well-admired commodity in the New York theatre — on Broadway, for example, she has popped up in everything from Miss Saigon to Jekyll & Hyde to Urinetown, which right there says something about her range. And just as you’re about to get tempted to peg her as one of a thousand musical theatre actors of note, it turns out that her most recent Main Stem credit was director Jack O’Brien’s revival of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV — now that’s range. And then there are West End credits and Off-Broadway credits and film and TV credits and — well — it turns out that Barzee is one of those performers who you know by sight as well as blessedly by ear; she fully owns her crystallize yet character-rich voice. Just listen to her solo album The Dimming of the Day, released in 2011, and try to argue otherwise.
And now, for four performances at the Metropolitan Room (April 18, 19 and 20 at 8pm, and April 24 at 9;30pm), you can hear Barzee’s expressive powers as applied to the songbook of the endlessly prodigious Burt Bacharach. For in this show, Barzee
explores the many ways we love; who we love, how we love, and why in the world do we keep doing it over and over again
With the world as it is, someone should indeed do that exploring, and that someone should be her.
For the Metropolitan Room gig, Barzee will be joined by The Kevin Hays Trio (Kevin Hays on piano, Rob Jost on bass and French horn, Greg Joseph on drums) and Teddy Kumpel on guitar, banjo and mandolin. For tickets, click here. Do go.
And now, 5 questions Anastasia Barzee has never been asked:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I think the most perceptive question is: “How much of YOU is in the characters you play or the songs you sing?” The answer is ALL. Even if I’m playing a character like the one I play in the CBS drama Golden Boy, it’s me. No, I’m not an alcoholic, abusive mother who forced her child into modeling and maybe even killed her because I was so frustrated with her lack of drive… However, when developing this character I use experiences from my life, and perhaps the darkest feelings I can find hidden in me and patch them all together and assemble this woman that IS me if all things had not gone so well. I put me in that situation and fill in the blanks with lots of “what ifs.” And I guess I have some dark, painful stuff in there that I am able to access pretty well — I play a lot of very unfortunate souls in terrible situations.
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I don’t like to think that any question is idiotic — but I guess when people say, “How do you remember all those lines?” it makes me laugh a little inside. I mean, come on! How does the doctor remember where the spleen is? It’s what we do. That’s all.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Do you plan to work after you have children?” Uh…yes. Again, it’s what I do.
4) When you discover new material (either new to you or new to the world), do you hear your own voice in your head or do you ever first hear someone else’s voice — say, another singer, or the composer? If it’s your own voice you hear, how do you know the song is right for you? Do you ever work on a song that you first feel isn’t right for you just to see if your instincts are right on target?
Very interesting question! I’m not sure this answers it, but I will give you an example of how I tackle a new song. I first had the idea to do a night of Bacharach after I spent a totally inspiring night in D.C. watching Burt and (lyricist) Hal David get honored with the Gershwin Award. The concert that was presented was just awesome. We’re talking Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall, Mike Myers, the list goes on… I thought, What a challenge that would be for me to put together of set of Burt’s music and find my way into those songs in a very personal way. The first song I looked at was “Alfie.” It’s a deceptively difficult song and the lyric is very personal. The first thing I tried to come up with was “To whom am I singing this?” I couldn’t locate in my memory any old lovers that seemed to fit the bill of a selfish, empathy-free, self-serving man that the song describes. Then I had an “Aha” moment. It was Mitt Romney — the presidential hopeful. It was remarkable how well his name fit for me in the story. I rehearsed the song changing one word of the lyric, “Alfie,” to “Romney.” I found my way into the song. I immediately called my friend, music producer Matt Pierson, and he said, “Let’s record it.” We did. I also did a version using the original lyric.
I sent them both to Burt and he loved them. Burt, like me, is an Obama supporter. So when I sing it now, I sing the original lyric…but in my heart and my head I’m singing:
What’s it all about, Romney?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Romney?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?…
5) What is the one quality about your voice that you feel you are only starting to discover? In a similar vein, what is the one quality about your voice that you feel you know the best-and how do you keep developing that quality so you’re never bored or stale?
I spent a lot of my younger years belting on Broadway. I know how to sell a song, baby! But as I mature I’m learning that loud is not the only emotion out there. I’m learning to be quiet and intimate. I’m using more of my lower range now and it feels very authentic and very honest. As far as singing goes — I’m never bored. And when the material is good, as it most certainly is with Burt Bacharach, one just can’t be bored — it’s too good.
6) Burt Bacharach is writing a brand new Broadway book musical for you tomorrow. What can you see him writing about? Can you picture him tackling the material? To put it differently, what do you know about Bacharach, musically and artistically, that no one knows you know?
Wow, that would be cool! I have worked with Burt on two theater pieces. One from 19 years ago and a new one, “Some Lovers,” last year. I know that he loves simplicity and he wants you to be true to his vision. He doesn’t like a lot of riffs or going off the melody or time. He wrote it that way because he wants it sung that way. I have enormous respect for composers and certainly for Burt. Maybe that’s why we get along. Burt, in my perception, is still just this really handsome guy who played football and wrote songs on the piano. He’s very down to earth and very affectionate and still has that energy that only guy musicians have. I can’t describe it. It’s laid back and flirty and witty and very serious all at once. He’s got a humanity that you just don’t see enough these days. The guy that wrote “What The World Needs Now Is Love” is still that lovely man today, and you get the feeling he still believes that that is, in fact, what the world needs now.