by Anna Altheide
Broadway leading lady and chart topping recording artist Shoshana Bean needs no introduction. But like many a musical theatre legend before her, she made her debut on the Great White Way as a fellow Ensemblist, an experience she fondly describes as “her foundation” as a performer, cast member, and leader today.
Bean’s first encounter with Hairspray came in the form of early workshops for Tracy. Though not quite right for the leading role, Bean was initially apprehensive to officially audition when an understudy opportunity landed on the table: “I was in California and I told my agents, ‘No, I’m not going in for that. They weren’t interested in me before, why do they want me to come back now?’”
As fate would have it, Bean would return to New York that week to audition as backup for Mary J. Blige, and told her agents she would audition for Hairspraywhile she was in the city. “I will never forget that as the most fun, least amount of nerves audition I’ve ever had in my entire career. [I had] nothing to lose, and when it fits you and when it’s made for you, there’s no angst about it.” She also describes the audition as “high energy and positive” in part to choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose “vibe is so loving that it created that in the room for everyone else. So it didn’t feel like an audition, it felt like a dance class or party."
“I trained up from childhood as a dancer, but I never had the appropriate body type for like an ensemble girl. I was not tall or long or lean and ballet never really worked on my body. I took ballet as a function of technique and being the foundation, but I loathed and despised it, mostly just for the way that it made me feel in my body. Going into that audition and being able to pony and twist, it was very authentic and grounded and it just fit and worked.”
Bean recalled a rapid one-day audition process, including learning the choreography and callbacks. That following Monday, she landed the role, rehearsals began that April, and they opened on Broadway that August. From day one, “we were just treated as a family. In my experience, the vibe is created from the top down, how the company is run, how cast is treated, how the creative team approaches the work.”
Working alongside leads Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Janet Winokur would inform Bean in many regards, such as “how to take care of people, how to set the tone, and how be the head of the machine." She adds, "It was important that happened, because the next thing, I went from an ensemble member to being a lead [in Wicked], and I didn’t have time with Idina [Menzel] to learn in that way. I was grateful that I had learned for two years from Harvey and Marissa and was able to take that one block down."
She remained in Hairspray until April 2004, two years from the day of rehearsal, and describes her commitment with the show and company as “joyful and wonderful.” Bean’s credits included the role of Shelly, as well as understudy for Tracy and Velma Von Tussle. She went on to perform in Wicked, taking over the lead role of Elphaba from Idina Menzel, on both Broadway and in the first national tour. She has since starred as CeeCee Bloom in Beaches at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago, Fanny Brice in North Shore Music Theater’s production of Funny Girl, and can currently be seen as Jenna in Waitress on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre through July 7th.