INTERVIEW: Christina Bianco talks about bringing her FIRST IMPRESSIONS to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Name of Edinburgh show: Christina Bianco: First Impressions
Venue: Assembly Checkpoint
Performance time: 6:20pm
Show length: 60 min
Ticket price: £6 – £14

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I’m a 100 percent Italian American New Yorker – so I’ve always been loud! As a kid, I never stopped singing and my parents went out of their way to expose me to a variety of music. I learned standards, show tunes, pop, rock, jazz country – it all helped build my versatility, range and appreciation for many of the artists I now impersonate.

I started working in professional theatre at age 7. I went to NYU Tisch School of the Arts, toured America in the National Tour of Dora The Explorer Live (Google for photo proof) and lots of other cool productions. But everything changed for me in 2007 when I auditioned for the long running NYC hit, ‘Forbidden Broadway.’

I grew up going to see the show, listening to the cast albums and singing along to the recordings – essentially impersonating the impersonators! I’d never done impressions in public before, but I auditioned, I got the job, and was fortunate get great reviews and a Drama Desk Award nomination. It was only then that I started to take impressions seriously and began creating my own material. Then, I posted some of my impression ‘mash-ups’ on YouTube, they went viral, I got a lot of media coverage and the rest is history! I now find myself performing for audiences all over the world, doing what I love – and I still can’t quite believe it!

Tell me about your new show, what it is all about?
In all of my shows, I look for new and clever ways to showcase my impressions of various celebrities, in a way that also honours them. I think First Impressions achieves that more than any of my previous programs because it’s not just about me and the celebrities – it’s about the audience and which stars have made lasting impressions on them too.

Through music, comedy and impressions, my fabulous ‘Everyman Band’ and I will bring all your favourite vocalists and pop culture personalities on stage together. You’ll still get the reinvented songs, ‘Unlikely Interpretations’ and spontaneous musical mash-ups that are typically part of a Christina Bianco program. But throughout this show, I’ll also ask the audience to think back on the first time they saw or heard some of these artists, and how that music or moment impacted their lives. Of course, there won’t be time during a 60 minute Fringe show to get into too much detail with specific audience members (I’ll be able to explore this more on in my touring show) but my goal is to have them fondly remember their first impressions of these icons and celebrate their individuality.

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2019?
I was writing and testing pieces of this show back in Dec 2017. There’s always a lot of trial and error. There are numbers I initially think will work in the show, that go over very well with test audiences, but by the time I’m putting the set list together, the arch of the show has changed and that number no longer fits. Trust me, it’s tempting to put in everything you know will get a guaranteed laugh, but I try not to put anything into the show just for the sake of it. Each segment has to make sense within the piece as a whole.

Also, a lot of what I do is topical impressions so there’s no way to fully plan ahead. I always listen to what my audiences are requesting on social media and look at what the current trends are. Once I’ve got a strong foundation for my show, I can throw in those references and take those requests to keep things fresh and current, without compromising the artistic integrity. My GOODNESSS, I sound so artsy-fartsy … but that’s the truth!

There are a few different comedy impersonation acts on at the fringe this year. What is unique about your show that makes you stand out from the others?
Honestly, it’s great that impressionists are having a comeback. That’s how I see it. Only a few years ago, you were lucky to find one impression show in theatres or on television, and now, it’s clearly trending! If people are appreciating the art-form, we all win.

I do believe my shows are naturally a little different than others because I make sure they’re half in my own voice, half impression, half comedy & half heart-warming. I approach it all as a singer and an actor first. Thankfully, this has enabled me to reach many different age groups in many different parts of the world. When people come to see my ‘comedy impression’ show, they’re getting a whole lot more, with a very broad appeal.

Of course, you cant put all that on a poster! With so many similar acts, at the Fringe in particular, it does make it harder to get your voice heard and to distinguish yourself. But at the risk of sounding too cliché – I GOTTA BE ME! I’ve done this for a very long time, I’ve had some great success and I’m not trying to prove anything – I’m just trying to entertain!

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
SLEEP! DRINK WATER! Don’t be like Christina in 2015! I was so excited to be part of this incredible festival and to see as much as I could but I didn’t pace myself so I got the dreaded Fringe Flu. Let me tell you, missing your friends show may stink but nothing is worse than being unable to perform your own show to the best of your ability and being bed ridden in your time off. Make a plan and choose your events wisely, always putting yourself and your health first.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Hmmm, I already told you about the time a brush got stuck in my wig and I had to go on and perform a ballad with it hanging off the side of my head… But I’ve got another one for you. This one is more tragic than funny though!

I was doing a long run of Forbidden Broadway in NYC and I was on stage playing Kelly O’Hara in South Pacific, singing parody lyrics to ‘Cockeyed Optimist ‘ – and I experienced the actors nightmare. I could not remember my next line. Not the fake lyrics, not the real lyrics – nothing. And I was so shocked I couldn’t even make up a rhyme. My co-star was looking at me like I’d had a stroke, trying to help, but to no avail. Somehow he led me to another part of the scene and the show continued, but I was so embarrassed and horrified. For about a month after that, I doubted myself every time I stepped on stage and even messed up a few more scenes. I eventually asked management for a weekend off to regroup. I knew my brain needed a break and a clean slate. Thankfully that did the trick, but it was the single most scary and humbling on stage experience of my life!

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
I’ve always been drawn to the work of funny female performers like Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Andrea Martin, Lily Tomlin and Tracy Ullman, to name a few. You can’t label these women as one thing. They are comedic actors, writers, and singers whose work seamlessly translates onto the stage or screen. Particularly someone like Bette Midler, who is known for her humour but is a Grammy winning vocalist and an Oscar nominated actress. She can put on a mermaid tail and play a wacky character one moment, and put on a gown and sing a ballad as herself the next. Everyone goes with it because early on, she ‘trained’ her audience to never see her as just one thing. That’s incredibly inspiring to me and is what I hope to do!

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I always do my makeup and hair while listening to music that pumps me up. I do a full body stretch to get warm and grounded, a partial vocal warm up so I’m flexible but don’t over it – and I swear by my Throat Coat Tea!!! I seriously should buy stock …

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
I’ve missed Tom Lenk every time he was in NYC so I’m really looking forward to catching his Tilda Swinton show here! Also, my friend Sooz Kempner‘s comedy is so unique and hilarious. I saw the very first preview of her show a while back and can’t wait to see what it’s turned into. A lot of the world has just discovered her on Twitter (that’s the most subtle way ever of saying OMG she totally got freaking famous!!) so I’m also keen to see her interact with the masses! It’s fabulous that she’s finally getting the attention she deserves!

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
I can honestly say that this will be one of the most unique theatrical experiences you’ll ever have! Within the hour, my band and I will cover a myriad of styles and genres, while I do countless impressions, from Edith Piaf to Shirley Bassey to Celine Dion to Ariana Grande to … Lorraine Kelly! You’ll hear unlikely mash-ups like Liza Minnelli singing Ricky Martin and Julie Andrews singing Led Zeppelin, and we’ll even put together musical combinations chosen by the audience on the spot, so the show is never the same twice. But it’s not just about the impressions. I’ll politely belt in your face, hit high C’s, and trill a jazzy riff, sharing the music of these great icons that left an impression on me – as me. If you want comedy, impressions, great music and versatile vocals wrapped up in a heartfelt tribute to the icons we adore, you won’t want to miss First Impressions.

Thanks for having Tea With Wilma – Any time

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