You Should Hear This Woman Sing!
By John O'Connell
On Monday, March 19, the cast of Les Miserables came to Club Café to perform a benefit cabaret for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, an organization that helps to fund Boston's AIDS Action Committee. While word of mouth pre-event wasn't super hot, the word of mouth post-event has been ripping through the internet. "Best cabaret EVER!" raved Amit Dixit, communications director for the Boston Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in a Facebook post. The lucky few that were in attendance were blown away not only by the range of talent—to be expected from such a vocally challenging show—but also by the performers' wit and heart. The audience reaction stopped the show a few times with performers receiving applause mid-number and standing ovations at the end of individual performances.
One of the "lovely ladies" who brought the audience to their feet was swing Natalie Weiss. For those not in the know, a swing is a type of understudy who is responsible for knowing numerous roles or "tracks"—vocally and physically—in a show thus allowing the primary understudies to step in whenever needed. After opening the show with an incredible rendition of Beyonce's "Listen" from Dreamgirls, a number she covered at the last minute for another performer who bowed out due to illness, she also closed the show with a hysterical "6-Minute Les Mis" that included songs from the show re-interpreted through current pop rhythms and stylings. The crowd was also thrilled to hear that Weiss will be making her solo Boston concert debut next Monday evening at Club Café. The Penn State grad was a semi-finalist on American Idol, season 4, and has since developed a huge YouTube following gathering over 2.5 million views. The Boston Spirit blog was able to catch up with Weiss and talk about her work.
Boston Spirit: You totally stole the show last night. Twice. When did you find out about the Beyoncé number?
Natalie Weiss: I got a text at 3 p.m. saying that the girl who was singing "Listen" had dropped out. I said I would try it. I knew the song PRETTY well, so we just did a quick rehearsal at sound check, prayed I would remember lyrics, and fortunately I did. [laughs] These situations tend to happen to me a lot. ... The "someone backed out so can you learn eight songs in an hour and GO!" situations.
BS: You did an AMAZING jaw-dropping "Les Mis in 6 minutes" last night. Who wrote that arrangement?
NW: About fifteen months ago, the associate music director of Les MIs (who left in August) and I would start jamming out to Les Mis tunes in the practice rooms for fun. We would joke around and do funny pop arrangments of all of the songs. He is an absolute musical genius. We realized we had something going, so we pursued it a little bit further and collaborated for hours together until we had a finished product. It was so exciting to finally present it to an audience for the first time back in April for a benefit we did in Detroit.
BS: What's your personal favorite style of music to perform?
NW: Probably pop music. I do love a good meaty actable musical theater ballad though.
BS: When did you start doing mimicking and impressions as part of your vocal act?
NW: In high school, I started perfecting Britney Spears, then I realized I could also learn some Celine Dion, Carolee Carmello, and Heather Headley. I started throwing those into my act a few years ago.
BS: As a swing in Les Mis, what's your favorite track? Besides last weekend's "Flu that devastated the barricades" are there any funny stories that you can share?
NW: I personally prefer to play "bloody whore." [laughs] But seriously, each role is rewarding in its own way. A funny story that comes to mind is when I was on for one of the girls in the barricade. Eponine is pretty much mid-death and it is a quiet moment when all of a sudden, I can see my stage manager in my peripheral vision calling my name. I'm thinking, "Trinity, what are you doing?? I'm in the middle of the scene!" He says, "You're on for Beth!" (I am currently on for Casey). I awkwardly and sort of loudly climb down from the barricade with my gun while Eponine's QUIET death moment is happening and run off stage. He says that Shawna (Madame Thenardier) is having an asthma attack and that Beth is going on for her for the rest of the show, which means I will jump into Beth's track, and the other swing Rachel will get dressed fast and come in for Casey. Confusing, I know! [laughs] So anyway, someone has to tell Beth that she needs to get off the stage and get on for Madame T. So I run to stage left and from the wings, I make CRAZY motions at Beth waving at her trying to tell her that she is on for Madame T. She later told me that in that moment, she kept thinking, "Natalie stop goofing off on stage, this is a serious moment, this is so unprofessional!" She had no idea what I was trying to say, until the stage manager calmly comes over and says to her, "Madame T," and she immediately understands. I guess I should use the calm approach next time. Anyway, bottom line is ... That was Shawna's first time calling out of the show, so Beth's debut as Madame T was mid show! That's show biz!
BS: How long have you been on the road with Les Mis? What other cities have you been able to perform solo in?
NW: I have been with the show since Oct 7, 2010. We started touring with the show in January of 2011. This is the longest run of a show I have ever been a part of. I have done solo shows in New York City, Chicago, Nashville, LA, DC, and now I am making my Boston concert debut.
BS: Your new solo album, Natalie Weiss, has acoustic covers and one new, original song. You mentioned bringing your band out from New York for your show, so what can we expect?
NW: I will be performing songs from the album plus some new surprise acoustic covers. Maybe even a fun Whitney tribute. I also have a guest performing a duet with me. Check him out on Youtube. Jeff Sewell. He is hilarious!
BS: If you could play any part on Broadway right now,what would it be and why?
NW: I would have to say Elphaba in Wicked. I did the second national tour of Wicked but for only ten weeks, replacing a girl with an injury. So although I was contracted to be in the ensemble, and understudy Elphaba, I never actually got to rehearse / perform the role because my time there was so short!
BS: Would you rather be a dependable, show-stealing swing; a leading lady; or a hit solo artist? Why?
NW: OOO tricky question! At this point in time, I am very fortunate to be a swing on this show. We are treated with so much respect and always feel appreciated which is hard to come by. I would of course love to be singing the hit songs in the show every night, but it is so fun to keep the show new and exciting by playing different roles all the time. You are never bored. I would also love to be a hit solo artist, but even the little bit of fame I have encountered with my YouTube following has made me realize that being super famous would definitely have its drawbacks. Everyone says they want to be famous when they grow up but when you actually experience a taste of it, you almost wish you weren't. It's interesting.
BS: What's next for you?
NW: Right now, I am very happy on tour with Les Mis. We will see what the future brings!
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