Two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole has never been typecast.
“I liked exploring all the different mediums,” Ebersole reflects on her 40-year career. “If you could look at the history, it’s always been that way. I love straight plays, I love musicals, I love performing in concerts. I kind of love doing television. I love doing film. I love doing recordings.”
Friday night, Ebersole is back in a concert hall, performing at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami with star singer-pianist Michael Feinstein, in a Jazz Roots presentation titled “Jazz Meets Broadway.”
“I’ve worked with Christine for a number of years,” says Feinstein, one of the nation’s top cabaret performers and keeper of The Great American Songbook. “She is one of the most brilliant musical minds with whom I’ve ever collaborated. She cannot be categorized. She’s known for Broadway. … Her musical palette is large and diverse. She sings everything from every era of pop — ’80s, ’70s, ’60s. She can handle it all. She can sing anything. I consider her to be one of the most complete, perfect singers.”
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Ebersole studied hard to become a performer, beginning in her home state of Illinois.
“I’m grateful I was given the gift of singing,” she says. “I had a teacher at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, who told me ‘Don’t stay here, you need to go to New York, you need to go to an acting school in New York.’ I left there, auditioned for the American Academy and I got accepted. I moved to New York City when I was 20 years old.”
After she graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Ebersole says she waited tables most nights and sang in clubs “whenever I had the opportunity.”
“From there I did my very first Broadway play. The first time I was on Broadway, it was not a musical. It was in a play. It was called Angel Street. It’s the play that the movie Gaslight was based on,” she says. “It was a circuitous route, really. My first experiences were not musicals.”
In 1978, Ebersole won a replacement role in the Broadway musical comedy On the Twentieth Century; in 1979 she co-starred as Ado Annie in a revival of Oklahoma!; and in 1980 starred as Guenevere opposite Richard Burton in a revival of Camelot. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Ebersole did feature films including Tootsie and Amadeus, and lots of TV including a one-season stint on Saturday Night Live.
Ebersole spent most of the 2000s on Broadway, winning Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Musical in the 2001 revival of 42nd Street and 2006’s Grey Gardens.
Professionally, she’s most content performing on stage.
“Television and film are once removed, really,” Ebersole says. “With a live audience, it’s really the actors’ medium, stage. And singing is the most powerful. It has the most powerful facility to transform. That’s the nature of music, the power of music. To be able to connect through music, that’s very, very powerful, and very fulfilling.”
Off-stage, Ebersole enjoys different musical genres, but especially listening to other singers.
“I’m always, always listening to other singers because that’s how I discover music that I love and want to sing: Mahalia Jackson to Ella Fitzgerald to Rosemary Clooney to Doris Day to Joni Mitchell to Stevie Nicks to Bonnie Raitt — it really runs the gamut, doesn’t it?” she says. “I won’t listen to it if I don’t enjoy it. That’s just the female singers. There are male singers, too … Chet Baker, Nat “King” Cole, Placido Domingo, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder.”
Despite a diverse career, Ebersole acknowledges she’s best known for singing show tunes.
“I kind of got known from the musical theater, but actually I started out singing jazz,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in how those two genres merge and in the past I have taken songs and made them into jazz.”
Several years ago, she recorded an album of standards with singer-pianist Billy Stritch, titled Sunday in New York. Included: a performance of My Favorite Things from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.
“We turned into kind of a jazzy way of performing it,” Ebersole says. “It’s kind of a fun way to see this song and experience this song in a different genre, a different angle.”
If you go
Jazz Meets Broadway: Two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole, musical star Michael Feinstein and the Frost School of Music’s Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra perform 8 p.m. Friday at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., downtown Miami. Part of the Jazz Roots series, tickets range from $25 to $150 each. To order, visit www.arshtcenter.org or call the box office at 305-949-6722.