"Call Me Adam" catches up with Tony Award nominated actress and singer Anika Larsen to talk about her debut album Sing You To Sleep as well as her upcoming CD release concert at Birdland on March 23 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!
1. You recently released your debut solo album Sing You To Sleep, an album of ballads and standards featuring a mixture of songs from contemporary pop, musical theatre, and animated films. What made now the right time to release your debut album? Actually, I never intended to make and album and still can’t really believe it happened. It wasn’t something I pursued. When Dan Watt first asked if I’d be interested, I said "Absolutely not." As one of ten children, I have a neurotic relationship with attention: I desperately want it, but too much of it makes me deeply uneasy. So an album of just me felt self-indulgent and uncomfortable. But a few weeks later I was singing lullabies to some of my nieces and nephews and I thought, "An album of lullabies, now that I could get behind." That has a purpose, a reason for existing other than just me singing covers of other people’s music."
2. What do you hope listeners enjoy most about Sing You To Sleep? What do you want people learn about you through this music that they might not learn about you through a show? On this album, I’m singing just as me, not as a character, which is new and a little scary. So I hope people enjoy that.
3. A few of my favorite songs on Sing You To Sleep are "Somewhere Out There," (I love how you rearranged this song, giving it a more swing/jazz feel) "Fields of Gold," (You're rendition is simply stunning) and "Annie's Song" (You have made this classic song your own with your golden vocals). How did you decide which songs you wanted to feature on the album? Thank you so much! David Cook, my MD, did an extraordinary job of arranging these songs. In our first meeting, I told him I didn’t want to do an album that sounded like it was for kids. I wanted it to be more Norah Jones than The Wiggles. I don’t think kids need things dumbed down for them as much as people seem to think. I’m going to play Stevie Wonder for my little ones, not children’s albums. I told David I wanted the sound to be sophisticated, bluesy, jazzy, not all major chords and harmonies in thirds. He totally got that and ran with it. He’s a freaking musical genius.
As for picking the songs, I’ve never sung many actual lullabies to the children I’ve babysat, nannied for or been related to. I prefer to sing to them songs with melodies I think are beautiful, fun to sing, and like butter on their ears. Then I take into account what lyrics would make for happy imagery to close your eyes and fall asleep to. So choosing the songs for the album was basically sifting through the songs in my repertoire and picking an array that felt like a nice mix of styles and flavors. I wanted the album to get slower and slower as it went along, a trick from my babysitting days, so I didn’t even have to rule out the songs I like with slightly brighter tempos.
4. You have worked with so many people throughout your career. How did you decide that you wanted Jessie Mueller, your co-star in Broadway's Beautiful to be the one person you record a duet with on this album? What was the best part about recording with her? Why did you choose James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes" as the song you wanted to be your duet? What significance does this song have to you both? While we were in rehearsals and doing research for Beautiful, I caught Carole King and James Taylor’s "Live at the Troubadour" special on PBS, and I was so taken with "You Can Close Your Eyes" that I listened to it obsessively for months. Because Beautiful has been such a blessing in my life, I wanted to include a song by my character, Cynthia Weil, which is "Somewhere Out There." But I also liked the idea of paying a little homage to Carole King. She didn’t write "You Can Close Your Eyes," but having Jessie sing her harmonies with me felt just right. And Jessie and I have become such dear buddies throughout this process that I was thrilled to have our friendship memorialized in this recording.
5. What was your favorite part of the creative process in putting this album together? What made you want to work with Dan Wat and Michael Croiter? Dan Watt is such a motivated, positive, git-er-done kind of fella that he’s irresistible. When he told me he wanted to record the album at Michael Croiter’s label, I knew I’d be in good hands. Michael is incredibly talented, with a fantastic ear, but also just the greatest guy, and I only ever want to work with nice people. The extraordinary thing about this process was just how easy it was. Everyone was lovely and accommodating and professional and on their gig and happy and it all got done with joy and ease. That shouldn’t be surprising, that’s as it should be when you’re making music, but I don’t imagine it’s always so stress-free. Hopefully that comes out in the music!
7. On March 23, you will be having your release concert at Birdland Jazz. What excites you most about performing these songs live? For me, performing live is always better than performing canned. And I’m excited to perform live for the first time with my husband, Freddie Maxwell, who plays trumpet on the album. Also joining us onstage will be our baby in my belly. I’ll be 7 months along by then and the little kiddo will be clearly present. I got pregnant during the recording of the album, which means a whole lot.
8. What made you want to have your release concert at Birdland? They asked! And they’re Birdland! How do you say no? I’m very excited about it.
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? How much I am who I am because I come from such a large family. How that has made me a committed team player who loves the collaborative nature of theater, how it made me crave the attention of performing, but how I feel most comfortable in an ensemble where everyone is featured.
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? My high school drama teacher said that if you have the talent, you will work in the theater business if you persevere and are good to collaborate with. It may take years, but you will work, it’s not some magical thing based on luck. I found that very heartening, and today know it to be true.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Honestly, none. I think no matter what it was it would be more trouble than it was worth.
12. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? Being pregnant right now, it would involve no alcohol, lots of ice and fresh citrus, and would come in a coconut and have a cocktail umbrella to make up for said lack of alcohol.
Anika Larsen grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts with nine brothers and sisters from different races and countries. She made her performance debut singing with her siblings at her parents’ annual Christmas parties. Her mother thought they were the multi-cultural Von Trapps.
After majoring in theater at Yale, Anika moved to New York City where her first professional job was Rent, during which she was given the nickname Shafrika. In addition to her Broadway credits, she also appeared in Disaster!; Unbroken Circle; Closer Than Ever; Miracle Brothers; Zanna, Don’t!, and more. Anika is the only person on the planet who can say she was in the original casts of both Xanadu and Zanna, Don’t!
Anika co-founded Jaradoa Theater with director April Nickell in 2007. Their mission was to promote mercy, beauty and truth through performance and service. For four years they produced theater that strove to resonate, inspire and reach audiences that didn’t usually have access to theater. The company presented shows in public middle schools, at-risk youth centers, teen alternative-to-incarceration programs, nursing homes, and homeless senior centers.
In 2009, Jaradoa Theater produced Shafrika, The White Girl, a musical Anika wrote about her childhood. She and Orlando Bishop co-wrote The Joneses, one-hour dramedy TV pilot loosely based on her personal story. Anika is currently writing a new play with her longtime writing partner April Nickell.