Call Redialed: Anika Larsen: Art Attack Foundation's "An Evening of Song" at Birdland
Anika LarsenLast time I interviewed Anika Larsen she had just released her debut album, Sing You To Sleep and was pregnant with her first child. Since that time, Anika became the proud mama of two boys and now she is returning to the stage in a very special benefit concert headlined by the legendary Chita Rivera!
Anika will be taking part in Art Attack Foundation's An Evening of Song at Birdland (315 West 44th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue) on Monday, December 4 at 7pm! This one-night-only show promises an array of standards, pop hits and original songs, from top artists on Yellow Sound Label. Joining Anika will be Jessie Mueller (Waitress), Christy Altomare (Anastasia), Michael Patrick Walker (Altar Boyz), Bonnie Milligan (Kinky Boots), songwriters Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich (Dear Edwina), Rob Rokicki (The Lightening Thief), Max Vernon (The View UpStairs and KPOP), Lynne Shankel, Steve Marzullo and many more special guests. The evening will be produced by Dan Watt, Michael Croiter and Yael Silver. Click here for tickets!
Founded by Dan Watt, the Art Attack Foundation’s mission is to inspire community leaders, businesses, and individuals to participate and contribute in the education, enhancement and development of young performing artists. AAF is dedicated to providing opportunities, funding, and encouragement to assist young performers in realizing their full artistic potential.
For more on Art Attack Foundation visit http://www.artattackfoundation.org!
1. This December you are part of An Evening of Song, benefiting the Art Attack Foundation, headlined by Chita Rivera. What made you want to be part of this benefit? I am a product of public schools, and I don’t know if I’d be where I am today if my high school didn’t have such a strong drama program. I find it heartbreaking how arts programming is being stripped out of schools. I gotta do what I can to support groups that are bringing the arts to kids!
2. Since Chita Rivera is the headliner of the night, how have you been inspired by her in your own career? Chita is a legend, and could sit back on her laurels and enjoy being a queen of Broadway, but instead she is out there hoofing it for so many great organizations. And man, does she still got it! I have been an admirer of hers ever since I first learned what musical theatre was, and I’m only a greater admirer now.
Chita Rivera3. The mission of Art Attack Foundation is to inspire community leaders, businesses, and individuals to participate and contribute in the education, enhancement and development of young performing artists. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into show business? I would say go to college. I believe that the more educated you are about the world, the better, smarter, more effective performer you will be.
4. What can you tell us about the song or songs you'll be performing at this benefit? Oh, I’m so excited, because I’ll be performing with my sexy and talented husband! We rarely get to do that these days. We’ll be doing "Summertime" off my album Sing You to Sleep. Freddie plays trumpet, and the way he plays with me on this song makes it feel like we’re singing a duet!
5. Last time we did an interview together, you were just about to give birth to your son. Now you are a mother of two. What did you learn from having your first child that you are glad to know now that you have your second child? Lord love a duck, you can never be prepared for a second child! Especially when they’re only 20 months apart. It’s relentless. But my boys are absolutely the best thing I’ve ever done. I remember hearing people say that and thinking it was cheesy, but now I understand what they mean. Anyway, to answer your question, I think I know better now not to panic at any fall or head bump or strange rash. Babies are resilient. Love ‘em well and they’ll be fine. Who’m I kidding, panic a little bit. It’s a scary world out there.
6. Also during our last interview, we were promoting your album Sing You To Sleep. Now that you have two kids, how does this album take on new meaning? My first son was OBSESSED with the album when he was a baby. It was the only thing that would get him to stop crying when we were in the car. Freddie and I had to listen to it hundreds of times. I got super sick of listening to myself, and couldn’t listen to it anymore. Then I realized just a couple weeks ago that my second son is 8-months old and has never heard it! So I pulled it back out and played it for him. He seemed to dig it as much as an 8-month-old can. It was really special to re-listen to it after about a year, and remember how much I hoped I would have children to play it for when I was choosing the songs. Then I got pregnant for the first time when we were recording it! And my boys’ papa plays on it! I feel incredibly lucky to have something like this as a keepsake for our family. Maybe my boys will play it for their children, and their children’s children. The story goes on...
The Larsen Family7. On this album you recorded Sting's "Fields of Gold." When do you feel like you are walking or when do you feel like you have walked through "Fields of Gold"? You know, that song is on the album for my brother Peik. He died suddenly and unexpectedly of sepsis at 42, leaving behind a wife, twin 4-year-old boys, and another son on the way. It was devastating. I sang "Fields of Gold" at my brother’s wedding, and then seven years later at the same church for his funeral. That was just a few months before we recorded the album, so I had to put the song on there. And then I dedicated the album to Peik and his family. Sometimes when we’re listening to the album I can listen to the song and think of my brother and laugh or cry, and sometimes I can’t take it and I have to forward past it. I’m so terribly sad that my boys will never know their Uncle Peik.
8. You also recorded "Somewhere Out There," one of my all time favorite songs. What is something you still want to accomplish that you just think "Somewhere Out There" I'll make this work? I have been very fortunate in my life. I’ve managed to have the career I dreamed of, and now I have the family I always dreamed of. So the only thing left is to live a life of balance between the two, where I get to work but also be a fully present mama to my boys, wife to my husband, and friend to my loved ones.
9. On my website I have section called "One Percent Better" where through my own fitness regime I try to inspire people to improve their lives by 1% better everyday. What is something in your life you want to improve by 1% better everyday? Sleep. Boy, I’d like to be getting better sleep. I remember the days when I was single and childless and working nights so I could sleep as late as I wanted in the morning. I didn’t appreciate it then...
10. I also have a new segment in my interviews called "I Can See Clearly Now," where I try to clear up misconceptions about the person I'm interviewing. So, what do you feel is the biggest misconception out there about yourself that you'd like to clear the air about? Gosh, I have no idea! I’m not on social media, and I don’t read reviews, so I’m generally unaware of the things people are saying about me, and I’m content to keep it that way.
Anika LarsenMore on Anika:
Anika 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. Anika thought her brothers and sisters were holding her back. Or she might have just been a bossy little brat.
Anika spent the rest of her childhood grappling with whether she would rather be "Annie" or Whitney Houston. Ultimately Whitney won (RIP), but she realized her future lay in achieving a balance between the two. She did drama in high school, majored in theater at Yale, then came to the Big Apple to try her luck.
After college, Anika moved to New York City. Her first professional job was Rent, during which she was given the nickname Shafrika, which thankfully stuck better than the nickname her father gave her when she was little, Squeaka. After Rent, Anika was wicked psyched to see what show would come to her next, now that she was a Big Broadway Professional. She didn’t work again for two years, a painful but invaluable lesson. Eventually things picked up, and since then she has appeared on Broadway in Avenue Q, Xanadu, All Shook Up, and currently, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Perhaps most exciting, Anika is the only person on the planet who can say she was in the original casts of both Xanadu and Zanna, Don’t!.
In 2007, with director April Nickell, Anika co-founded Jaradoa Theater, a company whose mission was to promote mercy, beauty and truth through performance and service. For four years they produced theatre that strove to resonate, inspire and reach audiences that didn’t usually have access to theatre, and they used theatre to serve the community, working in public middle schools, at-risk youth centers, teen alternative-to-incarceration programs, nursing homes, and homeless senior centers. There is nothing Anika’s done in her life that she’s prouder of.
In 2009, Jaradoa Theater produced a musical Anika wrote about her childhood, called Shafrika, The White Girl. After she was approached about interest in a TV version of her upbringing, Anika co-wrote a pilot with Orlando Bishop called The Joneses, a one-hour dramedy loosely based on her family, but set today. These experiences confirmed for Anika a love of collaborative writing, and she is currently writing a play with her longtime partner-in-crime, April Nickell. More on that as it develops.