Call Answered: Jennifer Roberts: "An Evening with Jennifer Roberts", "Guys & Dolls", "She Loves...Sheldon"
I have just been introduced to the voice of Jennifer Roberts and let me say, I was immediately swept in by it. Her vocals are powerful, soothing, and most of all, delightful to listen to. Jennifer can sing a variety of genres. Her album, An Evening with Jennifer Roberts, based upon the cabaret show of the same name, is what enticed me.
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Jennifer about her career in both singing and acting as well finding out what makes Jennifer tick! Her album An Evening with Jennifer Roberts is available on iTunes, plus Jennifer will be performing at The Laurie Beechman Theatre with her Sheldon Harnick tribute show She Loves….Sheldon! on January 30 and February 5 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!
For more on Jennifer be sure to visit https://jennifergroberts.com!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a singer/actress? Several people and experiences have inspired me to be an actress and singer. My parents are both singers and my mom taught piano, so at a very early age I was introduced to all styles of music, and they often took us to see musicals, plays, symphonies and concerts. When I was 14, my mom took me to see a High School production of West Side Story, starring Karen Ziemba. I still remember that performance.
I also remember the wonderful albums I listened to in our home as a child - Ella Sings Gershwin, Judy and Carol at Lincoln Center, Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall,Jesus Christ Superstar, The New Christy Minstrels, Flatt and Scruggs, Jimmy Driftwood, Handel’s Messiah, The Music Man, My Fair Lady and so many more.
We also grew up with a movie theatre in our basement, so I was introduced to the world of film and all of its enchantment at a very young age. We saw every genre of film, comedy and drama, and just about every movie musical made to date, so I was inspired by all of those wonderful performances and artists, and I knew at an early age that I wanted to be an actress, for I was already singing.
2. What have you learned about yourself from performing? I have realized that I enjoy the creative process, the search for and discovery of songs and material, the research and rehearsal processes even more than I do the actual performance. However, when everything is aligned perfectly – Brilliant Material, Excellent Musicians, Vocal Health and a Responsive Audience, there is no greater joy or sense of fulfillment.
I always enjoy and look forward to scene work with other actors...film or stage – there is great energy and intensity, give and take, listening and reacting, real oneness and living in the moment. Sometimes that happens when working with musicians, especially with Tedd Firth and our great bassists, but there are more variables and moving parts, so it is an added joy when musically it all lines up and we move and feel as one.
I believe I have a responsibility to use and share my gifts, and as an artist, a point of view - unique to my experience, and a message to share. I also have a great desire to introduce to new and younger audiences some of the greatest songs and music ever written, many from artists, composers and lyricists that came before us.
3. Last March you released your album An Evening with Jennifer Roberts. What did you enjoy most about recording this show as your debut album? I enjoyed every aspect and process of recording this album, for I was involved in every step and decision. I chose all of the songs with Tedd Firth, my brilliant musical director, and the show’s wonderful director, Andy Gale. Each song was selected because I found a connection to or truth in the lyrics, so all hold special meaning for me.
I loved the whole process of creating the show and album, but to choose my favorite moments, or what I enjoyed most – hmm, I’d have to say: My simple voice and piano recording moments with Tedd Firth – just piano and voice in the studio – Nobody’s Heart, the first verse of Sweet Kentucky Ham, etc. I’d also have to include the thrill of hearing Tedd and Steve Doyle bring all of our arrangements to life in the studio, for Steve had played the show just once before we hit the studio. It was also a blast to record The Ballad of the Shape of Things with Tedd and Tom Hubbard, on bass.
4. Which song did you know immediately had to part of the show? I brought a stack of songs to my very first Cabaret rehearsal many years ago, working with Mark Janas, as musical director and Andy Gale, directing. Nobody’s Heart, Lucky To Be Me, Mean To Me, I Didn’t Know About You, and The Ballad Of The Shape Of Things, and a few others.
We did that show only about three times, and about eleven years later, I reached out to Tedd Firth and Andy Gale and said I wanted to put together a new show, but wanted to use some of the same material. These five songs remain in the current show, and on the album – I love them all – if I had to choose just one that “had to be in the show and on the album” I’d say Nobody’s Heart.
5. Since the album is called An Evening with Jennifer Roberts, what is the best evening you would plan for yourself? What is an evening you would not enjoy? I have several “favorite evenings” I could plan, but I guess my favorite evening would include one of my closest friends, a great meal and great conversation, and perhaps a walk, film or show. But, at the very top of the list would be the great conversation and connection. My closest friends live all over the country, so these “favorite” evenings are cherished, and few and far between.
So, in contrast, an evening I would not enjoy would be attending a loud party, club or restaurant, that would take away from what I value most in spending time with my friends.
6. One of the songs you perform is "Live Alone and Like It/By Myself." What is your favorite thing do by yourself? To be honest, I do most things by myself, and am content with that. I love a quiet evening at home, watching an old film, or listening to great music. My very favorite thing to do by myself is to peruse book and music stores, some of my favorites are scattered all over the country.
Often times I travel for work, and I love to get out and explore. While away, I make it a priority to experience what each city or region has to offer: a farmers market, jazz club, theatre, local shopping, coffee shop, beach, and stumbling upon magnificent views..…
7. Another song you sing is "I Didn't Know About You." What is one thing we don't know about you that you are ready to reveal? Well, a lot of my friends have known for years that I love my coffee…but no one ever knew that I used to drive miles out of my way for a Starbuck’s coffee…I’d even plan road trips around Starbuck’s locations…I wouldn’t do that now...…😊
8. You have also created a show celebrating the music of Sheldon Harnick. What is it about Sheldon's music that made you want to put an evening of his music together? I was introduced to Sheldon Harnick’s brilliant lyric writing when I played the role of “Amalia” in a college production of She Loves Me. Even at 21, I was aware of the emotion and sensitivity in his writing, the inner life he was creating for the characters in that show. I never forgot those lyrics, and later as I explored new songs and discovered comic gems and other ballads I wanted to sing, I realized one day they were all written by the same man – Sheldon Harnick.
So, I told my musical director, Tedd Firth, I wanted to put together a Sheldon Harnick tribute show, while he was still living, and we realized our show was close to his birthday, so we made it a Birthday Celebration, as well. When I decided to do this show, I thought I already had more than enough material to fill an hour, but I purchased his Hidden Treasures album, and found another hour or two of material I definitely wanted to do. So, we had to condense this amazing amount of brilliant material that moved me, made me laugh and cry, to just one hour. I asked Lance Roberts to direct this show.
9. What did you learn from this performance that will now inform your future performances of this show? I’ve only performed this show three times, pretty far apart, so each show has grown and evolved. I learn something new every time I perform. This most recent show, at Pangea, I had greater freedom, for I realized the more I live with the material, the more I can inhabit the characters and the songs I sing. When I really know the material, I also take more risks, play with rhythms and notes, and expound more, share more when I speak.
I also realize with each performance, that I really need an audience – to relax and put me at ease, to connect and share with, and to react and respond to.
10. Before I end this interview, I have to ask you about working with Tom Wopat in Guys & Dolls. What is something you discovered about Tom that you didn't know prior to working with him? Well, I learned a lot about him, for I knew very little about him before I worked with him. I had seen him on Broadway in City of Angels and Guys and Dolls, and I remember thinking that he was a strong stage performer with a great voice, but I never saw his Dukes of Hazzard show, and I loved reminding him of that! I had a lot of fun with this 😊
He was my director and co-star, so I enjoyed every moment of the rehearsal period and 3-week run of the show. I saw firsthand, while playing our scenes, that he had the capacity to be a great actor. I also learned he has a musician’s ear. One night we stayed around the theatre after our rehearsal was complete for the day, just to listen to the orchestra rehearse the score, and he told me that he loved the whole process, especially the orchestra’s contribution. He also invited me to hear him sing with his band on occasion, which is where his heart seemed to be.
We shared recordings of our work over the years, and he encouraged me more than once to move to New York and to focus on my singing and acting. I learned from him, that in this sometimes brutal and difficult business, it’s nice to have a real friend, an encourager, for one kind soul can keep you on track, focused, and moving forward….
More on Jennifer:
Jennifer, whose regional credits include “Sarah Brown” opposite Broadway leading man Tom Wopat in Guys and Dolls, is known for her heartfelt, entertaining and exhilarating shows that highlight her wide vocal range. She has appeared as “Guenevere” in Camelot, directed by Tod Booth, and in both the soprano and alto roles in several versions of The All Night Strut, directed by Fran Charnas.
Jennifer's first album, An Evening with Jennifer Roberts with Tedd Firth, Steve Doyle and Tom Hubbard, was released in March.