A Honking Good Concerts Series Comes to a Close
Actress-singer Teri Bibb has played the role of understudy-turned-star Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera more than 1,000 times, both on Broadway and with the national tour that included singing a command performance at the White House. A veteran whose experience includes appearing in more than 50 musicals across the country, Bibb’s credits include playing the title role in Fanny opposite the late José Ferrer at the Paper Mill Playhouse and starring in the world premieres of both Songs from the Tall Grass at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC and Children of the Night with Katselas Theatre Company in Beverly Hills. She has been a featured soloist in gala tributes honoring Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, and Harold Prince, including “The Broadway Prince” at Carnegie Hall and seventh annual “The Night of 1,000 Voices” concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
So Bibb has clearly seen her share of intimidating audiences. But she’s never sang for a crowd consisting of devices created out of chrome and glass. Then again, until this summer’s coronavirus-induced Rubicon Goes Retro series in partnership with Ventura’s Concerts in Your Car series, neither had anyone else.
But come Monday-Wednesday, September 7-9, Bibb will join several equally experienced Broadway and touring veterans – including David Burnham (last seen on Broadway in the hit musical Wicked playing Fiyero, a role that he originated in the developmental workshops of the show), Tami Tappan Damiano (Cyrano: the Musical and Miss Saigon on Broadway), Ty Taylor (Songs For A New World on Broadway, and currently the lead singer of the critically acclaimed soulful blues-rock band Vintage Trouble), and Ted Neeley of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar fame – in closing out the summer run at the Ventura Fairgrounds with the cleverly titled Music of the Knights: The Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John, and Paul McCartney.
The production brings together Broadway and West End royalty with British rock stars of the highest order for an evening of songs done revue-style, including duets and ensemble songs. Bibb, whose association with the Rubicon extends for more than 20 years, talked about her career, the theater and the upcoming production over the phone earlier this week.
Q. What keeps you coming back to the Rubicon over the years?
A. Besides the fact that it’s a quality theater with amazingly beautiful and well thought out productions, it just really feels like a family. They take care of their artists, value them and they let you know, the day you arrive, how valued you are. It’s a wonderful community and just a gorgeous place. But mostly it’s just the environment created there and the community support that they have garnered. I’m always proud of the work that we do there.
What has stood out for you among those various shows you have done there as you look back?
I love the Christmas shows – I’ve done four productions of the Rubicon Family Christmas – which had such a tight knit, little band of storytellers and musicians every year, and three years of A Christmas Carol that Karyl Lynn adapted. And I got to work with the kids that were part of the children’s program and see them grow up and become young adults and musical theater performers in their own rights. That’s been very special.
Obviously you are most associated with Christine from Phantom. What I’m curious about is that you were obviously very young at the time and it was a huge role you stepped into. How did it affect not only your career, but you to be taking on a role like that?
It was amazingly transformative. I had been knocking around New York for about three years and I didn’t even have an agent for most of that. So I was just going to open calls, standing in line at six in the morning and having no luck at all. Then I did a production of Godspeed and appeared at the Papermill in New Jersey that got me some New York press and a little bit of attention, which helped me get an agent, which led to better auditions that were actually for people who were making the decisions. When I had my callback for Hal Prince (director of Phantom) in his office at Rockefeller Center that was so frightening and overwhelming and fantastic and wonderful, singing for him in his office with his myriad Tony awards on all the surfaces around, it was intense and incredible. At first I was on the national tour which was a spectacular experience because I did it for three and a half years and we only played ten cities. It was the first time it had toured and we were received like royalty everywhere. It really shaped the next twenty years or so of my career, because then I went on to do it on Broadway, returned to the national tour and ended up singing that music in concert for years including the trio of sopranos that had played Christine called the Phantom’s Leading Ladies, which lasted for 10 years. It’s still a big part of me.
Christine is young and impressionable just getting her first break. How has your approach to singing those songs changed over the years?
When I sing those songs now, I bring my experience from the years of playing the role, but I also interpret them as songs and as music. I bring my artistic sense to it, as opposed to trying to reinterpret my playing of the role, because obviously I’m not Christine anymore. What we’re doing for the Rubicon of course is a musical revue, and while there’s nothing like creating a character and immersing yourself in another time and place, here it’s about bringing yourself to the piece and about engaging the audience. You bring whatever you have to offer from yourself and layer in what the author’s intent was, but obviously you’re not doing the whole show.
We’ll also be singing music from Paul McCartney and Elton John that were never part of a musical, just strictly pop songs being interpreted as artists and musicians and just bringing ourselves to those numbers. What they have in common is universal themes that obviously everyone can relate to and that appeals to a broad range of ages and demographics.
It just occurred to me how much times have changed in terms of the separation between musicals and what’s considered pop. Back in the days of the Great American Songbook, the music transcended theater. Nowadays, if people know songs by Cole Porter or the Gershwins, they probably don’t realize that they were ever in a musical. That’s all changed. So it’s interesting to put those two together and actually in a way equate them or elevate each of them to the status of the other. Do you wonder why songs from Broadway aren’t considered pop songs in the same way now?
That’s true. The songs that were popular on Broadway were the songs that people were recording and you were hearing on the radio and hearing at the variety shows. And that definitely has changed somewhat, although I will say Hamilton and some of the more recent things that have come out are making their way more into the mainstream. And people like Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman and Josh Groban are also bringing musical theater songs more into the mainstream with their recordings and their concerts. So maybe there’s more crossover.
Well, whatever you are singing, I’m imagining you’ve never done performances for automobiles before. I don’t know if you’ve gone to any of the previous Rubicon Goes Retro shows, but the two I saw were both really cool and really bizarre at the same time. What are your thoughts as you anticipate the concerts?
We went to the Forever Plaid show because I wanted to know what I was in for and yes it was a combination of a wonderful and delightful and extremely surreal and bizarre. And I can imagine it’s only heightened from the performer’s point of view because being an audience member, you’re still getting the show. You’re looking up at the screens. I’ve gone to shows at the Hollywood Bowl where you are looking more at screens than you are at the stage. But the whole car thing and the honking was definitely different. I can imagine that will feel a little odd. But truthfully, I think it will feel wonderful to be on a stage again, with my people out there, because I’ve done some of these Zoom performances and I don’t love them. I’m really happy that they happen and that there is an audience for them and that it’s keeping theater alive and relevant. But personally I don’t find it very rewarding to sit in my living room with a camera and an ear bud in my ear and just putting it out there and hoping someone’s going to see us. We thrive on that audience response, whether it’s applause or laughter or cars honking. And while it’s going to have its challenges, it’s still great to be working with my friends.
Speaking of that, how familiar are you with the other singers?
I’ve known Tami since she was 15 years old in one of her first roles, and she was crazy talented even then. David Burnham and I have done many, many concerts together and he’s really fun to share a stage with… And the two I haven’t worked with before — Ted Neely and Ty Taylor are legends, so I’m really looking forward to sharing the stage with them. I know I’ll be getting some photos.