One released a solo album this year and found her way back onto the Billboard charts. The other broke through in Hollywood in a major way, starring in “Widows” and filming the title role in next year’s “Harriet,” a Harriet Tubman biopic. Both Shoshana Bean and Cynthia Erivo have had a busy, filling 2018.
It makes sense, then, for the friends to send the year off in style (with special guests and a 15-piece orchestra in tow) with an evening of holiday music and festivities at the legendary Apollo Theater called "Night Divine."
amNewYork caught up with Bean and Erivo (in separate interviews) to talk about singing together at Bean’s album release show earlier this year in Harlem, the upcoming concert, and 2018 as a whole.
How did this come about?
Shoshana Bean: It happened because of the Apollo show. Two of my best friends came into the dressing room to say goodbye as did Cynthia — she had been a special guest [performer] — and my one best friend, who always has these little flashes of ideas, said to Cynthia, "you two are so special together, the magic you have together, you should do a TV special, like a Barbra [Streisand]-Judy [Garland]." The next morning, I was thinking about it, and we might not be able to throw together a TV special — I’m going to be on the road, and Cynthia’s going to be making movies — but what’s attainable and achievable to me is a concert.
Cynthia Erivo: Shoshana and I had not sung together before until maybe a couple of months ago when she did her concert and the two of us were like, “why don’t we do this more often?” And we knew Christmas was coming up, so should we try to put something together? I knew we’d have some fun, she knew we’d have some fun, and we’d get to sing these really great songs together and look really great, and wear pretty dresses. Essentially, we’re doing this for ourselves as much as anybody else.
Cynthia, you’ve had a breakthrough year. Have you had a chance wrap your head around what 2018 has meant to you?
CE: For me, it only ended on Monday, because I just finished shooting the Harriet [Tubman] movie. I’ve taken this week to go back and look at what I’ve been through and what I’ve done and what’s happened. Now, I’m getting the space and time to process it, but obviously, I have two concerts coming up in the next week. By the time I can actually process everything, I’ll be on a plane to the U.K. It’s only then that everything will set in.
Shoshana, how did the production create a set list?
SB: We originally had talked to Billy Porter about directing the show — he’s obviously very busy, Golden Globe-nominated Billy Porter — and his initial question was “Why? Why now are you doing a Christmas show?” And it was because when Cynthia and I were on stage together at my Apollo show, we had the entire audience on their feet singing along with us, [and] there’s a need to feel togetherness rather than separation. There’s enough in the world that’s separating us — races, political parties, religions, sexual orientation, everything is separating us, to empower ourselves or disempower us — I felt like it’s such a gift to be able to usher other people to create an experience like that. We have the power to do that with music. That’s what we kept in mind when we crafted the set.
What makes a good holiday song?
SB: I think that it’s subjective. A lot of it is personal, based on memories, because they happen every … year. You hear the same songs. So, if they’re ones that you love enough to continue listening to every year, they usually have some pretty strong memories attached. The second thing is more universality. The ones that are more general apply to a larger majority of people. And last, it’s really personal — “O Holy Night” is my favorite and it’s the melody, which is so powerful. People’s definition and experience of powerful within a song varies. But for me, it’s memories and melody.
CE: I guess how happy it makes people feel, the message in it that it gives everyone, hopefully. Usually the song is about bringing people together and the spirit of Christmas. That’s what makes a good Christmas song. And the lyrics have to be good.
IF YOU GO: ‘Night Divine,’ featuring Shoshana Bean and Cynthia Erivo, is at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17, 2018, at the Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St., Harlem, apollotheater.org, $78.50-$153.50.