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Julie Benko talks about ‘Funny Girl’ on Broadway, and Birdland Jazz Club

Broadway star Julie Benko chatted about her upcoming show at Birdland Jazz Club, as well as playing the role of Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” on Broadway.

Jason Yeager and Julie Benko
Jason Yeager and Julie Benko. Photo Credit: Sub/Urban Photography
Jason Yeager and Julie Benko. Photo Credit: Sub/Urban Photography

Broadway star Julie Benko chatted about her upcoming show at Birdland Jazz Club in New York, as well as playing the role of Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” on Broadway.

Birdland Jazz Club performance

On Monday, February 6. she will perform at the iconic Birdland Jazz Club with her band Euphonic Gumbo. “I am so excited,” she exclaimed. “It will have a New Orleans and a Mardi Gras theme so there will be surprises. I may have bought 400 beads to throw out to everyone in the audience.”

Benko revealed that she will march her band out to celebrate Mardi Gras with six instrumentalists, including her jazz-pianist spouse Jason Yeager, in addition to Michael O’Brien on bass, Jay Sawyer on drums, Andy Warren on trumpet, Evan Christopher on clarinet, and Ron Wilkins on the trombone (who is in the pit in “Funny Girl”). “I will be performing with a six-piece band, which includes my husband Jason [Yeager],” she said.

She will be performing in a classic New Orleans jazz style. She will let the good times roll with a delightful potpourri of tunes inspired by her love of the Crescent City. “We have a really nice big band that will really capture the New Orleans style jazz sound,” she said.

Her songs include selections from Hand in Hand, Benko and Yeager’s recent album from Club44 Records (“Louisiana Fairy Tale,” “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”), Benko’s debut album (“Love for Sale,” her original song “Tomorrow Is a Day for You”) and other classics (“Basin St. Blues,” “When the Saints Go Marching In”). “There will be a bunch of New Orleans-related tunes, some of which we did in my most recent album Hand in Hand, and some were from my first album,” she said.

Benko noted that she wrote her original tune “Tomorrow Is a Day for You” as a celebration of the Supreme Court making gay marriage legal in all 50 states. “Now, it has been codified into law by Congress, so it’s going to be extra special,” she said.

“I will be singing a Cajun folk song and song old folk songs, in addition to some newer material. I won’t be singing any songs from ‘Funny Girl,’ but I will be doing a song that Fanny Brice performed,” she said.

“The show is going to be a lot of fun, I am going to be sharing some history of New Orleans, which is fascinating,” she added.

‘Funny Girl’ on Broadway

Benko currently performs every Thursday as the alternate for Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” on Broadway, was hailed by The New York Times as “the bright-eyed, dulcet soprano who went from standby to star.” “I am still in it on Thursday nights, and I have to be here as an alternate even when I am not performing. I am here for eight shows a week regardless,” she said.

“I have a whole week coming up in February since Lea Michele is going to be on vacation. There are still a lot of shows coming up. I have really been enjoy my time, I recently hit my 100th show, and it has been amazing to settle in and I feel like I know the role so well,” she added.

“Doing this part full-time was the most exhausting role ever, especially vocally. Getting through it eight shows a week can be pretty grueling,” she acknowledged.

Working with Tovah Feldshuh

She praised Tony-nominated actress Tovah Feldshuh, who plays Mrs. Brice in “Funny Girl.” “We have wonderful chemistry on stage together. Tovah is really great and she is a real Jewish mother to me backstage, she offers me manuka honey before the show. Tovah has so much life and vibrancy, there is nobody like her, she is one of a kind,” Benko said.

Benko has performed on stages on and off-Broadway and across the country, including Broadway turns in Fiddler on the Roof and Les Misérables. She is a recipient of the Wilde Award for “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” for her performance as Girl in Once

She also received a BroadwayWorld Award nomination for “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” for her portrayal of Luisa in The Fantasticks, as well as Theatre Bay Area Awards and SF Critics Circle Awards “Best Featured Actress in a Musical” nominations for her turn as Bella in Rags.

She lent her voice to the 85th Academy Awards and the 70th Tony Awards ceremonies, performed as a soloist with numerous symphonies, and earned the Gold Medal and the Johnny Mercer Award in the national American Traditions Vocal Competition.

Her writing projects include the full-length play The District (a 2022 semifinalist at the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Conference) and the short film “The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy,” which has garnered awards at film festivals across the nation.

Benko’s albums Hand in Hand (Club44 Records) and Introducing Julie Benko were released to widespread acclaim. She holds a BFA and MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

The digital age

On being an actress in the digital age, Benko said, “It’s a different animal than it would have been 20 to 30 years ago. I get to connect with my fans on Instagram in a very different way. I’ve done a lot of virtual backstage tours where I have gotten to show fans my dressing room.”

“I think people love getting a chance to get a peek of what we do every day, and that has allowed me to develop a great relationship with the fans of the show. It wouldn’t have been easy to develop that connection 20 to 30 years ago,” she said.

Regarding the title of the current chapter of her life, Benko said, “Play.” “I am really having a good time playing around,” she admitted. “I get to perform a lot of concerts and share my voice that way.”

Success

On her definition of success, Benko said, “For me, success is getting to feel like I’ve gotten to share my creativity and connect with other people through art. Also, getting to live a full life, not just artistically but also personally with my friends and family. Success is finding good balance.”

To learn more about Julie Benko, check out her official website and follow her on Instagram.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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