Christina Bianco: The Princess of Off-Broadway Comedy
Christina Bianco impersonates Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, and Lady Gaga. She has to, because she’s already mastered most of Broadway’s biggest stars. Yet if you’re thinking that Bianco is some run-of-the-mill impressions actress, you obviously haven’t heard her sing. In addition to matching (and perhaps even surpassing) the vocal skills of the Grammy and Tony winners she impersonates, Bianco wholly embodies them—movements, facial idiosyncrasies and all. It was her display of these skills in the final incarnation of the cherished off-Broadway spoof fest Forbidden Broadway and currently in the ripped-from-the-headlines revue NEWSical that has made Bianco one of off-Broadway’s most valuable comedic actresses.
For most actors, it takes a few gigs before they find one that defines who they are as a performer. For Bianco, it was her first job in New York. Growing up in Rockland County, New York and attending New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Bianco snagged a spot in Gerard Alessandrini’s final installment of the critically-acclaimed revue, in which current Broadway shows are strung through the satirical wringer, Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab in 2008. Although it earned her a Drama Desk nomination for her performance, Bianco caught the production at unfortunate timing, as the long-running revue series was concluding.
“I grew up listening to it,” Bianco said of Forbidden Broadway, which Alessandrini first created in 1982. “When I booked the job, I figured I had a job for life; I thought I could do it for years and years. Unfortunately, Gerard just had enough and wanted to do other things.”
However, a similar role was around the corner for Bianco in NEWSical, which has been running since December 2009 and is currently playing at the Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row. Rick Crom’s ever-changing satirical revue reflects the political and pop-culture headlines of the moment in riotous musical numbers. Currently, Bianco can be seen skewering Christina Aguilera’s butchering of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at this year’s Super Bowl, embodying an eccentric Celine Dion, and embellishing Lady Gaga’s passion for protecting the gay community.
“Forbidden Broadway was such an institution. When people see you in that show, they associate you with it for a really long time. That wasn’t a bad thing for me,” Bianco said, acknowledging that the similar skills of improv and satirical comedy required for Forbidden Broadway landed her the job in NEWSical.
VIDEO: Christina Bianco on being Dora the Explorer and meeting her husband, Benny the Bull.
While Bianco is enjoying critical praise for NEWSical and carries her comedic and powerful voice to various cabaret acts and has a busy slate of voiceover work, there are many untraveled career paths for someone of her talents. For a performer who can mimic the vocals of Celine and Gaga to the point of zero discrepancy, the absence of a recording contract might seem like a waste of talent, which is a point of contention Bianco said she receives from her family on a regular basis.
“‘How come you don’t go on those American Idol shows and the America’s Got Talent?’” Bianco mimicked in a voice akin to a nagging aunt who might live in Brooklyn. “But I did go on America’s Got Talent this year. I made it all the way to the Vegas round. I sang for the judges, but I’m one of the select few that got no air time,” Bianco said with a laugh. “I did a really good job, but [the producers] aren’t just picking the most talented people; they’re picking good TV. I’m sort of not good TV for them.”
Bianco, who claims to have no sob story juicy enough for reality TV, recalled appealing to the America’s Got Talent judges with her only strife—her height. “What I did say was that it has been very hard for me to work and be taken seriously in any area of performance because of my height. I’m not just short; I’m really short. I mentioned that on stage and Sharon Osbourne screamed at me! She said, ‘That’s ridiculous! That’s not true.’ She basically said that I was looking to get sympathy. I wasn’t expecting that to happen. It was my only actual sob story and she completely told me I was just being a whiny little brat. I thought, ‘This might not work out well for me.’ And it didn’t!”
Beyond the failed stint at a record deal through reality TV, Bianco did make a go at the recording industry a few years ago by shipping out to Nashville to work with country music writers. Bianco looked back on the experience fondly and acknowledged its value, but cited that she turned away because she wasn’t ready to give up her dreams of theater for the full commitment that a career as a recording artist requires.
So if it’s acting that Bianco wants, then with those comedic skills and vocal chops, why haven’t we seen her on Saturday Night Live or on Broadway yet? According to Bianco, the answers are: “I haven’t sent in an audition tape yet, but I definitely will, at some point,” and “That would be a question for all the casting agents in this city.” Bianco said she has had positive experiences with Broadway auditions, but nothing that has resulted in a job. “I’ve been told that I am sort of a difficult type,” Bianco said. “Certain people see me as the girl next door; other people see me as the comic relief.”
While Bianco cites Broadway as the ultimate dream, she is doing just fine now off the Great White Way. She has sold out Radio City Music Hall playing the beloved children’s character Dora the Explorer in a Nickelodeon national tour (in which she met her husband, who was a costar—more on that in the embedded video). Bianco has leant her voice to numerous commercials, including Strawberry Shortcake’s toy line. And while NEWSical is dark on Thursdays, Bianco spends her intended one-night off at Feinstein’s performing in a weekly cabaret act called 11 O’Clock Numbers, in which she belts torch songs from Oliver! and Thoroughly Modern Millie.
With a packed schedule like Bianco’s leaving a trail of praise wherever she goes, a Broadway marquee shouldn’t be far off. “I would be thrilled to be the eighteenth chorus girl to the left in a Broadway show, because it’s the dream,” Bianco said. “But then I remind myself how lucky I am to be one of four people in both NEWSical and Forbidden Broadway who gets a lot of stage time and a huge scope of musical styles to perform. That’s something that will be hard to top—even on the big Broadway stage.”
What do you think of Christina Bianco, Rushers? Have you seen her in NEWSical? What Broadway show would you like to see Bianco star in? Would you most like to see her as a recording artist or on SNL? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to catch a hilarious appearance by Bianco on this week’s episode of Stage Rush TV!