Eden Espinosa is far from breaking down.
Despite starring in back-to-back-to-back musicals, independently releasing a solo album and voicing one of the main characters on Disney Channel’s Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, the Broadway alumna is constantly expanding her impressive resume.
Currently performing in the national tour of Falsettos (based on the acclaimed 2016 Broadway revival), Espinosa is bringing her unparalleled vocal talent to various cities across the country. As Trina, a woman struggling to come to terms with the end of her marriage when her husband leaves her for another man, Espinosa is a revelation. Equal parts funny and heartbreaking, her brilliant take on the character demands to be seen.
As Falsettos continues to trek through the United States (next stop Los Angeles), I chatted with Espinosa about how the show has been restructured, its timelessness and the complexity of her character. We also discussed her upcoming starring turn in Off-Broadway’s Lizzie, her latest solo record, dreams of returning to Broadway and much more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: The original production of Falsettos was broken up into two individual shows, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland. This production, however, combines the two into one theatrical experience spread across two acts. In what ways do you think that the show is enhanced by having the entire thing presented to audiences at once?
EDEN ESPINOSA: I think that it helps you get to know the characters. There is a definite difference between Act One and Act Two. I don’t think the show as a whole is cohesive, nor was it meant to be! Falsettoland has heavier undertones. That’s where the scenes about life, death and losing somebody that you love come in. So although Act One also deals with loss, the dissolving of relationships and family drama, it also has light moments and it deals with things in a more sitcom-like way.
Towards the end of Act One, we start moving into more serious tones. I think that putting them together allows Act One to prepare you for Act Two. It definitely leads you towards the fact that the show is shifting tones a bit. We still have some light and fun moments – but we’re getting into the nitty gritty of these peoples’ lives and what they’re having to deal with.
In what ways is Trina a different type of character for you to play on stage?
In every way! I haven’t had many opportunities to play comedic parts. I don’t think that Trina is looked at as a comedic role – but because she’s dealing with so much and trying to wade through so many aspects of her life, there are definite funny moments.
It’s also my first time playing a mother, which is an amazing opportunity. I’m having such a great time connecting with our two boys, Thatcher and Jonah. I also love playing somebody who’s messy. She’s a grown woman but she’s not perfect and she’s flawed. I really love trying to navigate through that.
One of Trina’s solos, “I’m Breaking Down,” is the comical apex of the musical. How do you prepare for performing this song every night? And do you have a personal favorite number in the show?
“I’m Breaking Down” is a beast! I mean, the whole show is a lot. When I was first learning that song, it was really daunting. There’s a lot of comedic pressure as this is like the bigfunny moment. What I loved about learning it and working with James Lapine on it is that he is a director who consistently reminds you to just tell the story. That really relieved pressure off of me and gave me freedom. It also gave me turn to feel that if I’m honest and true in those perimeters of the situation, then comedy might ensue. That’s what I try to remind myself of. I love doing “I’m Breaking Down,” it’s so much fun!
As far as my favorite numbers, those change for me. Right now, my favorite is a medley of moments in Act Two called “A Day of Falsettoland.” That number allows the three couples to have little vignettes before all coming together at the end. I’m having the most fun in that one right now.
Falsettos premiered in 1992 but it feels just as relevant today. What do you think it is about this musical and story that has turned it into a contemporary musical theater classic?
I think that it’s the heart of the piece. It really is amazing how relevant it is today. And it’s funny! People who don’t know the show are sometimes surprised after they come to see it to find out that it was written when it was. I don’t think its themes ever age or go out of style or out of date. They are themes of family and of swinging for the fences when life throws curve balls at you. They’re about dealing with the family that you’ve been given and then also the family that you choose in life. Those themes don’t ever get old and I think they’re always going to resonate with people.
Vocally, what are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of tackling William Finn’s music and lyrics?
I have had the privilege of singing some of the most difficult scores on Broadway. I have to say that this one is the hardest for me to date. The most challenging thing and the thing I love the most about it are the same. What I mean by that is the music isn’t just one style for Trina, in particular. What I love about this score and what is the most challenging about it is that it’s vocally all over the map. There’s everything from comedic belting to beautiful, soft, intimate ballads.
Then, on top of all that, each of us have our solo moments. And in those moments, we’re singing the backups for everyone else. Therefore, it’s an entirely sung-through, nonstop vocal challenge for everybody – especially with the cast being so small. It hasn’t been demanded of me to literally use every single part of my voice before. It is a challenge but it’s equally as rewarding.
As a performer, what are some of the biggest highlights of being part of a touring production versus being part of a stationary one?
The given highlights are the travel. It’s fun to go city-to-city and explore new places while figuring out the differences between the culture and arts communities in each of them. That’s super interesting because you have cities like L.A., Chicago and San Francisco who are big hubs for theater communities. But then there are places like Fayetteville, Arkansas where you might not expect people to take to a piece like this so much. Some of our warmest crowds were in Fayetteville! I’m also looking forward to going to Charlotte, North Carolina.
I love bringing a show like Falsettos on tour because it’s not the normal type of show that would tour. It’s not a huge blockbuster on Broadway. It’s more of an art piece and a little niche show. It’s been really cool to bring this type of show to different cities across America.
Speaking of Broadway blockbusters, you were in the original casts of Wicked and Brooklyn the Musical and part of the closing cast of the original production of Rent. Do you have any plans to return to Broadway? What type of show would be most enticing to you?
Yeah, I’m always wanting to return to New York and work on Broadway! I’ve been in development for an original piece called Lempicka for a couple of years now and we’re getting closer to maybe seeing what the future for that show is going be. I’d like to see that piece have its moment in the sun on the Great White Way. My fingers are crossed for that in the future!
Speaking of Lempicka, I was lucky enough to see you star as the titular character in the world premiere of that showat Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer. In my review, I wrote that you were “born to play” this character and that it was “one of those can’t miss, superstar-solidifying performances of the same caliber as Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple or Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.” You alluded to figuring out what the future for that show will be – can you tease any upcoming productions and/or a cast recording?
Wow, thank you very much! I think all of that is being figured out. Williamstown was very instrumental for the creative team in terms of figuring out exactly what this piece is and what we want it to say. We did a lab last fall that had a lot of rewrites and a lot of changes. I know that they’re going to do another writers’ session to really just hone it and make changes in order to serve the piece in the best way possible. That is always exciting to be a part of! So right now, they’re focused on getting the show in the best shape that it can be.
I’ve heard several rumors about what’s next. I’ve heard rumors of it going the opera route. I’ve heard rumors of it going to Broadway as soon as there’s a theater available. I’ve heard rumors of London. I’ve heard all sortsof rumors. But I don’t know if any of them have any truth to them.
What I do know is that the music really, really speaks to people. Our producers have discussed getting the music out as soon as possible so people can start getting to know it. All of these things are possible and these are options, none of which I know are future steps. But I’m hoping for any and all of the above!
This summer, you’ll be starring in the Off-Broadway production of the Lizzie Borden-inspired rock musical, Lizzie The Musical. What aspect(s) of this show are you most excited to get started working on?
This show has been kicking around for a very long time. I’m thrilled to bring it to New York as I did it a couple years ago in Denmark and London. These weird and little shows are making their ways to bigger theaters and to bigger audiences. I feel like it is a very exciting time to be part of these types of shows that might not have ever previously seen the light of day. It seems like people are more and more open to less than perfect theater and to ideas that are more avant-garde. Musicals don’t necessarily have to be a clean cut and/or linear.
Lizzieis a weird little show but it is so much fun. The music is great and the story is obviously one of the most famous American crime mysteries. People are already getting really excited about it. I’m very excited to do something different. This piece is very different from anything else I’ve ever done. It’s very much a rock musical. It’s just four women and we all get to have our moments. It’s just bad asses all around.
I’m really looking forward to working with these three women – Shannon O’Boyle, Carrie Cimma and Ciara Renée. We’ve all done the show before in different locations and different iterations but we’ve never all worked together before. It’s so exciting that we get to come together to make our own version. It’s going to be an awesome summer – a bloody one, but it’ll be great!
Cassandra, your character on the Disney Channel original television series Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, recently got her first solo number, “Waiting in the Wings.” What did it mean for you to be originating a new song in Disney’s iconic catalog – especially one written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater (which will soon be released on the upcoming soundtrack)?
It’s an embarrassment of riches! It’s a total dream come true. It’s always been a dream of mine to voice a Disney character. I had been brought in and made it pretty far for the Tangledmovie and for Frozen, actually. Those were close calls.
Getting the opportunity to create this character is just so great. Even if I sang zero notes, I would still be as happy and grateful. The creators have so much integrity and they put so much passion and meticulousness into this series. Every step of the way – all of the mythology and every character – is planned out very perfectly. They told me early on, “It’s going to be a slow burn with Cassandra. We’re not going to have her sing at all the first season. There are going to be little snippets and thenwe’re going to drop the bomb.”
It’s awesome to be a part of something that was already so loved. Then to have my character, especially as a new character, be embraced the way that she has been has just been amazing. I mean, Alan Menken and Glenn Slater? Are you kidding me? It’s too much.
On the topic of voiceover work, you also have recurred frequently on Robot Chicken, playing characters like Princess Leia, Rihanna, Judy Jetson and The Wicked Witch of the West, to name a few. What are some of your favorite memories from working on this program and can you tease any upcoming characters you’ll be voicing for them?
My first ever intro to voiceover was Robot Chicken. Seth Green had come to see Wicked and had the casting director bring me in afterwards. That led to a long line of several episodes and several musical parodies. They then asked me to be a part of a different show that they were creating and producing called Titan Maximum, which was so great.
The best memory I have is those early sessions that Seth was actually directing me. He just hassomuch experience with voiceover. Robot Chicken is a very specific genre and sense of humor. I just remember having the best time and him giving me that freedom of, “you can’t do anything wrong in here.” It was just like, “go big or go home.” He encouraged me to take risks and not to be afraid to say anything off color. Which is very different than Disney, obviously.
As for what’s coming up, I just recorded an episode a few weeks ago for Robot Chicken that is a musical parody of a popular series that is on a Hulu. That’s all I can say.
You also recently starred in Evita at The Studio Tenn Theatre Company,Merrily We Roll Along at Huntington Theatre Company and the Kennedy Center concert production of In The Heights. What are some other dream roles you’d love to add to your repertoire?
I would love to play Diana in Next to Normal and/or Fosca in Passion. Recently, I’ve also had an urge to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret and/or Velma or Roxie in Chicago. I don’t know why but I’m just like, “I want to do that!” I’d also love to play Dot in Sunday In The Park With George, although I may be getting a little too old for that now. Those are a few that are definitely on my radar!
In January, you independently released your second solo album, Revelation. Unlike your first album, this album consisted of entirely original material. What was the inspiration behind this record and how do you define yourself as a solo artist?
Songwriting was always something that I wanted to do. I used to do a lot when I was younger. Over time, I think I just put myself in a box and thought, “Well, you haven’t done it yet, so maybe you’re not meant for writing.” Even though it was always something I wanted to do!
I got too afraid of being vulnerable and letting people into my inner most thoughts, struggles and feelings. But then I got to a point in my life where I was doing a lot of personal work. I was going through a lot of transition, both professionally and personally. I felt lost and like I couldn’t find myself in anything around me and including me. So I just started writing these things down and every day I would just stream-of-conscious write. The album came from those writings. I never intended them to be songs. But I very carefully picked people whose talent and hearts I respect and love. It was like a creative playground! It was a very safe space for me to share and create. That’s how the album came to be from my journal scribblings.
How do I define myself? I think a lot of people who start out in musical theater, the way that I did, often feel they need to make a choice between musical theater and writing/pursuing your own stuff. I want to try to keep both plates spinning as much as possible. I don’t ever want to stop doing musical theater. And now that I have started writing and have learned to love that creative outlet for myself, I don’t ever want to stop doing that either.
I’d like to be that musical theater actress/singer/songwriter at the same time. Maybe I can have people who like me in both areas. Maybe they just like my albums. Maybe they just like me on stage. Those are two very different parts of me but they’re big parts of me. I would like to nurture both of them equally.
Do you have plans to embark on a solo tour to support the album?
Yeah! I was planning on doing little gigs in each city with Falsettos but I didn’t anticipate Trina being so vocally exhausting for me. I really need my days off!
However, my L.A. album release concert is coming up on April 29 while I’m there with Falsettos. I definitely would love to do smaller versions too – like little pop-ups with maybe just an acoustic guitar while singing album material. Fortunately, I’m booked up through September.
But yes, I definitely want to do tour the album at some point, for sure!
CLICK HERE to purchase tickets for the national tour of Falsettos, playing at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles from April 16th – May 19th.
PHOTOS | JOAN MARCUS & MARC J. FRANKLIN