Actress, singer, writer, and native New Yorker Samantha Massell has appeared on Broadway, on television, in films, regionally, and in a variety of commercials. Since making her Broadway debut at age 12 in La Bohéme, Massell has gone on to star as Hodel in the most recent Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, and more recently originated the starring role of Rebecca in the extensive revisal of Stephen Schwartz and Charles Strouse's Rags. Called “luminous and heartbreaking” by The Associated Press, Samantha Massell now prepares to return to Feinstein’s/54 Below on August 21 & 28 with a brand new solo show, following a sold-out debut in January of 2017. We took some time to talk with Samantha about her past work, artistic inspiration, and what audiences can expect at her upcoming shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
Culturadar: Now that you have already conquered the stage with one solo show at Feinstein’s/54 Below, what are you looking forward to about returning?
Samantha Massell: Ooh! Conquered! I love it. I’m thrilled to have been asked back by the amazing team at Feinstein’s/54 Below, especially because, dare I say, I am pretty proud of the show I put together for January 2017. I wrote it during the 2016 presidential election and found myself deeply moved by Hillary Clinton as she slogged through hell and back in pursuit of our nation’s highest office. I found her tenacity and strength, despite her loss, to be incredibly inspirational, so I decided to theme my show around female empowerment and tried to musically celebrate the women who have inspired and empowered me. A year and a half later, my theme has somehow become more topical as our nation’s cultural conversation has focused in on women’s issues again, so I’m looking forward to diving deeper into that theme and continuing to spread the message of girl power because, sadly, it appears some people need some reminding.
CR: You appeared as Hodel in the most recent Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, one of the world’s most beloved musicals. How has that experience impacted you as an artist, and can audiences expect any traces of Fiddler at your upcoming Feinstein’s/54 Below shows?
SM: Well, I can guarantee a fun foray into Anatevka during my show on the 28th with Alexandra Silber, but otherwise, the show is fairly Fiddler-free. However, there is a new segment I’m really excited to share with my August audiences about the revisal of Rags, a project I’ve been involved with for over a year now. The original book to Rags was written by Joe Stein and was always intended as the thematic sequel to Fiddler on the Roof. So, in a way Fiddler appears in my show through the screen of Rags because my work as Hodel on Broadway very much informed my process to recreate the character of Rebecca in this new version. Anyone familiar with the original show will be blown away by the changes that have been made because, by all means, the show is literally brand new. This development process continues to be one of the most exciting theatrical experiences I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of and I’m so excited to sing some songs from the show and fill our audiences in on what’s been going on behind the scenes!
CR: Who or what are some of your biggest influences in the music that you have written for your show?
SM: One song in my show, which is the thematic kick off of the night, was co-written by me and my incredible friend Madeline Myers. When I was planning my show the first time around, I kept thinking about this book I had loved as a child called Girls Can Be Anything. It was written by Norma Klein and published in 1973 and it was one of my all-time favorite bed time stories. One night, riding the subway home from Fiddler, the idea for a song based on the book just popped into my head and I texted her right away. It was very important to me to write this with another woman and I couldn’t be more proud of how it turned out. We’ve made some edits to it this time around and I can’t wait to sing it again for you all!
CR: You made your Broadway debut at age 12, how has that experience shaped your growth as a performer?
SM: This business can be so soul crushing, so I’m grateful I started to learn that as a kid, even though it never really gets easier. However, I love to look back and remember the sheer joy I felt as a child to be a part of it all. I was so eager to be on stage and perform. I just loved to sing and tell stories. Sometimes the business can make you question why you do this at all. Looking back on my time as a kid on Broadway, I am reminded of why.
CR: What is the most valuable piece of advice you could give to a young artist starting her career?
SM: One of my professors at The University of Michigan tells students to put their horse blinders on. That way, you can follow your own path and not look to the side to see what other people are doing. Easier said than done, but a great piece of advice.
CR: You have an incredible line-up of guest performers: Laura Osnes, Sara Kapner, Alexandra Silber, and Krysta Rodriguez, what has it been like for you to create this show with them?
SM: Oh my goodness, I am the luckiest girl in the world. Each of these amazing women has been a part of my life in a unique way and I’m so excited to get to share that with audiences. I love the writing process, so creating individualized duets with each of these astonishing women has been wonderful. Plus, it’s fun for me to switch it up between shows! I don’t want to give too much away, so you’ll have to come see us, but I guarantee you four never-before-seen duets!
For tickets and info to Samantha’s shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below, visit www.54below.com.