Update: Shayna Blass is standing in for Florrie Bagel who is ill in Warm and Toasty.
Florrie Bagel is starring in a special cabaret Warm and Toasty at Signature Theatre, Monday, December 5. For her many DC area fans, that means a big welcome home party and the start of the holiday cheer.
“Warm and Toasty is a great title for it”, the Bethesda-born talent said, over a cup of tea. It will be music to cuddle up to, a mix of heartwarming, comedic, and holiday cheer definitely, I’m doing some I haven’t performed before: Joni Mitchell’s “River”, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” some you may not have heard before and a Carole King tune called “Snow Queen” and it’s so fantastic, I can’t wait to do it.
It’s a benefit for Monumental Theatre Company and Florrie will share the stage with Allie O’Donnell and Tiziano D’Affuso. (get your tickets here).
“I needed to be working on music that makes me smile because the past few weeks have been been a dark time for all of us and I’m excited to work to bring some light.”
Since moving to New York, Florrie has been in the touring companies of Sister Act (2012) and Kinky Boots (2015). And just performed an original cabaret.
But when asked about her most memorable moments from 2016, what came immediately to mind weren’t her successes.
“Well, (big sigh) this has been a very complicated year. I’m sure a lot of people will also say that. The beginning of this year, I found myself in an awful New York housing situation. I had bed bugs 3 separate times and helped organize the tenants in my building to help fight against the landlord … who was named one of the 7 worst landlords list in NYC.
“You don’t realize how important a safe living situation is until you don’t have it. NYC is hard to live in and you need to have your own sanctuary when you come home. I didn’t feel safe in my own apartment.” Things are better now. She shares a cozy Manhattan apartment with her boyfriend, Dave.
Like most New York actors, her life is busy with working, “auditioning up a storm” and taking classes, which she credits for emotionally pulling her through the apartment crisis.
“I really love the medium of musical theatre but I would love to be a part of more plays going forward. I’ve had some cool auditions and callbacks. It’s really tough, though, when it’s something you really want and have to say – not this time.
“The Freeman Studio was a big game changer, and I had an incredible teacher (Alexandra Neil) and great works were done in that class. A lot of time is involved – multiple scene rehearsals on top of class on top of work, but it really did wonderful things for my soul. It became my safe place and the place to be really bold artistically and work on scenes and plays that aren’t done that often. I am excited to get back to class after the new year.”
Working at the studio enabled her to audition for more roles, not only in musicals, but in straight plays and two parts in TV series: Madam Secretary (“Sea Change”) and Orange is the New Black (“Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again”) which she described: “They film it about 45 minutes outside the city in a former psychiatric center. We were driven there a 4am, so I wasn’t watching where we were going, but it was very cool to be on set, see rooms from the show and be talking to the warden. It was a trip.”
To sustain all of this, Florrie is a barrista in a Chelsea area coffeehouse. “Once Orange is the New Black came out and people started binge watching, customers came in and said ‘why didn’t you tell me you were on?’ I didn’t tell anybody, because I was nervous it might have been cut. She is now a certified barrista which means “I can pull up a lovely espresso shot and pouring lovely art into a coffee cup.”
One recent joy was performing Through the Smoke, a cabaret she created dedicated to Amy Winehouse. “I put together this concert which fed my soul so much. We did a really exciting, stripped down version and I loved sitting with that music. Her lyrics are so tasty and witty and blunt and profound. It was a beautiful thing to have people come up and say ‘I heard this song in a different way.’
Why Amy Winehouse? “Because she was a jazz singer and was somebody who was a true artist. When I found out she was this little Jewish girl from north London, I was stunned. She was a true individual. There is a raw bluntness to her lyrics that can be kind of shocking but I think there is a vulnerability that comes with her. I think she was super honest with her songs and I’ve always connected with that.
“And working with a jazz band makes my heart flutter.” As does getting the chance to make art and perform in front of an audience.
“Companies like Monumental Theatre give actors a chance to do new work in front of an audience. When Mike Blank, who is a marvelous human, got in touch with me about doing this, I was thrilled to say yes.”
But she’s never forgotten the DC theatre scene and would be open to doing more shows here.
Signature’s Overtures Program got her started when she was 15. “Matt Gardiner, James (Gardiner), Nick Blaemire were in my set. It was the wonderful, intensive experience I had been craving.”
We have seen Florrie in many productions in DC, but the one that stood out – for both she and I – was Speech and Debate at Rep Stage. “That was my favorite in DC and maybe ever. I had the chance to summon all my weirdness. Working with Sam Ludwig and Parker Drown with Eve Muson directing, it was the best rehearsal experience I’ve ever had. I could have done it forever. Stephen Karam’s writing is so real, such a gift to the actors. He give you so much and everyone is so very flawed.
“I saw (Karam’s) The Humans and was so proud when they won The Tony. The whole piece is so good. Tony’s all around! Sarah Steele who plays the youngest daughter in Humans originated Diwata in Speech. She came into my coffee house, and we talked about the amazingness of Speech and shared some Stephen Karam love for about fifteen minutes, cause he’s due all of that.”
And, finally, a question I’ve been wanting to ask: how did she get the name Florrie? “Florrie means ‘blooming flower’ in latin. My mother wanted to name me after my great-grandmother, Fanny. However, she thought that going through life as Fanny Bagel might be a little problematic. she wanted to find a unique name that began with an F to honor her. She kept looking and looking until she found Florrie. I love it so.”
Perfect name. And perfect time to see Florrie Bagel in concert: Monday, December 5 at Signature Theatre. Click for tickets.