Call Answered: Raissa Katona Bennett: “Fun Home” + “Can’t Help Singing: The Music of Jerome Kern”
I am so excited to finally have the chance to interview Broadway, Cabaret, and Recording Artist Raissa Katona Bennett. After attending several of her Concerts for City Greens over the years and getting to hear Raissa’s angelic voice, I’m thrilled we get to reconnect.
Raissa can currently be seen starring in the first Equity northeastern production of the Tony Award winning musical Fun Home in the role of “Helen” at Music Theatre of Connecticut. Fun Home runs through May 6. Click here for tickets!
Raissa is also celebrating the release of her new CD Can’t Help Singing – The Music of Jerome Kern with a concert at The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue in the basement of the West Bank Cafe) on May 3 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Well, my mother said I came out of the womb singing…she did say that, but I just remember always wanting to sing, and re-enacting the scenes from Carousel and Oklahoma with all the gravitas that a 7 year old could muster! I’d watch the movies and put on all of my parents records of every Broadway musical they had, and sing along, very dramatically, of course, pretending that the bay window was the proscenium. Barbara Cook and Shirley Jones were huge inspirations to me, and I’m thrilled that I’ve have the chance to socialize and talk at length with them both.
2. After nine seasons of producing Concerts for City Greens, you are returning to the world of solo shows and acting. What made now the right time for this return? I never left acting or doing my own cabaret shows, but the Music and Art for City Greens concert series became so huge during our 9 year run, that the specter of it had everyone thinking I was only producing and hosting that. During it’s run, I actually did several workshops of new musicals and two off-Broadway runs as well as three different cabaret shows, and recorded two CDs. We ended the concert series in 2016, and now I have the time to release one of those CD’s, hence my first solo cabaret show in six years!
3. You are coming back to acting with quite a bang! You are starring in the first Equity northeastern production of the Tony Award winning musical Fun Home at the Music Theatre of Connecticut. What made you want to be part of this show? FUN HOME addresses so many important issues. I have been drawn to it and wanting to play “Helen” ever since I saw it on Broadway. Being a part of this show, means that I can help to shed a light on the issues this show revolves around. Acceptance, gender identity, suppression of self and suicide – bringing these topics into the light, one can only hope, will eventually lead to healing. For example listening to little “Allison” sing “Ring of Keys,” and hearing her speak of wanting to wear “boy” clothes and hair, touches my heart, and I pray for the day when every child can express as they feel authentically, with no fear of reprisal. That is just one of the many areas that this play touches.
4. What do you relate to most about “Helen” and what is one characteristic of hers that you are glad you yourself do not possess? Wow – that’s a big question – “Helen” is the glue that holds the pretty dysfunctional family together, and, as so many mothers do, has put everyone else ahead of herself. Growing up, I watched my own mother do the same, and once I was old enough, I began modeling her behavior. I was definitely the “pacifist” in my childhood home – always wanting to smooth things over and make it look as if everything was alright, but unlike “Helen,” I realized at a much younger age, how detrimental that suppression can be.
5. Since Fun Home is abut accepting oneself. What is something about yourself that took you a long time to accept? That I am enough, just as I am. For a huge part of my life, I felt like I had to do more and be more to be worthy of love, attention, success. Working metaphysically and spiritually, especially through Unity, where I am a chaplain and Platform Assistant, has really helped me work through this, and I often still need a “tune up,” as we all do.
6. The show is also about harboring secrets. What’s the biggest secret you have kept that you are finally ready to reveal? Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have any big secrets! What you see is what you get with me, pretty much!
7. You also just released your newest CD Can’t Help Singing: The Music of Jerome Kern. What is it about his music that made want to record a whole CD of it? Well, the music of Kern is simply glorious and timeless, and because he wrote with so many different lyricists, over 30, in fact, it seems like there is a Kern song for just about every mood and occasion. Jerome Kern’s music often feels like my life “theme music.”
8. What are you looking forward to most about your upcoming CD release concerts at The Laurie Beechman Theatre? It’s been six years since I’ve done a solo show, and I’m really looking forward to connecting with the audience, breaking that fourth wall! I love the give and take that cabaret is, and the intimacy of the art form. And the fact that I get to share the stage with two of the best musicians in NYC, Tom Hubbard and Jon Weber, is the cherry on top!
9. You also spend much of your time training rescue dogs with behavioral issues. How did you get involved with this? My husband, Garrett, and I, adopted our first dog, Brandy, in November of 2001. She was a 7 year old Toy Fox Terrier, and considered a tough adoption because she was “older” – the fact is, she was an angel dog, the easiest one we’ve ever had, and we had her for over 10 years. About a month after adopting her, we were asked to foster a 15 year old chihuahua named Goldie. It’s too long a story for here, and if people want to learn more about our rescue journeys and find out how to help, they can visit my “Dog Blog” at my website:
However, Goldie was a strong communicator, and I learned a lot about how to handle dogs with “issues” from her. I did a lot of research, volunteered at the NY ASPCA and took their volunteer classes, where I learned and worked next to their behaviorists. I began fostering and working with some of their tougher small dogs and then when we were in Birmingham, AL for a year, while my husband was doing his fellowship in Facial Plastics, I had the time to learn more. I volunteered there with the Birmingham Humane Society, fostered for them, and worked at the Birmingham Dog Obedience Center, where I taught the puppy classes.
Our 14 year old chihuahua, Otie, was our foster dog in Birmingham when he was only 1.5 years old, and he had severe issues. He lived with us for four months, and we worked a lot with him, and learned in the process. He eventually went back to his other “Mom,” but two years later, he was back in the shelter, so he came home with us and we worked with him again, to get him ready for adoption, but Brandy told us to keep him, and we’ve had him ever since. He’s come very far, but he still has issue. There are always a few dogs that you really can’t re-home, but with proper attention and work, a great majority can be. It just takes patience and the right home, and in the end, we are talking about a life, so isn’t it worth it? And with all of his issues, Otie is our little boy and so many of our friends adore him! We also have Phoebe, a 10 year old Toy Fox Terrier, Molly, a 13 year old Havanese, and Tiny, a 14 year old chihuahua. Except for Otie, all of them were rescued through www.stfbr.org – Shih Tzu and Furbaby Small Breed Dog Rescue, which is the main group I volunteer through now. They do exceptional work – based in Georgia, because most of the puppy mills and kill shelters are down south.
You notice my longest answer is about the dogs! That’s because they can’t speak for themselves, and the need to save lives is so great!
10. If you could be any kind of dog, which one would you be and why? I don’t want to come back as a dog, but if I did, I’d want to be one of mine! And probably I’d be a 10 pound adorable mixed breed that has Chihuahua, Terrier and Havanese in it, because then I’d be feisty, super smart, a good mouser and super cute!
More on Raissa:
On Broadway, Raissa appeared as “Christine Daae” in Phantom of the Opera & Chess in Concert. First National Tours: Cats, Parade. Off – Broadway: Water From The Moon(Urban Stages), Devil And The Deep (Theatre East). As a MAC & Bistro Award Winning nightclub performer, she has headlined at Feinstein’s, The Metropolitan Room, The Iridium Jazz Club, the Laurie Beechman Theatre and guest starred at Rose Hall at Lincoln Center, Town Hall, 54 Below, Algonquin’s Oak Room, the Rainbow Room, to name a few.