Call Answered: Jen Fellman: "Forbidden Drive" + Feinstein's/54 Below show
Jen Fellman is a singer, actor, writer and cabaret performer living and working in New York City. Her story of survival after heartbreak resonates with me. Her living and working in Paris prior to returning to New York inspires me. The creation of her debut album, Forbidden Drive, which maps the journey of a romantic relationship from beginning to end, and the path from heartache to hope, fascinates me.
Forbidden Drive is comprised of songs from the worlds of jazz, standards, Broadway, and French chanson. The album musically embodies Jen’s journey as an artist and as a gay woman while exploring her life between NYC & Paris.
To celebrate the release of Forbidden Drive, Jen will be performing two concerts at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street, between Broadway & 8th Avenue) on September 21 (SOLD OUT) & October 19 at 9:30pm! Click here for tickets!
1. This fall, your debut album is being released by Broadway Records, Forbidden Drive. What are you looking forward to most about this release? Most of all, I’m looking forward to sharing these songs with everyone! My Music Director Bob Goldstone and I put tremendous time and thought into each arrangement – making each track unique and meaningful. The songs came to life with the musicians and engineers, but even then there was much to be done before releasing.
The process for an album is long. As much as I’ve talked about it, I haven’t actually been able to share the songs with a listening audience until now. There’s a lot of mystery around a project like this, but it’s all in service of creating something to be shared. To be at the point of sharing is thrilling!
2. What is making you nervous? This is my first album, so there is a natural feeling of pressure that goes with that. But more than anything, the content and message of the album reveal a lot about me and my personal story. I wouldn’t want to be anything but honest and true to myself, still sharing one’s truth can be both liberating and scary.
3. How long did it take you to make this album - from idea to inception? From start to finish this album has taken over two years. I started with a GoFundMe campaign to finance the project, then over a year was spent choosing songs, creating arrangements and preparing for the recording studio.
Once in the studio, another phase began as the music was recorded, mixed and mastered, and finally sent to print. It took endless small steps and a village of people to make this possible. Everything took longer than I thought it would, but I’m so proud of what we created and so glad we didn’t rush the process.
4. What was the first song you knew had to be on this album? I knew the song “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) by Michel Legrand had to be on the album. It’s from the classic movie of the same name directed by Jacques Demy, starring Catherine Deneuve.
I lived in Paris for several years and sang this song in every concert I gave there. It inspired a visit to the actual city of Cherbourg – where I purchased a red umbrella from the boutique depicted in the film – and later, a magical meeting in Paris with Catherine Deneuve herself. I’ve also performed the song numerous times in New York as part of my one-woman musical FRENCHY – A Parisian Affair that recounts my life in Paris. The song has become a part of me. I knew it had to be on the album.
5. The album is a mixture of jazz, standards, Broadway, and French chanson along with an original composition. What was it like to write the only original song on the album? Writing the original song “New York Treasure” was one of the most fulfilling, empowering moments of creating this album. Singing each song allowed me to voice part of my experience, but in writing I was able to transform a hurtful experience of loss into something beautiful and lasting – something I could reclaim with pride. I wrote the lyrics and melody and then Bob Goldstone and I further developed the music together.
The song looks back on a very special moment with a past love at one of my favorite places in New York. One night, we waltzed together around the empty upstairs ballroom at Sardi’s, with no one watching but the well-known caricature faces framed on the wall. It pays tribute to both the magic of the moment, and the magic of New York.
6. That original song is "New York Treasure." What is something you have discovered in New York? Well, on a fun note – I have discovered that Sardi’s also serves the best Grasshopper cocktail in town – my personal favorite 😊
7. You also recorded Stephen Sondheim's "Happiness" from Passion with Broadway's Margo Seibert. This is the first time this song has been recorded as a duet by two women. What made you want to record this song as a female duet and how did you come to ask Margo to be part of it? I knew as a gay woman, I wanted to sing a love song duet with another woman. I knew I had an opportunity to do something different here. I decided this moment on the album should make a statement. I want to cross boundaries in my work and expand who gets to sing these powerful love songs and stories. More than a love song, “Happiness” was written as a love scene. It is intimacy embodied. It should be open to anyone to sing, regardless of whom we love, regardless if we identify as she, he or they.
I met Margo through my Producer Michael Croiter. She had recorded her solo album with him at Yellow Sound Lab the year before. Margo was such a wonderful person for this! In addition to her talent, I am so grateful for her beautiful energy and interpretation. From the start, she also supported the message that love is love, and that traditional musical theatre can live on in a new way if it’s opened up to everyone.
8. You have lived in Paris & America. What made you want to move to Paris? What can you tell us about your experience living there? I have loved French culture and language since an early trip to France with my parents at age 13. I went on to study French formally in school, including abroad in Brittany. I knew one day I had to live and sing in Paris. I had planned to stay there one year, but instead, stayed for almost four. Paris became a second home. I built a life there and dear friendships. I performed at various venues including The Petit Journal Montparnasse, the American Embassy in Paris, and the Studio-Théâtre of the Comédie-Française. I fell in love in Paris, got my heart broken in Paris – and lived a million experiences in between.
9. What brought you back to America? Eventually, I had to make a choice for my career. I love Paris, but I knew I wanted to pursue musical theatre and Broadway, and that New York was the place to be for this. I didn’t want to have any regrets. Obtaining a long-term visa in Paris also became a complicated struggle. Finally, I decided it was time to come back to the States and build my career in New York.
10. This album takes the listener on a journey of a romantic relationship from beginning to end, and the path from heartache to hope. After your heartbreak, how did you find hope again? After heartache, the road to hope is not obvious. I wanted to do something empowering right away. I decided to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc – the tallest mountain in Western Europe. The mountain also became the metaphor for the rest of my journey.
I found hope literally one step at a time, one day at a time. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned to move forward by carrying grief and sadness, happiness and hope all together. You have to fight to hold on to hope. Creating this album has certainly been a big part of that.
More on Jen:
Jen Fellman is a singer, actor, writer and cabaret performer living and working in New York City. She has performed regularly at various venues including Don’t Tell Mama, Theatre Row, the French Consulate of New York and Chez Josephine.
Jen has lived and performed extensively in Paris, France. Venues include the American Embassy in Paris, the Studio-Théâtre of the Comédie-Française, The Petit Journal Montparnasse, and The Closerie des Lilas.
Jen has written and performed two original one-woman shows, FRENCHY – A Parisian Affair (2017 Winner Best One-Woman Musical - United Solo Theatre Festival), and A Singer’s Circus (Winner of the Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Award/Grant from 1812 Productions - Philadelphia Fringe Festival 2009).
Favorite roles include: Clara (The Light in the Piazza), Luisa (The Fantasticks), Peter (Peter Pan). Jen studied theatre, music, French, clowning and solo-performance art at Muhlenberg College, Allentown PA.