Ariana DeBose

Ariana DeBose is ready to ‘do the thing’ at the London Palladium

The Oscar winner will join the ranks of Madonna, Adele, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli with a one-night-only concert at the West End institution on April 1.

Suzy Evans
Suzy Evans

Ariana DeBose values honesty above all. The Academy Award winner is unabashedly herself onstage and off, and on a drizzly Wednesday, in the wake of her viral BAFTAs opener, DeBose is ready to chat about her next London performance: a one-night-only concert at the London Palladium on April 1.

DeBose joins the ranks of performers like Dame Shirley Bassey, Madonna, Adele, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland as iconic songstresses who have performed at the West End institution. When asked what audiences can expect from her set, with longtime collaborator music director Benjamin Rauhala, she responded with one word.

“Authenticity,” DeBose said. “I don't think it's a secret there's been some very interesting things in the press lately. Interesting conversations, and I think it's all fun. I'm so down to have fun … Some people call it camp. I call it fun.”

DeBose had everyone in stitches during her Palladium walkthrough, as she riffed numbers from SIX and cracked jokes about the BAFTAs. “I'm excited about it," she said of her concert. "And whatever we do, we will do the thing and if you know, you know.”

London Theatre sat down with DeBose at the theatre to talk about why she loves London and what audiences can look forward to at the show.

Book tickets to Ariana DeBose at the Palladium on London Theatre.

So many amazing performers have performed at the London Palladium. What does it mean to you to be a part of the legacy of the iconic theatre?

Oh, it's terrifying, in short. But it's thrilling at its extreme. I never thought I'd get this far anyways. Like, I was just happy to get into a movie – let alone a Steven Spielberg movie. I worked on Broadway for 10 years and I loved doing that. So now that my world has changed over the last two years, it's really exciting to join the ranks of Dame Shirley Bassey and Liza Minnelli and Madonna and Adele. God, just everybody!

It's horrifying and wonderful. It really is, because what on earth am I gonna do that is any better, different, or otherwise than Judy Garland? What?! But I'm gonna do it, dammit. And I'm gonna have a really good time throughout the whole thing.

You got your start on Broadway and now film and TV. What does it mean to be performing in London?

I love London. I got the opportunity to work in London over the last year, and I fell in love with the energy. I really dig it, so to be able to come here and be with the people and perform for the people, it's a really unique and wonderful opportunity. To think that your work can translate across an ocean. Oh my god. That's amazing.

Also, me and Ben [Rauhala], my music director, we like to have fun. We have a very quirky sense of humor. And we're quite sarcastic at times, which might vibe with the British humor. Not sure, questionable, jury's still out! But we're really excited to bring some quirk and fun. Some people call it camp. I call it fun. But it's what we do.

You and Ben have worked together for a long time. What does it mean to get to do this concert together?

I met Ben when I was first starting out on Broadway and I made my debut at 21. I'm 32 now. It was a long time darling. I really believe when you move forward in life in taking those people with you because he's a lifer for me. And he gets me as a human and also as an artist. I think when you can make good, honest work with people that you love that's a win all around … It's how I stay grounded and it's also how I don't let the bastards get me down. So I'm excited to do this with him and continue to find all the joy of sharing things that you love with people you love.

You mentioned that you both have a quirky sense of humor.

Absolutely. We're both extremely G-g-g-g-g-g-ay. I'm queer, my claimed term is queer, but the gays are my people, and I'm literally playing for you! But I'm an equal opportunist. I love everyone. Everyone is welcome in my house, or my living room, also known as the Palladium.

What can people expect in your "living room," aka the Palladium, for your concert on April 1?

I think it's going to be a getting to know you show. I'm going to share some experiences I've had along this journey. I might spill some tea. I might decide to be a little vulnerable. But this is not a therapy session. This is a joyful celebration of a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Ben and I specialize in mashups and medleys, but really more of the mashups. It's a super fun way of being creative to find how different songs of very different genres work together to tell the same story. So there might be some Judy. There might be some Tina Turner. There might be a diva medley. There might be some Alan Menken and Stephen Sondheim. There could be some Julia Michaels. There could be anything. I like Ray Charles. Do not be surprised if I'm like, “Georgia on my mind,” you know what I mean?

We're putting the show together now and ultimately everything that we've discussed, it's very authentic to who I am and it's very honest. I don't get up onstage without leading with honesty first. So if I’m nervous you'll know. If I don't like something I'll start over. If want to dance, I'll be like, "Go again! Work!" I'm very involved with my band members. I shout. I whoop. I holler. I might lay on the ground and do the worm. Who knows? I'm excited about it and whatever we do, we will do the thing and if you know, you know.

What are you most excited about for the concert?

I like doing things that scare me. I think it's how you know you're alive. I'm genuinely just excited to walk out there. There's nothing like the first moment of walking onstage and seeing and feeling an audience and knowing what you're getting because an audience will tell you. The one thing I've learned in my career is trust your audience.

They'll let you know if they like it or not, and while I realize UK audiences might have a different sensibility, energy is the same. Energy is consistent. And I thrive and I live for that energy you feel from performer to audience. That’s what I'm looking forward to. And then once that happens and I let it sink in, the show will start going and god knows what's going to happen. But I think it will be fun.

Book tickets to Ariana DeBose at the Palladium on London Theatre.

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