The Bagel family of Frederick has been making hay with its name for at least two generations now. Or maybe that’s a schmear.
When Bethesda-raised singer/actress Florrie Bagel’s mom Marilyn, a writer, married Tom Bagel, she couldn’t resist using her name to perfect effect and among the books she authored is none other than The Bagel Bible for Bagel Lovers.
Daughter Florrie followed in her mom’s yeasty footsteps. Her latest cabaret show, Everything Bagel, runs Friday night at 9 p.m. on Signature Theatre’s summer series, and will feature some cabaret classics very much inspired, Bagel said, by jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Sara Vaughan, along with lesser-known pieces by Regina Spector, JP Cooper and Sara Bareilles.
The title Everything Bagel came from a chance encounter the singer/actor had a few years ago in New York.
“Leaving an audition, one of the other [women] asked me if my last name was really Bagel. When I replied that it was, she said, ‘You should totally do a show called Everything Bagel.
It took a few years, but, Bagel said, when Signature Theatre invited her to perform a solo evening, she already had a title, and just needed to narrow down her song choices by working with her accompanist, pianist Gabe Mangiante.
Bagel reports that she first became enamored of the theater on seeing a production of the child-centric hit Annie at about 5 or 6 years old.
Her parents broke down and bought her the cassette of the musical and she memorized the whole tape then proceeded to put on elaborate productions in the family’s basement. “I was directing and deciding which parts we were going to play,” she recalled. “I always wanted to play Annie until I realized that Miss Hannigan was more fun.” She laughs.
Classes and performing experiences at what was Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts and Musical Theater Center primed Bagel for her future stage career.
By the time she was in high school at Walter Johnson in Bethesda, she was cast in her first professional show, playing one of the stepsisters in Stephen Sondheim’s re-invention of classic fairy tales Into the Woods.
The production, directed by Signature’s artistic director Eric Schaeffer – along with Signature’s summer musical theater training program for teens – introduced Bagel to the world of professional theater.
“I learned more in those first two weeks than I did anywhere else up until then,” she said. “I was 16, and it really just changed the game for me.” Skipping college, Bagel with the support of her parents concentrated on acting and performing.
“I knew I wanted to do this,” she said, about her now solid career as an actress. “At the time I wasn’t ready to go to college and if I would have gone, I wouldn’t have applied myself in the way I knew I was capable of.”
She noted that as a performer, as long as she continues to educate herself, challenge herself and learn new things, a college degree isn’t necessary.
“That’s not to say that I won’t go back to school at some time but as long as you’re educating yourself and you’re working on your art that’s the most important part.”
Just last month, Bagel finished a 22-month national tour playing Sister Mary Patrick, one of the singing nuns in Sister Act. She made the big move from home to New York at 21.
Sister Act was her first major tour and when it made a Kennedy Center stop, Bagel was over the moon. “That was an absolute thrill. I remember going there even when I was really, really little to see shows,” she said. “It’s just such a fixture here in D.C. and nationally.
I remember being with my mom at a show and looking up at the ceiling and saying, it feels like being inside a jewelry box with the crystal chandeliers.
Sound check that first opening night here in D.C. was just so thrilling. It was great to be home.” As far as playing a nun, Bagel had few qualms, but a lot to learn about wearing the habit, crossing herself and being reverential.
In fact, Bagel said she even still remembers the first few lines of her bat mitzvah haftarah. “What was so lovely,” Bagel said, “is the show itself is about rejoicing in the joy of music and expression.
The song where the movie’s Whoopie Goldberg character, Delores, sings is called ‘Raise Your Voice and Sing.’
That song is a journey because we started off real weak and not able to manage the music; then, we pull it off with our own voices.” She added, “Every night that song was an emotional release because it was about rediscovering onstage your peak, peak love of music and God and your spirituality. It was a religious experience.
I loved singing it. And I loved playing the character Sister Mary Patrick.” Friday night’s cabaret, provides a different outlet for music Bagel loves.
She said she’ll be playing with props and costumes along with a soulful and intimate selection of love and other songs.
“I want people leaving feeling like they just left a cocktail party: a bit buzzed on music and love.”
Everything Bagel is onstage tomorrow at 9 p.m. at Signature Theatre in Arlington. Tickets, at $25, are available by calling 703-820-9771 or visiting signature-theatre.org.