'Places,' Please: Lea Michele Turns Back To Broadway

May 6, 2017
Originally published on May 6, 2017 9:39 am

Lea Michele was 8 years old when she was cast as the young Cosette in Les Misérables. Then came more Broadway roles — in Ragtime, Fiddler On The Roof and Spring Awakening — before she became Rachel Berry on Glee.

Now, Michele has a new album that plays off her stage history. The title, Places, calls to mind the announcement that actors hear backstage just before the curtain goes up, and Michele tells NPR's Scott Simon that's not an accident.

"This is my second record; I had the privilege of recording my first album, Louder, in 2014," she says. "The sound of that record was a little pop-heavy, and it was important for me, with recording this second record, that I really connect with my true sound. ... I wanted a title that was sort of a call to all of that, and a call back to my roots."

Michele says one of the songs on Places, "Hey You," is in some ways the sequel to a song she wrote for Louder about the loss of her boyfriend and Glee costar, Cory Monteith.

"With writing the first song, it definitely had its darker tones to it," she says. "This song in particular — it comes from a much more healed place. It's just about thinking to yourself, if you had five minutes with someone that you lost, what would you say? And I realized it would be a much more simple conversation than you would imagine."

Michele spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about her journey to Broadway as a child, learning more than 800 songs for Glee and the sometimes-confusing process of developing her own style. Hear the interview at the audio link.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Lea Michele is truly a Broadway baby. She was 8 years old when she was cast as young Cosette in "Les Miz." Then came "Ragtime," "Fiddler On The Roof," "Spring Awakening" before she became Rachel Berry on the hit TV series "Glee" which had some Broadway flair.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GLEE")

LEA MICHELE: (As Rachel Berry) Being a diva is all about emotion. In fact, you feel so much emotion that it cannot be physically contained. Sometimes you have to close your eyes and turn your head and push, push your feelings away. They're that big.

SIMON: Lea Michele has a new album out, and it plays off of her stage history. It's called "Places."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOVE IS ALIVE")

MICHELE: (Singing) Love, love is alive in me.

SIMON: Lea Michele joins us now from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

MICHELE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: "Places," like as what they say backstage just before the curtain goes up?

MICHELE: Places, please, to the top of the show. Yes.

SIMON: Why that title for this album?

MICHELE: So this is my second record. I had the privilege of recording my first album, "Louder," in 2014. The sound of that record, it was a little pop heavy. And it was important for me with recording this second record that I really connect with my true sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUN TO YOU")

MICHELE: (Singing) 'Cause you'll be safe in these arms of mine. Just call my name on the edge of the night.

So I wanted a title that was sort of a call to all of that and a call back to my roots.

SIMON: May I ask, maybe a little differently but for the umpteenth time, how an 8-year-old kid from Tenafly, N.J., winds up on Broadway?

MICHELE: I had a friend who was, you know, her dream was to star on Broadway. And her family used to take me to go and see Broadway shows. And when there was an open call for the Broadway show "Les Miz" in our hometown, she was desperate to attend the audition. And I decided to tag along just mainly for fun. I had never performed before. I had never sang before. And I did it. And I booked it. And I was performing on Broadway two weeks later.

SIMON: So when you went to - when you began to star in "Glee," in one show, you might - one week, you might go from Nat King Cole to Britney Spears to "Grease." And I just wonder, was it a kind of musical education for you?

MICHELE: Oh, completely. By the time I was done with "Glee," we did over 800 musical numbers. One of the first songs that I ever sang on "Glee" was a song by Rihanna.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GLEE")

MICHELE: (Singing) And don't tell me you're sorry 'cause you're not.

And I was not by any means an R&B singer. And it was a challenge for me. And we almost switched it for a Broadway song, but it was at that moment that we realized we have to just, you know, start to train ourselves and push ourselves and I did.

SIMON: At the same time, does that help you develop your own style?

MICHELE: So at the same time. That makes it very confusing to figure out what your own style is. I did gravitate to more of a pop sound for my first record because I think overall even though we were doing, like you said, Nat King Cole to, you know, whatever, they still had a pop shine over them.

SIMON: Another song we'd like to ask about, and you have a writing credit on this one. It's called "Hey You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY YOU")

MICHELE: (Singing) Hey, you. It's really good to see you. I've got so much to tell you. But you should know I'm doing fine.

SIMON: Where does this song come from?

MICHELE: So this song is sort of a part two to a song I wrote on my first album called "If You Say So." And that song was definitely a - I would personally think is a sort of a heartbreaking song about loss. And I wanted to write a song on this album.

SIMON: May I ask, for those who don't know, are we talking specifically of...

MICHELE: Yes, of the loss of my boyfriend.

SIMON: Cory Monteith, and also your co-star.

MICHELE: You know, with the writing the first song, It definitely had its darker tones to it. So it was really important for me with this record that there be a lightness to it and a happiness because that's truly where I am today.

So this song in particular, you know, it comes from a much more healed place. And it's just about thinking to yourself if you had five minutes with someone that you lost, what would you say? And I realized it would be a much more simple conversation than you would imagine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY YOU")

MICHELE: Hey, you. Funny thing, I found that old T-shirt. We thought you lost it. It's still the softest. You know, it...

SIMON: Would you like to be back on Broadway every few years?

MICHELE: Only if I can play "Funny Girl."

SIMON: Don't tell me not to fly, I simply got to - what is it?

MICHELE: Don't tell me not to live, just sit and putter. (Singing) Life's candy, and the sun's a ball of butter. Just bring around a cloud to rain on my parade.

SIMON: I think you do it beautifully (laughter).

MICHELE: Thank you. Thank you. Well, I'm ready when they are.

SIMON: Lea Michele, her new album - "Places." Thanks so much for joining us.

MICHELE: Thank you. This was lovely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TORNADO")

MICHELE: (Singing) I know what I'm doing here, 20/20, crystal clear. Bring it on. Bring it on.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.