“You are talking to a very loopy person,” Regina Spektor cautions over the phone. “Yesterday, I had a rehearsal from 1p.m. until 10 p.m.” She’s discussing the mad dash toward the opening curtain of her new Broadway residency, which debuts on June 20 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City. “But I’m so fucking excited.”
It’s a new outlet for the singer and songwriter who has recorded seven studio albums and written music for television. (Her best known example? She penned the Orange is the New Black theme song, “You’ve Got Time.”) And while it wasn’t originally even her idea, she’s got grand, tap-dancing plans for the five-night run, which wraps on June 26.
Below, Esquire talked to 39-year-old about a wide variety of topics—from warping her catalog into Broadway material to our dangerous dependence on technology and the ways she grapples with an increasingly anxious world.
Broadway wasn’t always the dream.
The idea for a Broadway residency originated with Spektor’s team, and once she visited the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, she said she couldn’t resist the concept. “It was like somebody took some kind of controller and just switched me to Broadway channel,” she says, laughing, recalling her first visit to the location, which was under extensive renovations at the time. “I’m not usually tuned to that channel, to be honest. But all of the sudden, I [was] like tap dancing. You just feel a kind of different energy there.” Staying put for a five-night run has its advantages when it comes to stage presentation. “You can go deeper with the setup,” she explains. “And you have a lot of theatrical toys at your disposal.” So far, they’re all being used: “Everything is getting reimagined and found. It’s so fun to hear the strings in new ways; I’m doing a new song that I wrote that I’ve never done before. It’s called FaceTime Fairytale. It’s an eight- or nine-minute song and it has tap dancing in it and strings. My mind just went theater with it.”
She’s also embracing new technology, but has reservations.
“There’s this amazing LED wall with projections and all kinds of things,” Spektor says, though she also admits she feels conflicted about folding it in. “I feel like our world has become a TV,” she explains. “People are so used to just watching everything, even advertisements. You walk by a billboard and it’s like winking at you. We live in Harry Potter but we don’t get to fly. [It] keeps taking us further and further away from traveling in our own inner world. And, I feel like most of the inner world-traveling that we’re doing is this stress of ‘Oh shit, I forgot to call this person back.’ ‘Oh no, I need to answer this email.’ I always felt that shows, when you play songs for people, that’s the time where hopefully they’re tuning into themselves and they’re not just looking at your cool video on the screen that’s behind you.”
Growing up in the Bronx, Broadway tickets were far out of reach for her struggling family, making this a unique victory.
Spektor’s family came to America from Moscow when the singer was 10 years old. Moving to the Bronx in New York, they struggled for much of her youth to make ends meet. “Most of the time, I’m really dazed about [my success] in that way,” she says. “And this is maybe a combination of perfectionism and it being a little bit of that immigrant [mentality] where I’m like, ‘Don’t fuck it up. Don’t let people down. Do the most that you can with your thing.’ So, a lot of it comes through as, like, at best really positive motivation and at worst a really good session of beating yourself up.”
Her cultural reference points expanded as soon as she arrived in America.
“The very first thing that hit me was the Latin rhythms and music because it was coming out of cars and coming out of people’s apartments and stores,” she recalls. “It wasn’t as verbal—like, rap, you had to understand English to sort of get it. This was just on a body level. You just wanted to dance. And, as a kid, it was a very joyous music. That was a really cool gift.” The neighborhood also taught her about peaceful cohabitation. “The Bronx is so vast and diverse and that’s the great thing about it. It’s really so many communities that are cool with each other. It would be the Irish bar, and right next door to them would be the vitamin store that’s run by the brand-new Pakistani immigrant, and then next door to that is the bodega and there’s Latin music blasting from it. I was so touched by that.”
It was a time for her family to explore their Jewish heritage, something that had been denied to them in the then-Soviet Union.
“I really get misty when I see a pack of yeshiva boys,” she says of how the opportunity still affects her today. “They’re like this little flock and they’re wearing their hats. Or, people just walking around in a kippah so openly—because of how taboo it was and how forbidden it was through my childhood in the Soviet Union. I’m just so touched. There’s always some part of me that’s like, ‘Look at that, they are just doing it. They are just free and they’re not scared.’ It’s a really beautiful thing.”
That beauty has been marred in recent years with the rise of anti-Semitic violence in America.
“You really start to understand that a lot of the stuff just can’t be taken for granted,” she says. “And you really start to see that under the surface of human nature is a lot of pain and that pain translates itself into hatred of the other. People who love themselves and people who feel good and feel like they have a chance in the world or like they are surrounded by positive messages don’t go doing this stuff. It’s people who are really wounded; those wounds turn into horrible, sick hatred and that turns into anti-Semitism and misogyny and homophobia and xenophobia.”
She finds solace in music and art, but also people and “a cup of tea.”
“Finding peace in art and in music is so natural,” she reasons. “It’s the same as if a cat is sick they’ll go and find that magic grass and eat a little bit of it in the field. It’s giving your nervous system and your intellect and your heart what it craves, to counter all of the doom and gloom and the darkness and the true profound scariness of the world. Fear and depression, they paralyze and then immobilize us. We run on positive, creative, imaginary forces. Any kind of progress comes from dreams—from daydreaming, from night dreaming, from manifesting good things into reality.” She also seeks out actual, in person connection. “Sitting and having a cup of tea with somebody that you care about and just being face-to-face is worth hours and hours of virtual communication. Going and standing in front of a painting that you love or going into space that makes you feel great or going on a hike and being next to a tree…it’s just worth hours and hours of other stuff.”