Stage and screen pals Bonnie Milligan and Natalie Walker haven’t actually been friends for fifty years, but that doesn’t stop them from perpetuating the myth. Last month, the pair took to the stage at Feinstein’s/54 Below to entertain a sold-out crowd, bringing with them delight, delusion, and high-Ds to the welcoming audience.
Monday night, they’ll return to the same space for an encore performance of Bonnie Milligan and Natalie Walker Celebrate Fifty Years of Friendship with special guests and Music Director, Dan Garmon.
Manhattan Digest spoke with the two funny ladies (each of whom have incredibly wonderful voices) about their history, their “firsts”, and what television shows they enjoy (Walker’s answer will certainly surprise!)
How did the two of you meet and what were the first impressions of the other?
BM: (Laughs) I think we met after the screening of The Best Worst Thing that Ever Could Have Happened. We have a lot of mutual friends and my guest for the movie was one of Natalie’s friends. I thought, “Oh! She’s fun!”
NW: We were both bleary eyed from the emotion of that movie. I had heard about the lore of Bonnie and everyone told me about her voice and impeccable comic timing. We both did a show together at Feinstein’s/ 54 Below called Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (And Don’t You Ever Forget It). Bonnie sounds exactly the same on stage as she does in rehearsals!
What was the impetus for this new show?
NW: We planned to do a show based on the 80th Birthday celebration of Stephen Sondheim, but then the pandemic hit.
BM: Sondheim turned 90 last year, which is why we thought of it. We had guests lined up and we were planning snippets from each song. But when things started coming back, we were both asked to do solo shows. It was scary, but good. But we also wanted to continue our duo show because it’s just comforting and fun.
NW: We just looked at this show and thought of it as a party and it’s exciting for people to see two friends who truly like each other in the tradition of Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris or other great female duos.
BW: It’s not a competition, it’s a celebration. Our audience knows what they are in for,
Any particular vocal warms ups or traditions?
BM: Sound check is always nice, and I do a vocal siren to make sure the range is there
NW: Bonnie is really a ‘I woke up like this’ singer, which is very inspiring and cool. I wake up feeling more like Elaine Stritch in the Company documentary. I actually found a vocal warm up series online and I sing along with that as a warm up.
Who were some of your theater influences?
NW: Stritch is huge, particularly in that documentary because I’ve always struggled with perfectionism and self-loathing and a motor in the back of my head telling me what I’ve done wrong. She was really idiosyncratic. Madeline Kahn is also the end all and be all.
BM: Debra Monk and Donna Murphy have incredible versatility and can go between different mediums. Of course. Bernadette Peters. With those women, they put acting first. They are amazingly wonderful human beings as well.
What was your first Broadway show?
BM: I came on a trip to NYC to see Rent. It was amazing.
NW: Insanely, Bonnie and I have never talked about this, but it was also Rent. I spoke with my mom afterwards and I was convinced that the cast was lip syncing—only because I was a product of the early aughts pop music stars who did that. My mom told me they were actually singing and I lost.my.mind! I had seen other tours like The Lion King and when the actors came in the audience, I started sobbing.
BM: I saw Cats on tour and it terrified me when the cats were in the aisle. I was really little and I hated it!
NW: I saw the last production of that on Broadway. That was the first time I had seen it. I had the time of my life.
BM: Basically, the cats all want to die—but they want to put on a show first! (laughs)
NW: And really, don’t we all want to be witnessed before we die? (laughs)
First original recording that hooked you on to musical theater?
NW: West Side Story. I saw the movie when I was in fourth grade. I was blown away and had crushes on the leading men. I was beyond obsessed with the score. The movie soundtrack is my preferred
BM: I remember listening to The Boyfriend and was immediately obsessed with that. But my first vivid memory was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. My dad was a pastor so it was taboo but I’d watch it with my friend and we’d act out the roles at recess. I knew all the words,
What tv shows have you been binging lately?
BM: I had a number in my show about how much tv I consumed. But I love going back to The Golden Girls. That really gives me joy. For trash tv, Bachelor in Paradise That’s my one indulgent reality show. I’m loving Only Murders in the Building
NW: I went back to Designing Women and I, Claudius, the BBC show with cardboard sets but an incredible roster of British actors. It was streaming on AcornTV. I love classical history and the acting in it. I love Real Housewives. I’m beyond obsessed with it. My boyfriend considers it bug spray. And Only Murders is really rocking my world right now too.
When you’re not singing or entertaining the masses, what do you enjoy doing?
BM: I also do some writing. I write as well and am working on a podcast musical and some other projects with other folks. Collaborating is my favorite thing in the world.
BM: We should also mention that the guest artist at our show, Ruby Manger (Julia Mattison) will be doing her show two days after ours at Feinstein’s/54 Below (9:45 PM on October 13th).
Bonnie Milligan and Natalie Walker Celebrate Fifty Years of Friendship. Monday, Oct. 11th at Feinstein’s/54 Below. For tickets and information, click here