Arts & Entertainment

‘La La Land’ gets a new star at the Hollywood Bowl

Angela Parrish will perform the opening song for
Angela Parrish will perform the opening song for "La La Land" as the orchestra plays along live at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend.
Courtesy of Angela Parrish

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Editor's note: Angela Parrish gave KPCC early access to a single off her upcoming album. Click on the blue play button for "Clip 2" above to listen to "Chains."

Since its debut on the big screen, "La La Land" has made its mark across its namesake city — it even snagged an official local holiday — and now it's about to claim one more Los Angeles institution.

This weekend, the hit film comes to the Hollywood Bowl as Oscar-winning composer Justin Hurwitz conducts the score with a 100-piece symphony orchestra while the film plays in the background. 

There will be a choir and jazz ensemble on hand to perform and accompany the cast's original vocal recordings. But on the opening number, a track called "Another Day of Sun," the voice you hear won't be Emma Stone's or Ryan Gosling's — it belongs to singer Angela Parrish, who will be singing the evening's only live solo.

Parrish's story bears striking resemblance to that of Mia, the aspiring actress played by Stone in the film. Parrish came to L.A. from a small town in Kansas to pursue a career in show business. She recently joined KPCC to share that story and to talk about her role in the upcoming concert.

Take us back in time. You’re 26, you’re living in your hometown, Newton, Kansas. At the time, had you ever been to L.A.? How did you picture things out here? 

I went to Northern Colorado for my master’s degree in jazz piano, and I had visited once to do a research project and I fell in love with the city. I had met Jeff Hamilton, who is a wonderful, legendary jazz drummer here in L.A., and I knew in my heart that I wanted to wind up here eventually. After I finished my master’s degree, I went home for that summer with my family and tried to decide what to do next. I was supposed to have a gig in China that totally fell through because of paperwork. So, I just went. I took $700 I made over that summer and a bag of bread and a jar of peanut butter and I just drove.

That’s not a whole lot to come out here with. That maybe gives you five minutes' rent in most L.A. apartments. How scared were you?

I wasn’t scared, actually, which is really strange because there are certain things that make me anxious, or I want to do well, so I sometimes have had a lot of fear when tackling career things, but I’ve never let it stop me because I know you have to face it anyway and just do it. You can’t let it hold you back. But for some reason, living in my car in L.A. wasn’t scary to me.

And you did live in your car, right? 

Yes. I did for the first few months I lived in this city, and I would also sleep on friends' couches and bounce around and shower at the Y. But I did sleep in my car for some nights. It was kind of exhilarating, I suppose, to wonder what was going to happen and, "Will I get caught? Will I make it?!" So I thrived on the energy of just being in the city I wanted to be in.

That’s a bit of a contrast to the character of Mia in “La La Land.” She struggled as well and wasn’t sure she was going to make it. Did you ever have any moments like that when you said I don’t know if this is going to work out for me? 

Probably everyday. But interestingly enough, I had to kind of get that feeling out and say, "What if I’m not good enough? What if it doesn’t happen?" A million things that would get me down and discouraged after either being rejected or told it was too hard. I would always get to that really low emotional point ... But this is what I love to do, so there’s really no other option. You just have to get the sad feeling out and just shake it off, so I never once actually considered going home. Ever. 

To audition for a big film must have been a bit nerve-wracking. What was that experience like?

It was a lot of fun, too. But I didn’t know what the project would be, you know, in full, when I went in. I’d only had a recording and some character names in a lyric sheet. I had two options. I knew I could go, "This is the biggest room I’ve ever had the chance to be in" — I could lose my mind and pass out. Or I could just say, "All I could do is do my best." I had to just let it go and give my best and if that’s what they want, it’ll happen, and if not, I’ll still be proud of myself. I think those fears and anxieties are so real for so many performers, and they can get the better of you if you’re not careful. You just have to say, "Now I have to do well or have fun, or do what I know I’ve practiced my whole life to do," and not let the mental hurricane get to you and stop you.

That’s a good attitude to have as you take the stage at the Hollywood Bowl. If you can, picture yourself in that moment, on stage with the orchestra, and if you could go back in time and let Angela — about to leave Newton, Kansas — know that this is what she’s working towards, what would you like to tell her?

That makes me cry. I would say that I was really proud of her for doing a scary thing. That it would pay off — in more ways than just getting to do great things professionally. I would say I was really proud of her for doing something difficult and going against odds and defying a lot of the noise in her life and different perceptions and trying to go prove herself anyway. The professional payoff would be incredible, but the personal payoff would be equally big, and I’m just really proud of her and that everything would be okay, not to worry about the peanut butter. You’ll eat better eventually.

Angela Parrish will be performing Friday and Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl.