Alicia Keys on ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Nods: I’m in ‘a Deep State of Freaking Out’

Alicia Keys on ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Nods: I’m in ‘a Deep State of Freaking Out’

Alicia Keys has been working on “Hell’s Kitchen” for 13 years, so she found it serendipitous — in addition to thrilling — that on Tuesday morning her musical picked up 13 Tony nominations.

In an interview shortly after the nominations were announced, Keys was clearly heartened by the news. The show, featuring her songs and a book by Kristoffer Diaz, is personal for Keys. The show is about a 17-year-old girl whose life circumstances have enormous echoes of Keys’s own upbringing — the single mother, the hunger for independence, the passion for piano, even the same subsidized housing development.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Congratulations! What do you make of this?

Whoa! I’m definitely in a deep state of freaking out in a really great, awesome, grateful way. I don’t know what’s happening to me — I’m a songwriter and I can’t put my words together, but I feel unbelievable. I’m so excited for everybody to be recognized.

Did you ever have any doubts, or were you always confident about this one?

I’ve always felt really good about it, and I know that we’ve put the work and the time into it, and so I do feel a sense of strength and joy around it, but you just never know how people receive things. You never know how it all goes. And ultimately you can’t create with that in mind — you have to create with your mission in mind.

Do you really burn palo santo around the theater?

Absolutely! Every crevice, every backstage place, every dressing room, on the stage itself, in the theater, in the seats. Just creating that good energy.

Is it hard to watch people perform scenes that echo painful chapters in your own life?

It is painful and it is thrilling and it is emotional and it is honest. When Kecia Lewis sings “Perfect Way to Die” at the end of the first act, I don’t care how many times I see that, it touches me powerfully and poignantly every time. It is painful, but it’s also triumphant, you know?

What is it like for you to see your songs in a totally different context?

That is the part that I find to be the most curious and the most fascinating is how songs can continue to evolve even to its composer. There is something so special about that. When people leave the theater, they say, “I never heard those songs like that before.” And neither have I! There’s something really tremendous about just how it’s taken on a life of its own.

I know you want this show to run as long as possible. What are the tasks ahead for you?

Yes, that is the goal. I do have many dreams and many manifestations to be on the level of longevity of some of the greatest pieces of theater that have ever existed. That would be such a deep honor. And so we’re just going to keep working and keep loving, keep believing. And you know, the rest is up to whatever divine choice is meant for this.

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