Shoshana Bean's Breakthrough: How Alicia Keys Helped the “Hell's Kitchen” Star 'Be All of Who I Am' (Exclusive)

The Tony-nominated star opens up to PEOPLE about her acclaimed role in the new Broadway hit, and the 'treasured' bond she has with Alicia Keys

<p>Jenny Anderson/Getty</p> Shoshana Bean attends the 2024 Tony Awards Meet The Nominees event on May 2 in New York City

Jenny Anderson/Getty

Shoshana Bean attends the 2024 Tony Awards Meet The Nominees event on May 2 in New York City
  • Stage veteran Shoshana Bean is Tony Award-nominated again this year for her role in Broadway's Hell's Kitchen

  • In the musical, Bean plays a character based off of Alicia Keys' mother Terria Joseph — a character who is not always likable, which is something Bean tells PEOPLE she struggled with

  • Bean also shares the inspirational advice Keys gave her that she has adopted as her new life mantra

Shoshana Bean is having a moment — but it's been 20 years in the making.

Two decades after debuting on the boards, the actress and singer is earning big buzz and the best reviews of her career thanks to her role in Hell's Kitchen, the new Broadway musical inspired by the life of Alicia Keys and featuring the Grammy winner's songs.

It's a part that showcases never-before-seen sides of Bean's talent, including ranges to her powerhouse vocals previously only saved for live concerts. And though the standing ovations from crowds, praise from her famous peers (like Usher!) and her second Tony Award nomination have been rewarding, the 46-year-old star tells PEOPLE it's the renewed confidence she's found in herself that's been the real prize.

"For so long, in this particular space of theater, it's really been me trying to shrink or shift to fit something," she says, at the 2024 Tony Awards Meet the Nominees junket. "This is the first time that someone has seen me and allowed me to be who I am. And that, to me, means more than anything."

That "someone" is Keys. The decorated singer-songwriter empowered Bean to embrace all sides of herself in the musical.

"Alicia just lets me fly," Bean says. "She wrote me this card that's on my mirror in the dressing room, and she signed off with, 'Shine unhinged,' which has now become my favorite mantra because it's like, 'Be who you are without restriction. Be free, take up space!' And that has just been invaluable."

"Her support has been everything," Bean adds of Keys. "I think she's the s---. I respect and admire her so much — and have for so, so long — so to get that validation? Any cosign from her is gold to me."

Related: Alicia Keys Talks 'Cathartic' Experience of Watching Her Life Story in Broadway’s Hell’s Kitchen (Exclusive)

<p>KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty</p> Alicia Keys (left) and Shoshana Bean at the 2024 Tony Awards Meet the Nominees event on May 2 in New York City


Alicia Keys (left) and Shoshana Bean at the 2024 Tony Awards Meet the Nominees event on May 2 in New York City

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In Hell's Kitchen, Bean plays Jersey, a single mother trying to protect her teenage daughter Ali (Maleah Joi Moon). It's a character loosely based off Keys' own mom, Terria Joseph, with whom Bean says she "instantly felt connected."

"The second Terri and I sat down, that bond was there," says Bean. "We are just so kindred. We're so similar. So getting to know her and creating that friendship has been on of the greatest blessings."

In fact, they're so in-line that Keys has come up with a name for them: "Alicia calls us 'the twins' because we're just weirdly the same," Bean notes. "We were sitting in the audience together at an event the other night, and we sat the same way, we raised our hand at the same moment someone hit a note, we kept saying the same things. It's fitting."

<p>Bruce Glikas/WireImage</p> Shoshana Bean (left) and Terria Joseph pose at the opening night of <em>Hell's Kitchen<em> at the Public Theater in New York City on November 2023</em></em>

Bruce Glikas/WireImage

Shoshana Bean (left) and Terria Joseph pose at the opening night of Hell's Kitchen at the Public Theater in New York City on November 2023

Related: Alicia Keys on Balancing Life as a Mom and a Musician: 'I Was Getting All Backed Up in My Head' (Exclusive)

Despite the similarities, Bean was reluctant to take on the mom role in Hell's Kitchen — especially because she had just portrayed a daughter in 2022's Broadway musical Mr. Saturday Night.

"Oh, I was very resistant to the idea about playing a mom in the beginning," Bean tells PEOPLE. "I had just played someone's kid. I was like, ‘How have I aged into this? Why am I the mom all of a sudden?' . It just means a lot of things in my mind. It felt weird. So I was very conflicted."

It wasn't until actor Billy Porter came to see the show during it's Off-Broadway run at the Public Theater in N.Y.C. that Bean's perspective shifted.

"He was like, ‘Bitch, you are redefining the paradigm of what a mom looks like traditionally on a stage! Own that. Step into that.’ And it sort of freed me to really let her be dynamic and ferocious and who Terri really is in real life. She's not defined at all. So that gave me a lot of freedom."

<p>Marc J. Franklin</p> Shoshana Bean (left) and Maleah Joi Moon in <em>Hell's Kitchen</em>

Marc J. Franklin

Shoshana Bean (left) and Maleah Joi Moon in Hell's Kitchen

Related: Celia Keenan-Bolger Confronts Challenges of Motherhood: ‘Get Comfortable with Not Always Being Liked’ (Exclusive)

Bean's character isn't the easiest to play. Throughout the musical, she's often portrayed as the bad guy, coming down hard on Ali and on Ali's biological father Davis (Brandon Victor Dixon). So much so that during one performance, when Ali tells piano teacher Miss Liza Jane (Kecia Lewis) "I wish you were my mother," the audience clapped.

"I went to our director Michael Greif after that and said, 'We're doing something wrong. They don't like me. I don't think they get it,' " Bean recalls. "And he just said, 'Shoshana, trust me. Anyone who's a parent knows that all you're trying to do is protect her and keep her safe.' But it was a real arm wrestle with me and the character, internally, because I was raised by a single mom as well so I have an understanding and appreciation of what that means. And I'd be lying if I said it didn't hit me when Ali hits me with some of the things she says to my character on stage."

Like the advice she received from Keys and Porter in the past, Bean's attitude shifted after watching an interview with actress Ali Mauzey, who was then playing a not-so-perfect mother in Kimberly Akimbo.

"They said, 'How do you feel being an unlikable character?' And she's like, ‘Why do we have to be likable? We're humans. Not every human is likable. What is our deal with being unlikable?’ " Bean shares. "And so that clicked."

"Now, I just remind myself, 'There's a journey here. We get somewhere. There's payoff,' " says Bean. "The story needs this. The show needs this. I have to commit to it."

<p>Dia Dipasupil/Getty</p> Shoshana Bean attends the 2024 Chita Rivera Awards at NYU Skirball Center on May 20 in New York

Dia Dipasupil/Getty

Shoshana Bean attends the 2024 Chita Rivera Awards at NYU Skirball Center on May 20 in New York

Related: Alicia Keys, Jim Parsons and More 2024 Tony Awards Hopefuls React to Their Nominations: 'This Is Wild'

Hell's Kitchen certainly has paid off for Bean. Her performance has earned her nominations for the Drama Desk Awards, Drama League Awards and Lucille Lortel Awards — in addition, of course, to a Tony nod, theater's biggest honor.

The show itself is up for 12 Tonys total, including best musical and prizes for Moon, Dixon and Lewis.

"Win or lose, I'm still the winner," Bean tells PEOPLE about the honors. "Our show, in a lot of ways, is redefining and sort of disrupting. I'm just so proud to be a part of it."

The 2024 Tony Awards will take place on Sunday, June 16, at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater in N.Y.C. Viewers can watch the show on CBS and Paramount+ beginning at 8 p.m. EST. Select awards will also be handed out on a pre-show that will stream on Pluto TV.

Tickets for Hell's Kitchen are now on sale.

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