The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be... Pamela. The classic Kander and Ebb lyric from Chicago originally said "Roxie," but these days the merry murderess is being played by the one and only Pamela Anderson. Yes, that’s right, the Baywatch babe has joined the cast of the longest running American musical in Broadway history.
Since opening in 1996, the production has featured a delightfully surprising cavalcade of stars, many with little or no theater experience, like Melanie Griffith, Brooke Shields, Erika Jayne and now Anderson. Roxie, a murderess with a heart of gold in 1930s Chicago, is a perfect role for Anderson. Both are sexy and mistreated by men and the tabloid press; both dig deep to find an inner toughness to triumph over adversity; and both are just plain likable.
PAPER talked to Anderson about how a chance meeting on the beach (yes, the beach) eventually led to her making her Broadway debut. As always, Anderson was full of surprises.
How did the idea of you starring in Chicago on Broadway come up?
Eleven years ago, Rob Marshall and his partner saw me on the beach in Malibu at a surf contest with my sons. He approached me and asked if I’d consider a career on stage. Broadway, he said he knew I was capable. I thought he was joking. He asked for my number and the infamous Barry Weissler called me the next day. We met and talked it through, but New York was far from my boys' school. I said it would have to wait.
I kicked myself for years thinking it was a lost opportunity and it intrigued me, in theory, but it was absolutely right to stay close to my boys. And in the end, it came back around. Just a few months ago, I had left my home in Canada to clear my head — a month long road trip get healthy and rethink my life. I have been writing my book over the last year and a lot came up for me. I needed to be in a safe place. I needed support, as I dredged up painful memories... realizing.
I was repeating patterns, right there on the page. There was no denying it. I meditated, I asked the universe what was next for me. As my world spun around me, I was generous, forgiving and understanding to others who were letting themselves down. I had to let go of negative people. All I had to do was prepare for my dreams to come true and get out of the way.
I was watching the Fosse/Verdon series on Hulu and Barry called during the part where Gwen was trying to convince Bob to do Chicago. The stars aligned. I said, "When do you think?" And he said, "I want you in rehearsals next week." I just took a chance and said "yes" without overthinking. I rehearsed in LA for two weeks every day all day: Dance, voice, acting coach. I poured myself into the experience and it honored me
Between writing my book, opening my archives without filtering anything to Netflix and doing Broadway, it has been true therapy and pure trust. Life is crazy.
Roxie Hart is a lovable character, but also a murderer. How did you approach playing her?
With guts. That’s what we both share.
What was harder, learning the songs or the dances? Did your experience on Dancing With the Stars come in handy?
I took on Dancing with the Stars one season because my Great Auntie Vie begged me to do it. You don't say "no" to Auntie Vie in her eighties, it meant a lot to her. She loved to dance. I was told I couldn’t dance or sing when I was young by an insecure boyfriend. I believed him, mostly, but still 1 % of me was curious enough to try. It made me very happy, so it was a huge breakthrough when I realized I can do this.
Eight shows a week is brutal. What’s the biggest challenge of working so hard?
Stamina, discipline, you've got to have it. Mind, body and soul. It's worth all the hard work. It tests you on many levels.
There have been reports that crowds of your fans who normally don’t see Broadway shows having been coming to see you. What is it like meeting them outside the stage door?
It’s very flattering to see the emotion. People say things like, "They knew I could do it," and that, "They are proud" of me. I know I'm being rooted for and a little understood. I want people to leave the theater knowing who I am. It's a relief, it's the only way to explain: I can breathe.
Do you remember the first Broadway show you ever saw? Do you have any favorite musicals?
I love all the old movies with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe. An element of performance/dance in film is something I've always admired. Vaudeville, burlesque were art forms... escapism. We need that.
You’ve said you did this because you really want a challenge. What’s been the biggest surprise about yourself you’ve had doing this show?
The biggest surprise is the truth. It was a test. I can do what I set my mind to. We are all capable of so much more than we know. How can we know if we don't try? It’s life changing, it's fun to try new things. And I say just go for it, don't hesitate. What is your dream?
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