Some iconic Roxie Harts tell their stories

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Posted: Nov 20, 2014 9:22 AM
Some iconic Roxie Harts tell their stories

NEW YORK (AP) — There's only one Roxie Hart but, in reality, there have been plenty.

The celebrity-craving heroine at the heart of the Broadway musical "Chicago" has been played by 32 women since the show opened in 1996, including Melanie Griffith, Brooke Shields, Gretchen Mol, Ashlee Simpson and Robin Givens.

This weekend, Roxie Hart will steal the headlines — again. The merry murderess will help the revival notch its 7,486th performance Sunday, surpassing "Cats" as the second-longest running show in Broadway history.

The Associated Press reached out to some iconic Roxies for their stories.

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'SUCH A PRIVILEGE'

Bianca Marroquin has been playing Roxie on Broadway and in Mexico for 13 years, doing well over 5,000 performances. "The only constant thing in life is change. The only constant thing in my life is Roxie Hart," she says.

Marroquin was 25 when she was cast as Roxie in Mexico. Over the years, she's fallen in and out of love, mourned her mother's death and changed countries. She became a judge on the Spanish-language version of "Dancing With the Stars," starred in her own telenovela, released a CD and appeared on the stage and in numerous TV shows.

"It's almost like life said, 'OK, now go and grow up with it and explore and mature with it,'" she says. "It's like art imitating life, a little bit. What Roxie's about in her hunger and her journey, little by little, I've been becoming like Roxie — except for the killing part."

Marroquin will play Roxie on Sunday when the milestone is reached.

"It is such a privilege," she says. "I will try to take a mental picture of every single moment that night so I can carry it in my heart for the rest of my life."

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BLUFFING THE AUDITION

Charlotte d'Amboise is the longest-running Roxie, having played the murderess over 12 Broadway stints from 1999 to 2012. But it almost didn't happen: d'Amboise was asked to audition for Velma, Roxie's rival.

"I just knew Velma was not right for me. I was like, 'This is not me. I'm Roxie!'" says d'Amboise. "I worked on Roxie the whole time and I went into the audition, pulled out the Roxie song and started to sing Roxie."

When the confused casting team asked her about auditioning for Velma, "I played dumb," d'Amboise said. I said, 'No. No. I'm here for Roxie.'"

They let her sing as Roxie — and then Velma — and she went into the show as Roxie. "It was really ballsy but you know what? But I just knew. This is the role for me."

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WHICH ROLE?

Bebe Neuwirth has the "Chicago" equivalent of a triple. She won the Tony Award in 1997 for playing Velma, then returned 10 years later as Roxie. Last year, she played Matron "Mama" Morton, making history as the first actress to play all three female principal parts.

"When I would be backstage, I'd hear a cue and think that I was supposed to be onstage but it was one of the other two parts," Neuwirth says. "It was like, 'Oh, no. Am I supposed to be onstage?' The answer was always 'No, I'm playing Mama now. I don't have to be on.'"

Her most memorable time was when she went on as Roxie on Dec. 31, 2006. It was only eight months after Neuwirth's first hip replacement. The pain was gone and she could dance again.

"That had an even further depth of meaning for me. The gratitude that I felt to not only play that part but to be able to actually dance onstage again," she says.

To make it more special? Dec. 31 is Neuwirth's birthday.

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NO BACKING DOWN

Amy Spanger moved to New York at 21, and her mission was like Roxie's: to become a Broadway star.

Spanger was a standby for Roxie and Velma in 1998 and played a smaller part before going on the road as Roxie. She went into the Broadway show as Roxie in 2002, did it again two years ago and recently finished another stint.

She and Neuwirth are friends now but the original Velma initially wasn't so sure of Spanger. "She was like, 'How old are you?' I said, 'I'm 26.' She said, 'Well, you look like you're 18.'" Spanger said she cooly replied: "I can wear age makeup."

Explained Spanger: "She gave me a little of her sharp tongue and I gave it right back. And I think she had a respect for that and vice versa."

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A SURREAL MOMENT

Lisa Rinna was a huge fan of "Chicago" when it opened in 1996 and soon auditioned for Velma. But the "Melrose Place" star was turned down.

Rinna took vocal lessons and tried again in 2007. She got the role of Roxie — and her husband, Harry Hamlin, was cast as the sneaky lawyer Billy Flynn.

On opening night, during a brief moment together under the stage, Hamlin looked over to her. "And he just goes, 'Can you even believe we're doing this?'" Rinna said. "It was just one of those surreal moments. We talk about it often."

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SCRAMBLE TO BE READY

Marilu Henner remembers the first date she went into "Chicago": June 24, 1997. When did she first get the call? March 14, 1997. "It was a Friday," she says. Would she consider being the show's first guest star?

"I said, 'Oh my God. I haven't had my legs up over my head except for childbirth and a good weekend in five years,'" recalls Henner, who has the rare mental condition known as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. "I said, 'I'd better get my ass back into dance class.'"

She did, and a few weeks later, the "Taxi" star flew to New York for rehearsals. When? "Friday, April 18."

Henner played Roxie for 408 performances in New York and later in Las Vegas. "I loved every single second of it," she said.

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Online: http://www.ChicagoTheMusical.com