As the National Tour of the Broadway smash “Chicago” prepares to blast into Nashville at TPAC’s Jackson Hall beginning Tuesday, October 21 and continuing with shows thru Sunday, October 26, I recently had the chance to speak with Terra C. MacLeod and Bianca Marroquin, who star as Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart respectively, about their time with the show as well as some of their past roles and what it’s like living life on the road in my latest installment of my recurring celebrity interview, Rapid Fire 20 Q.
Rapid Fire with Terra C. MacLeod:
JONATHAN PINKERTON: This cast of “Chicago” is truly international. Your co-star, Bianca hails from Mexico, while you were born in Montreal and from what I’ve read, are fluent in French. As a kid, when my Honduran uncle would visit, he’d frequently lapse into Spanish while talking to me. Does a similar situation ever happen for you backstage?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: Yes it does. I’m Canadian as well. A few years ago there were a few Canadians in the cast and we would catch ourselves saying “yeah eh?” Very Canadian of us. Oddly enough in this cast there are two members in the show who are French and we speak French all the time backstage. We go from English to French and then back to English. I’m so happy I’m getting to speak French on a regular basis again. It’s one way to never lose the language.
JP: You play Velma Kelly, a singer and vaudeville star who’s accused of murdering her husband after discovering his affair with her own sister. The role is based on real-life suspected husband-killer, Belva Gaertner. Prior to taking on the role, did you delve into Belva’s real story?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: Absolutely I read about Belva and the murderess of the cook county jail . A few years back we played “Chicago” in Chicago and I picked up a book called “The Girls of Murder City” by Douglas Perry which is the true story of the murderesses of the Cook County jail that eventually became the inspiration for the movie “Chicago”. Diving into this book gave me a wealth of information . “Velma” is based on Belva who really did claim she was drinking, blacked out and didn’t remember anything. She was acquitted and “got away with murder”. How the media, the frenzy of it all, and having the right lawyer and press made all the difference wether one walked out or not.
JP: In addition to playing Velma on Broadway and the current tour, you’ve also played her on London’s West End and even originated the role for the Paris premiere. I love that your bio says you performed “Chicago” “in the language of Molière”. French is such a beautiful, passionate language, a perfect fit for the beauty and passion of “Chicago”. Be honest, in the context of performing “Chicago”, which language do you prefer?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: Oh that is a toughy. In many ways It was harder for me to learn the English version of the show. In french there is a a fluidity and romanticism in the text, and it’s next to impossible to re-create that in English. However there is a rawness in the English script that really depicts the era as well. Each of these characters have a vocabulary and way of speaking that are quite raw in the “English” version. Both brought great things to the delivery of the show. Here’s a little story for you. When I first did the show it was ” Canadian French” Quebequois. By the time we got to Paris the script had to be rewritten and adjusted as in France some of the expressions and phrasing wasn’t working. So by the time we opened I had learned the “French” version in 3 different styles and versions of “French” and had a dialect coach as well to help me with the delivery. Now that was a trip, but truly a great challenging experience. I loved it. Telling the same story but in three different styles.
JP: You have the distinction of performing not only “Chicago”‘s opening number, but also one of its most iconic. Can you describe the feeling you get each night when you take to the stage for “All That Jazz”?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: What a fabulous opening number right. I get to invite the audience into our world of “Chicago”. There is nothing quite like that feeling when I hear the beginning of “All That Jazz”, and the elevator starts to ride up. And voila…it’s showtime! The lighting, simplicity of the set, the music, the dancers and the musicians on stage with us…that in itself is unique and a shared experience that I haven’t had with any other show.
JP: Kander and Ebb were simply brilliant as composer and lyricist. “Chicago” is chocked-full of so many memorable songs. Of all the songs in the show…Velma’s or someone else’s…what’s your favorite?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: Lately it’s “Nowadays” it’s probably my all time favorite. The message in that song is powerful to me. I sang the French version of ” “Nowadays” at a benefit concert last year and to introduce people to the French version of the song was very moving. The lyrics “In 50 years or so it’s gonna change..ya know ,but oh it’s heaven nowadays” ahhhh so much behind those lyrics. Singing that every night with Roxie is probably one of my favorite moments in the show. And the masterpiece of ” Class” today I believe it rings truer than ever. In many ways Kander and Ebb were so ahead of their time. Their lyrics and music are timeless. To sing a song like ” Class” years later and still the impact is there is amazing. That is their brilliance.
JP: Speaking of Kander and Ebb, you also starred on the west coast in a region production of their “Kiss of the Spider Woman” playing yet another murderess. Is it true what they say? Is it really good to be so bad?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: Indeed it is! HA! But truth be told there is always some good in the bad right? I like to believe that the hard tough outer exterior is more like a protective shield. To hide the characters vulnerability, and that is exactly what the audience waits for. To see that moment where the characters hard or “bad” facade unravels and we see a humanity to them. I have always loved the villains, but I always approach them knowing they too have heart. That is the challenge. To find the” heart “and good in perhaps a character that at first may not be likable. “There is a little bit of good in everyone” sings Mary Sunshine. I guess that could be up for debate for some, but when it comes to Velma absolutely she has heart. “Kiss of the Spider Woman” was a dream role for me…getting to sing yet another beautiful and seductive score.
JP: You’ve also starred in a number of other musical theatre favorites, including classics like “West Side Story”, “A Chorus Line” and “Guys and Dolls” to more modern fare like “The Producers” and “Tony and Tina’s Wedding”. Is there a role you’ve yet to tackle that would be a dream role for you?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: There was a time when I really wanted to play Sally Bowles. I’ve always loved “Cabaret”. I auditioned for various companies over the years (Over 10 times at least ), and it never was the right time. I appreciate good, raw material where the character has a voice, a strength or vulnerability with an element of danger and mystery to her. Another role that is for sure on my bucket list is Marquise de Meurteuil in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” ( Glenn Close played her in the movie “Dangerous Liaisons”.) I’ve read the script several times, used some of her monologues as audition pieces. That is a character I would dive right into.
JP: As I mentioned earlier, Velma is a vaudeville star. When you think about it, Broadway and touring companies of Broadway shows are basically the vaudeville of today. Aside from the already impressive triple-threat you possess as actress, singer and dancer, if Vaudeville were to make a comeback, do you have another hidden talent that would pack the houses?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: Oh boy…well I do love to make people laugh by being silly and goofing around. I love to make faces and do voices. There is a comedienne in there somewhere. Perhaps I could try comedy and be that person between acts who entertains the audience with their act. Now wether that would pack the houses or not that’s a different story.
JP: Something tells me it would. What’s your favorite aspect of life on the road with a show like “Chicago”?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: On a personal level outside of the show, one of my favorite aspects is that life on the road allows me the travel. The wanderlust in me gets to experience the traveling aspect of show business. A gypsy life per se. I’m an adventurer and explorer at heart. I also love photography so when I’m on the road I get to take photos and document my experience. Trying new foods and local establishments, discovering various farmers markets or visiting some of the country’s famous monuments and museums. If there is something to see and do I make sure I get out and do it. It adds variety to the job and allows me to be be a tourist and explore. Also having a great group of people in the cast helps immensely. I have some wonderful friends that have been with me on this tour on and off since 2005 and we continue to see each other grow through the years and build our relationship on and off stage. That is rare in this business. To be with people who get to know you outside of work and who become a part of your circle outside of work. I’m grateful for “Chicago” on many levels as it has allowed me to cultivate some amazing friendships.
JP: OK, my time is up, so I’m going to wrap this Q&A with you as I plan to do with your co-star. IF you could get away with murder, what weapon of choice would you use and why?
TERRA C. MACLEOD: Ahhhhh well if I could use a “look” I would use my eyes. You know the expression ” if looks could kill”. That’s what I would use. But now we are getting into superpowers and that’s a whole other bag of tricks and all that jazz!
After chatting with Terra, it was time to pose the second half of my Rapid Fire 20 Q with her co-star, Bianca Marroquin who plays Cook County jail’s next big thing, Roxie Hart in “Chicago”.
Rapid Fire with Bianca Marroquin:
JONATHAN PINKERTON: Like your co-star Terra C. Macleod, as well as John O’Hurley, Roz Ryan who play Billy Flynn and Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, you’ve all starred in previous incarnations of “Chicago”. Does taking part in the current national tour feel like coming home?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: Always. I am very privileged to have such a long relationship with the longest running American show on Broadway. I am so fortunate to keep coming back to “Chicago” throughout the years. Yes, it’s become like home to me. I like to say that the only constant thing in life is “Change”; The only constant thing in MY life is Roxie Hart.
JP: You played Roxie Hart early in your theatre career in Mexico City. You later made your Broadway debut as Roxie during the early years of the revival. That was back in 2002, right?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: Yes, my Broadway debut was June 18th, 2002. I first was cast as Roxie in Mexico City when a Spanish speaking production was put up there in 2001. I was so blessed to receive the invitation to crossover from Mexico to Broadway.
JP: Do you feel you approach Roxie differently, having experienced a decade of life yourself between then and now?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: Definitely! There’s always something new and different to offer Roxie each time I come back to her. As I mature and learn in my own personal life, I evolve and polish my Roxie approach.
JP: Among your other roles, you’ve also starred in productions of “In The Heights”, “The Pajama Game” and “Beauty and the Beast”, all very different roles compared to Roxie. IF you had to pick a favorite, and I hope by asking you, you will….what would it be and why?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: I have to say Roxie Hart. Even though playing Mary Poppins is most definitely an important role. I cannot explain how much I loved playing Mary, but Roxie for sure allows me to share all there is about me as I bring her to life.
JP: While researching to interview you and your fellow cast mates, I discovered interesting ‘degrees of separation’ between each of you. For you and John, you not only both appeared in the Broadway revival of “Chicago”, but you’ve also both done some work in daytime TV. Here in the states, you appeared in a couple of episodes of “One Life to Live” as social worker Yolanda Rios. You’ve also starred in the telenovela “Esperanza del Corazón”. What’s more taxing, daytime TV or life on the road?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: Ah! I would have to say daytime TV. When you are shooting a soap, especially starring in it, you’re entire day is spent on the set from 6am to sometimes even 9 or 10pm. I did this for 9 months. Personally for me it was one of the biggest challenges of my life because it was a completely different dynamic. A lot of waiting involved. Can get a little high anxiety! ha! Although I highly respect it and grew a tremendous joy for it I find that being on stage 8 shows a week, traveling every Monday to the next city and living out of your suitcase is much more familiar and exciting for me.
JP: You and John also have another connection, albeit it’s a bit of a stretch, in that he of course appeared on “Dancing With The Stars” and you were a judge on the Spanish-language celebrity dancing reality series “Mira Quien Baila”. What’s easier, learning choreography or critiquing it?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: Most definitely learning choreography and dealing with the stress and the responsibility of having to deliver your best performance every week. No doubt. Although being a judge has it’s own stress factor. I take it very seriously and I realize it’s a very delicate position. At least for me. After having seen the choreography for the first time you are immediately expected to offer a concise, constructive, smart and helpful evaluation live on the spot. But I still think it does not compare with being a contestant. So my respects to John!
JP: Speaking of choreography, “Chicago” has some of the most iconic Broadway moves ever, thanks to a history rich that includes legends Bob Fosse & Ann Reinking. Of course Fosse co-wrote, directed and choreographed the original production while Reinking nabbed a Tony for her work on the revival, keeping much of that Fosse feel. What’s it like to take to the stage night after night literally filling the dance shoes of such legends?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: I attack that stage every night with tremendous admiration and respect. I am very aware of the history and the importance of this show and the legends that have given birth to it. I humbly try my very best to do it justice. It is a true privilege.
JP: In a bit of what can only be called ‘chair-ography’, you and John have a scene-stealing moment during each performances when you play puppet to John’s Billy Flynn as puppet-master during “We Both Reached for the Gun”. How much fun is that number?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: It is the most fun number!! Try to keep up with John’s performance is such a delicious challenge. I adore him and his genius humor! This number gives me the opportunity to team up with him and be each other’s accomplices. He is the most generous actor on stage. I set him up and he sets me up. It’s the perfect collaboration. I feel like his sidekick! ha! I love it!!!
JP: Within the show, Roxie dreams of life in the spotlight during the bulb-poppin’ number “Roxie”. To a degree, you’re living that dream, but thankfully for very different reasons. When did you first realize that a life in the footlights was for you?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: I was 3 years old when I danced in my first ballet recital. I knew then and there that my place in the world was on a stage. Never doubted it. I’m grateful I discovered my calling at such a young age.
JP: OK, I’ve ended my time with Terra with this same question, so here we go…One of the shows hottest numbers is “Cell Block Tango” in which the Six Merry Murderesses reveal how they ended up behind bars. IF you could get a way with it, how would you go about committing the ultimate crime?
BIANCA MARROQUIN: Yikes!! I’m having trouble with this question! Ha! I honestly don’t think or would even want to entertain the idea of me actually killing someone. I’m just gonna be romantic and dramatic and say he would die of non-corresponded love. He would die waiting.
With that my time with two of the Merry Murderesses of “Chicago” came to and end, but that’s just the beginning for Nashville theatre-goers as the show begins the Music City leg of the National Tour at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 21. CLICK HERE for tickets. Be sure and click the ‘subscribe’ tab located at the close of this article to receive free email alerts when new Nashville Entertainment articles are posted. Also, check back Wednesday, October 22 to see what I have to say about Terra and Bianca’s performances when I post my review. Then, later in the week, I’ll be posing my next set of Rapid Fire 20 Q to their co-stars John O’Hurley and Roz Ryan to coincide with the final Nashville performances of “Chicago”. Not in Nashville, but want to see the show? CLICK HERE to view their upcoming tour schedule.