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This Tony-winning revival of Kander and Ebb's musical will razzle-dazzle you.

Chicago Star Amy Spanger on the Show That Changed Her Life, Plus Rent, Kate & More

Chicago Star Amy Spanger on the Show That Changed Her Life, Plus Rent, Kate & More
Amy Spanger
Amy Spanger recalls the roles she loved best, from 'Rent' to 'Chicago.'

There’s a lot more to Amy Spanger than the shrewd, sassy girls she has played in Broadway musicals. “I’m not from ‘the other side of the tracks,’ but for some reason I have an affinity for that kind of character,” she says with a laugh. Since wowing critics with her breakout performance in the 2000 revival of Kiss Me, Kate, Spanger has had leading roles in The Wedding Singer, Rock of Ages and Elf, but none of those Broadway shows made her Role Call list of favorites. Instead, she chose to chat with about six parts close to her heart for various reasons, including Chicago’s Roxie Hart, which she is now playing for the second time at the Ambassador Theatre. “I want people to see another side of me,” Spanger says—so read on for a fresh look at this triple-threat star.

Role That Was My NYC Breakthrough
Kiss Me, Kate [1999, as Lois Lane/Bianca] was sort of my ‘coming out party’ with the New York theatrical community. I got to work with the great director Michael Blakemore, sing Cole Porter, create a wonderful character and perform Kathleen Marshall choreography. Marin Mazzie [Lilli/Kate] took me under her wing, like a big sister, and I loved working with Michael Berresse [as Bill/Lucentio]. [New York Times critic] Ben Brantley gave me one of the best reviews I’ve ever gotten. It all unfolded like a beautiful dream—I felt like Cinderella.”

Role That's the Best I Ever Played on Broadway
“Roxie in Chicago [2002 and 2012] is the perfect role for an actress who sings and dances. When I first got to the city, I trained in the Fosse technique with Chet Walker, who created the show Fosse, so I’ve had this style in my repertoire for years. His classes were exciting because people like Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth would come in. I was offered Chicago on the road at the same time I got Kiss Me, Kate, so to be able to play Roxie on Broadway now is incredibly satisfying. I love the fact that she is completely without guile: She shoots a man at the start of the play and has no remorse about it! She’s operating on her feet at all times. It’s a fantastic acting part, and I get to sing Kander and Ebb’s music and do Fosse choreography. What more can you ask for?”

Role That Was My First Big Break
“I was the understudy for Maureen in the first national tour of Rent [1996], which went out on the road six months after the show opened on Broadway. [Spanger stepped up to play Maureen full-time in May 1997.] It was very close to the time of [composer] Jonathan Larson’s passing, which bonded all of us, and the subject matter was so touching. The tour was like college: We were all the same age, and they're still some of my closest friends. Maureen was a such a curious, curious person—she was willing to try everything! She tried on the hat of being a lesbian; she was trying to be a performance artist. She just had incredible passion.”

Role That Offered A Fresh Challenge
“I had a magical experience doing The Importance of Being Earnest [2012, as Gwendolen] at Williamstown Theatre Festival. It was wonderful to work on a classic play in this gorgeous setting with brilliant actors and one of the most generous directors I’ve ever met, David Hyde Pierce. David put a unique spin on the play: He set it in London in the 1930s, but all of the characters were running from the law in the States, so there was this Damon Runyon-esque, Guys and Dolls flavor to it. My Gwendolen was a tough gun-moll babe, which was so much fun. It was one of those things where I knew exactly how to play it from the first audition. I started saying the lines in a New York accent, and it just worked.”

Role That Introduced Me to the Love of My Life
Robin and the 7 Hoods [2010; Old Globe Theatre] will always be special because that’s where I met my husband, Brian Shepard. He was one of the ensemble guys, and when I saw him dance, it changed my life—and we got married a year ago! I played the second female lead, who was named Alana O’Dell in that incarnation of the show. She was a club owner, and I got to sing all these fabulous Sammy Cahn songs, wear gorgeous costumes and perform Casey Nicholaw’s spectacular choreography. It’s been a couple of years, but I think there’s still some life in the show. In the meantime, Casey had a huge success with The Book of Mormon, but Robin is one of his ‘babies,’ so it could possibly be done again.”

Role That Became a Cult Classic
“People are always asking me about Tick, Tick…Boom! [2001]. It was based on Jonathan Larson’s one-person show, and [playwright David Auburn] parlayed it into a three-hander [co-starring Raul Esparza and Jerry Dixon]. I played all of the women in Jon's life: his mother; his girlfriend; his agent. It felt like a chamber piece with Jonathan’s music, our voices and Stephen Oremus’ vocal arrangements. So many actresses have talked to me about hearing 'Come to Your Senses' on the recording, and how much they love singing it. The entire show became something of a cult classic, which was really satisfying.”

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