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Pippin - Broadway

Stephen Schwartz's musical receives its first Broadway revival.

Pippin’s Charlotte d’Amboise on Six Smashing Musical Roles and Why She’s ‘More Gwen Than Chita’

Pippin’s Charlotte d’Amboise on Six Smashing Musical Roles and Why She’s ‘More Gwen Than Chita’
Charlotte d'Amboise
Charlotte d'Amboise shares her love for Charity, Lola, Roxie & more.

Children of celebrated performers often wilt under the pressure of being compared to their parents, but not Charlotte d’Amboise: The daughter of ballet superstar Jacques d’Amboise made her Broadway debut in Cats, and in the three decades since then, she has graced the stage in iconic musicals such as Damn Yankees, Chicago and now the Tony-winning revival of Pippin. D’Amboise is giving a smoking hot performance as Fastrada, the title character’s scheming mother, in a production that also features her real-life husband, Terrence Mann, as Charlemagne. For her Role Call, the two-time Tony nominee explored her affinity for classic musical heroines.

Role That Was the Most Fun
Pippin [as Fastrada] is the most collaborative piece I’ve ever done, which is wonderful, because when you’re creatively involved, you feel like you’re part of the whole show. I love acting with my husband [Terrence Mann], and the role was made on me, so I didn’t have to copy anybody. And I get to be a redhead! I’m always a blonde. Just as Fastrada is a quick-change artist in life, she can change her personality to get what she wants. If that means being angry or seductive or charming or sweet, she’ll do it. I don’t know if she’s the sexiest [character], but I get to act like she is, which is fun! I did Pippin in high school, so I had a passion for the music and was able to envision [director] Diane Paulus’ concept; my husband had a harder time at first—he had a lot of questions about what things meant. Really, none of us knew whether it would work until we got in front of an audience. But when you’ve been in flops, it is really nice to be in a mega-hit.”

Role That Was My Big Break
“I had done three Broadway shows before Jerome Robbins’ Broadway [1989; Best Actress Tony nomination], but that’s the one that made people say, ‘She can do comedy.’ It was also the most amazing learning experience. I didn’t find [director Jerome Robbins] scary: I was used to strong personalities, and he taught me so much about the creative process. It was an old-school way of working—you put yourself in his hands and didn’t question anything—but I was comfortable with that because of my background in ballet. I did Anita in West Side Story and Peter in Peter Pan as well as ensemble stuff. The big number I had been hired to do, “Dreams Come True” from Billion Dollar Baby, ended up getting cut after we had worked on it for six months. That was a little disappointing, but I understood. It was just a great show; everything Robbins did was brilliant.”

Role That Was the Hardest
A Chorus Line [2006, as Cassie; Best Featured Actress Tony nomination] was extremely difficult. Enjoyable? I wouldn’t say so. Cassie is the straight woman and I always play kooky characters, so it was a little boring for me in that sense. Also, standing there every night and pretending you’re at an audition, listening to someone criticize you, seeps into your soul. Plus, Cassie’s dance is so hard. It doesn’t look nearly as hard as it is, and you have to do everything to the fullest at every performance. Shows don’t usually stay with me [after leaving the theater], but that one did; it was too close to my life. I’m glad I experienced it, but I would never want to do it again.”

Role I Enjoyed Re-Inventing
“When I was hired to play Roxie in Chicago [national tour and 12 Broadway engagements from 1999 to 2012] I was 30 but looked 25, and the part had originally been done by a 50-year-old [Gwen Verdon]. Because I was so young, I had to reinvent the role, especially with a line like ‘I’m older than I ever intended to be.’ [Director] Walter Bobbie gave me a lot of freedom to make Roxie my own, and that was such a joy. I play her as somebody who is clueless. She’s manipulative, but she is so self-involved that she’s not aware she is hurting people. She killed somebody and didn’t even notice because she was so focused on getting what she wants. It’s one of the great roles in musical theater in a show that was ahead of its time; I do it differently every time I go back, and it works just as well.”

Role That Was My First Broadway Lead
“I had a greatest time in Damn Yankees [1995, as Lola]. I replaced Bebe Neuwirth, and Robby Marshall re-choreographed everything for me. The production was brilliantly conceived by Jack O’Brien, and it was a breakthrough for me to play Lola, this devil with a heart. I did it more the way Gwen [Verdon] did, as a normal girl who is willing to sell her soul to become beautiful. She’s a vamp with vulnerability, and it’s fun to play those different colors. I did it first with Victor Garber as the Devil and then with Jerry Lewis, who was amazing and fun and brilliant. You hear stories about him, but my experience was fantastic. He was a generous, lovely man.”

Role I Wish I Could Have Played Longer
“I wish I could have done a production of Sweet Charity [2005, as Charity Hope Valentine] that was created on me. I understudied Christina Applegate [and played the role for a few weeks when she was injured], so it was her show, but I loved every minute. I understood the character perfectly—the charm and the need and the desperateness. She follows her heart, and that takes her to all the wrong places. She gets beaten down, but by god, she’s going to get back up! She’s the kind of optimistic person who keeps trying to turn things about and remains joyful and loving. I had no idea that [I would play three role created by Gwen Verdon], but they're a good fit. I feel much more Gwen than Chita [Rivera]. Chita is stronger and played harder roles, with that quick wit. I’m more offbeat.”

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