Bebe Neuwirth is bravely going where no actress has gone before—she’s tackling her third leading role in Broadway’s Chicago! After snagging the Tony Award in 1996 for her portrayal of merry murderess Velma Kelly, Neuwirth returned to play Roxie Hart a decade later. Eighteen years after taking her first Broadway bow in Chicago, she has officially graduated to the role of Murderess’ Row warden Matron “Mama” Morton. Now that she’s achieved the Chicago trifecta, Broadway.com asked Neuwirth to reflect on her favorite memories, craziest moments and most treasured times in the cellblock.
Character Most Like Me (Velma, Roxie or Mama): None of them are really like me, but if pressed I’d have to say Velma, because she loves to be on stage (but that’s the only thing we have in common!).
Best Tony Awards Memory: Dancing the "Hot Honey Rag" with Ann Reinking. Our cast was on fire, the audience was on fire, and there was so much love in our hearts for each other and the music and the choreography.
Biggest Line Flub: OK, this is raunchy, but absolutely unforgettable. In "Class," Marcia Lewis (Mama) sang, "Everybody you watch," to which I (Velma) should have responded, "'S got his brains in his crotch." Instead I sang, "'S got his face in his crotch." Needless to say, neither one of us was able to sustain our final note due to the ferocious giggling welling inside us.
Best Celebrity Visitor: We’ve had so many thrilling people come see us. I kept a guestbook, and there are some amazing people in there. I can't pick a favorite, but it was a unique honor and a moving experience to have Jerry Orbach come to my dressing room. One of the finest gentlemen in show business. Or anywhere!
Favorite Chicago Lyric: "How can they see with sequins in their eyes?" So brilliant on so many levels. As a pure lyric with internal rhymes and repetitions, how it scans and sings within the tune, and of course as a dark cultural commentary.
Favorite Chicago Song: To perform? "I Can't Do It Alone." It is a perfect song/number—it illuminates the character, it’s emotionally charged and full, it drives the story forward and it is funny. Annie’s choreography is fantastic.
Best Thing About the Ambassador Theatre: My memories of playing there when I was in Dancin'. There were four of us gals in what is now (amazingly) the Velma dressing room.
Favorite Costume Piece: Velma's fishnet tights. They've become a wardrobe staple for me.
Best Post-Show Night Spot: Nothing beats being quiet at home with my husband. Sometimes he makes us a simple late-night pasta supper. Perfect. But—if I do go out, I love Joe Allen's.
See Neuwirth in Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre!