Broadway Melanie

Broadway Melanie With hubby Antonio Banderas already on the boards, Melanie Griffith makes a Broadway debut of her own in Chicago
Melanie Griffith as Chicago's Roxie Hart.
Melanie Griffith as Chicago's Roxie Hart. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

So far, nobody has called them The Banderases of Broadway — or The Lunts of West 49th — or The Chicago Nine — but, forgive us our press passes, we will. If there's one thing the media likes more than a good label, it's a good angle — and this one is heaven-sent, or at least Hollywood-sent: a celebrity couple working the same Main Stem block, squaring off with the sexiest roles on Broadway. He's at the Eugene O'Neill, working the downtown side of the street as Guido Contini, the prolific lady-killer of Nine; she's at the Ambassador, working the uptown side as Roxie Hart, the literal man-killer of Chicago.

Score two for Home and Hearth. Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, husband and wife for eight years, are now simultaneously making their Broadway debuts together — well, not together, but yards apart, which is a decent striking distance when your husband has 16 women crawling all over him eight times a week and you're warding off exploitive lovers, impotent spouses, opportunistic lawyers and lascivious prison matrons.

The Land of Glam was never this intense. Then again, these movie-based musicals — Tony-winning revivals, both — speak with depth and directness to a high-profile pair who put in time in a goldfish bowl. Roxie flailing about for fame and Guido finding it but finding it lonely at the top — neither actor needed a compass to find these characters.

Griffith can take a bow for finding hers by simply glancing across the street one day when she accompanied Banderas to his theatre and seeing the Chicago marquee. Now, whether this would have happened had that show stayed at the Shubert is a good question, but "I wondered who's doing it now that the movie has come out," she explained, "so I called my agent and said, 'Do you think I could audition for it and go into Chicago while Antonio is doing Nine?' Plus, it would be a huge challenge. I've never done it, and it would be like a coup de grâce for me. I think, after this, I'm going to quit acting."

She's serious, too. "Well, yeah. I'm 45, and I've done so much. This is what I've always wanted to do — Broadway — and maybe, because I've worked 30 years, I rate a shot at it." That she did, and she was promptly run through a highly demanding song-and-dance gauntlet. The acting was never in doubt. Her quirky/chirpy voice — which people have been trying to get her to dump from the beginning and which she instead parlayed into a signature of sorts — is vocally and vulnerably the next best thing to Gwen Verdon, who originated Roxie, and Ann Reinking, who revived her.

Whether it would wear well on the Kander-and-Ebb score was another matter, but again she came through with flying colors.

"I've never sung in my life," Griffith confesses. "My kids would even say, when I'd sing them a lullaby, 'Mommie, please don't sing.' I never knew I had a voice. Then, when Rob Fisher tested me out on the music, he said, 'You've got a voice you don't even know about.'

"So I've begun singing. The first time that I sang, I started to cry. Really. I cried a lot. It was very emotional. I think there's a lot of stuff that I held in during my life. I think I have this baby voice because I didn't want to connect emotionally for some reason. It could be there's something I don't remember from my childhood that stunted my growth — and my voice. It turns out I have a very big voice, a deep voice, when I sing."

Since her husband started his Tony-nominated performance in Nine, Griffith has been busily bi-coastal, stoking the home fires back in California and the conjugal ones here, but she has had singing and dancing coaches helping her with the exacting demands of the role. She has a child by each of her actor-husbands: Alexander, 18, by her second, Steven Bauer; Dakota Mayi, 13, by her first and third, Don Johnson; and Stella del Carmen Banderas Griffith, 6, by her fourth.

Come September, school begins, and Griffith will leave Chicago — but, for now, it'll be a summer of love with the boy across the street. "Antonio has been wonderfully supportive of me," she says. "I've been through this whole thing with him — all the pain and angst and fear and excitement — for the past eight months, and now he has been giving back to me."

He also is giving her more time on Broadway by going extra innings with Nine. "He extended so he can stay with me. He was to finish August 10 — my birthday is August 9, his is August 10 — but now, because I'm going to go to the end of September, he decided to stay."

There's another reason she is glad she connected with Chicago: It gives her closure. "I worked with Bob Fosse for three months to try to get the Dorothy Stratten role in ‘Star 80,’ and I really thought I had it. This was going to be my big break. I was living in The Camelot at 45th and Eighth, and I had no money. I had to transcribe tapes for Stella Adler in order to pay my tuition. One day I came home, and the doorman handed me an envelope. It was a letter from Bob, saying he was so sorry 'but I have to go with someone else.' It devastated me. A couple of years later, I saw him, and he was very sweet. He was always a friend. And, when he died, he left me in his will. I was one of those people he left, like, $482 to and invited to a Tavern on the Green party. I just think it's interesting that now I have a chance to do a Bob Fosse show. I feel him."