DIVA TALK: Charlotte d'Amboise Chats About Chicago, Carrie, Chorus Line and Children

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Charlotte d'Amboise Chats About Chicago, Carrie, Chorus Line and Children
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Charlotte d'Amboise
Charlotte d'Amboise Joseph Marzullo/WENN

CHARLOTTE D'AMBOISE
Two-time Tony nominee Charlotte d'Amboise is currently back on Broadway in a role that the acclaimed triple threat has performed on numerous occasions: merry murderess Roxie Hart in the Tony-winning revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb's Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre. D'Amboise, who is married to actor Terrence Mann, is one of the best Roxies this writer has ever had the pleasure of viewing; in fact, her rendition of the show-stopping "Roxie" is near perfection. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of catching up with the actress, whose Broadway credits also boast roles in Cats, Song and Dance, Carrie, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Damn Yankees, Company, Contact, Sweet Charity and A Chorus Line. D'Amboise spoke about her recent return to Chicago (she will be with the production through the end of the year), the upcoming Off-Broadway revival of Carrie and the professional stage debuts of her two children, Shelby Mann, age eight, and Josephine Mann, age seven; that interview follows.

Question: I was curious about your thoughts on Carrie coming back to the stage.
d'Amboise: You know, if they do it right, I think it can be very successful. There was a show there when it came out, I thought, and especially when I read the [recent New York Times] article, they were talking about really taking the relationship with the two of them [Carrie and her mother, and focusing on their] psychological relationship. That's what I thought worked [originally] and was possible. It was when we came on and we were "Fame," and suddenly it was, like, back and forth between "Fame" and child abuse. That didn't quite work, and you had to laugh at it. [Laughs.] It made you laugh, it was so ridiculous. You couldn't take it seriously, but I think if you take it seriously and really build up that relationship and that part of it, I think there's a show there. … People are obsessed with that show. I mean, my whole life, it's nonstop. People contact me, anywhere I'm [performing], nationally, any tour, if I walk out a theatre, it's all these Carrie people!

Question: You wouldn't think that many people would have gotten a chance to see it.
d'Amboise: Well, most of them didn't see it. [Laughs.] Most of them had copies of tapes — I don't know what they'd seen — a bootleg of some tape or that kind of thing. We [always] say that so many people have seen it in those two weeks that we ran! And I know people that saw it, like, three times, those two weeks we ran. [Laughs.] It's kind of a cult thing, definitely.

Question: Before the musical opened, did you guys know that it wasn't quite working?
d'Amboise: When we first started, we were all very excited about it, but then we went to Stratford. We were in London [for rehearsals] — you know, half the cast was English, half the cast was American, and it was hooked up with the RSC. That was the whole thing. So, we went to England to rehearse there, and then we performed it at Stratford-on-Avon, and we got killed — I mean, killed. Every part of it got killed, and for some reason — it was kind of strange — they just sort of moved it to Broadway and they didn't change anything, except that they put Betty Buckley into the lead [role of Carrie's mother]. Barbara Cook pulled out, [and] that was the only change. Nothing else got changed. It was very odd, so we all knew that we were just gonna get killed. At least the cast did. I don't know if they ran out of money completely, and they just decided to go ahead. I don't really know exactly where their thinking [was].  

d'Amboise and Gene Anthony Ray in Carrie
photo by Peter Cunningham

Question: When you're in that position as a cast member and you see that the creative team hasn't changed anything, it must be a little demoralizing.
d'Amboise: It's horrible. It's so frightening. It's awful, and I remember … one of the first previews, I came out [for the curtain call], and I remember thinking, "Did they boo? I'm hearing boos." I was so shocked. Never in my life had I heard boos, and then I remember calling my mom afterwards, saying, "They were booing me!" She's like, "No!" I said, "No, I think I heard boos!" And actually they were, but [they were also giving] full standing ovations, screaming their heads off, booing us. It was a very strange thing, and I think mostly difficult for Linzi [Hateley as Carrie] and Betty, because they really had to pour their hearts out. You know what I mean? They were trying to be serious, whereas we weren't. I mean, I was the obnoxious girl; I could almost be laughing at it. I really felt very [sorry for them] … to hear laughter — that's difficult, really difficult. And so I think that they struggled a lot.

I think it's going to be hard to cast the Betty Buckley role [in the revival]. To me, [she] was brilliant. I thought it was one of the most amazing performances I've ever seen on the stage in my life, Betty Buckley in that show.

Question: I've just heard tapes, but her singing is amazing.
d'Amboise: Her singing is amazing, and she was just so brilliant and powerful in that part, so I wonder who they'll cast in that. I mean, to me, just to hear Betty Buckley sing those songs, that's what I want to see, and I think most people do. When they [talk about] Carrie, it's like, "I want to see Betty Buckley do that."

Question: How does it feel for you to be back in Chicago?
d'Amboise: Great. I love that show. I love it, love it, love it. I've been in and out of it for years, and they call me up. It's been over a year and a half since the last time I was in it. They call me up and they say, "Come on in for a few months," and I'm like, "Great!" It always gets me back in shape. It gets me feeling good about myself. It's always a fun thing to be in a happy show.

 

d'Amboise in Chicago
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Question: How do you think your interpretation of Roxie has changed over the years?
d'Amboise: It's definitely changed.… I think I'm better now! [Laughs.] But you know what? It goes through times and changes and where I am and — I mean, I think I've found everything you can find in it, practically, unless you go a whole different route with the character. And I've milked every moment, I think, [that] you could possibly milk in that show. [Laughs.] And yet you still find things. You still find things, and that's the great thing about this role. I've had so much freedom with it. Walter Bobbie's given me a lot of freedom, so you're allowed to still find things, and thank God for that. For instance, A Chorus Line, you're really stuck with your lines and being the straight person ... but with Roxie, you can just be so many different levels and different colors. You can play scenes differently and it can still work, whereas with Cassie, you really can't. [Laughs.] So, for me, it's much more enjoyable in that sense. There's a lot there. … If you're gonna do a show many, many times, Chicago's a good one to do.

Question: Have you ever had any interest to switch roles and play Velma? I know some other actresses have.
d'Amboise: Yeah, a lot people have. You know what? I have never had an interest. Actually, they wanted me to play Velma when I first auditioned. I was supposed to come in for Velma, not Roxie, and I just never felt anything for that role [of Velma]. I always felt like, "Yeah, I could sing it. Yeah, I could dance it. No, it's not me." There's so many people that could just get up and do it that are more right for that role, and I'd have to work at it, and I would be never really great. That's what I thought with that role. So, it just wasn't appealing to me, and [with] Roxie, I saw an in, a way to play it that would work for me, I felt. So that's why I just went in singing all the Roxie material, literally pretending that I never got any of the Velma material. "What? No, I thought I was coming in for Roxie." You know, I did that whole thing. So that's how that worked. And then, over the years, when you're sitting there watching [Velma] do that "I Can't Do It Alone" so many times, I just have no desire to get up and do it. [Laughs.] I feel like I've done it that many times.

d'Amboise, with Ryan Worsing and Michael Cusumano, in Chicago
photo by Jeremy Daniel

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Roxie, something that you look forward to?
d'Amboise: You know, when I first started doing the show, I loved doing "Me and My Baby," because that's what I was most comfortable with, the dancing, and I knew that I could fly in that number.... And then, over the years, it switched, and it's definitely "Roxie," the monologue and [the number]. And I think it's because, for me originally, it was scary.  I remember I would be fearful before that monologue, just praying that it was gonna work, because you put yourself out there. You really put yourself out there, at least I do. And I feel like now, that's what I love about it, and I've gotten more confident over the years of doing it. That's a part where I really can relate to the audience, and that's the best when you can relate to an audience. [That] is the most fulfilling, I think.

Question: You mentioned A Chorus Line. I was wondering what your thoughts were about the "Every Little Step" documentary.
d'Amboise: I was very proud of the documentary. I felt that captured the truth. I mean, that's what we all went through. There was no lying in there, except for a couple shots that they had to re-shoot, but other than that, it was pretty right on. I was very proud of it. I was scared to death because I thought, "Oh, my God. Who knows?" When somebody's taping my audition — the whole thing was so horrifying. Then when I saw it, I was really proud of it. I thought that it really told the story of A Chorus Line and exactly what we do in our lives and what that show's about. And then the way it captured the past and how it came together with the future and with the struggles. It was like a reality show. … It's the reality of what we go through. That's why that show's so hard to do, I think, eight shows a week for a year. It's too close to us all. Painful.

Question: Just the emotional demands of it?
d'Amboise: I think so. It's like going to an audition every night and [being] rejected. I mean, I'm not like one of those actors that's like, "Oh, I take it home with me," but after doing it for a year, eight shows a week, you do. You actually do. Those lines that you say and [you're] desperate and you realize that you just don't get away from your life. Roxie is a character and I love it. You can get away. You just don't get away [from A Chorus Line].

 

d'Amboise and husband Terrence Mann
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Question: Your two kids are going to perform this year.
d'Amboise: Yes, this year is crazy. My husband is performing in The Addams Family, I'm doing Chicago and my two kids are going to be doing The Nutcracker Suite at New York City Ballet. Question: Is this their professional debut?
d'Amboise: Yeah. It's exciting.

Question: How do you feel about them performing?
d'Amboise: Well, as far as putting them in a Broadway show, I would never want them to do [that]. But The Nutcracker Suite is different, because as a kid, I did it, and it was one of the highlights of my life. I like them being exposed to that world, that otherworldly place of ballet. It's so beautiful and elegant and classy and classical music, as opposed to my [world of] Chicago [and] raunchy broads backstage. [Laughs.] I like the contrast. It was just such a beautiful experience for me when I was a kid, and it demanded you to have a lot of discipline and responsibility. You had to be respectful of people in class. It was just a beautiful, classy place, so I'm excited for them. I think it's fantastic, but I have no desire for them to ever do commercials or go out in the whole scene.

Question: How difficult do you find combining being a mom to two young kids and doing eight shows a week?
d'Amboise: You know, it's difficult, but somehow we've managed to work it. Right now, it's a little more difficult because my husband's working. Usually, we've sort of switched off, so one of us will be home and the other one is working. But they're so used to it now, and we're home with them. We take them to school, we pick them up from school. We take them to ballet. I'm there with them until 7 o'clock, pretty much. I get all my warm up [done], I go and work out beforehand. I do all that so I can be with them until 7, and then I run out the door and head to the theatre. And then my niece is living with me now, who is 15, and she puts them to bed. So I have a teenager living with me, too [laughs.] … but she's helpful.

 

Charlotte and Christopher d'Amboise in Song & Dance
photo by Kenn Duncan

Question: You were also in Song and Dance, which was one of my favorite shows. What are your memories of working on that? That also had your brother Christopher in the cast.
d'Amboise: Yeah, that was one of those experiences, one of those great, great experiences. I mean, I was so blessed, now that I can think back and really reflect on it. I had done Cats right before that, which was an easy, wonderful experience, because it was already a hit. Those are the best, and I came into Broadway with that. And then Song and Dance was just one of those lovely, beautiful, easy experiences. Peter Martins choreographed it, and he would be like, "Okay, you guys, take class in the morning and we'll start rehearsal around 1." And everybody had input and everybody was relaxed. It was just easy. Bernadette [Peters] was a joy and incredible. The fact that I got to sit and watch her singing that first act; we would sit, all of us, and watch her and weep. It was a very, very, very close and wonderful cast. We always hung out together, we always partied together, and we always really knew that this was a special experience. Loved it. And dancing with my brother? Nothing like it. I mean, I was spoiled after that. After that whole experience, I was spoiled in a way. I loved dancing with him, and it's a shame we haven't done more of that in our lives. We just know what the next person's gonna do before they do it.

Question: Have you performed with your husband?
d'Amboise: Yes, we did Cats together. I met him in Cats, and we did Jerome Robbins' Broadway. He replaced Jason Alexander in Jerome Robbins, the lead in that. … I had met him during Cats and then ultimately, we really got together during Jerome Robbins. [That was] when we started living together.

Question: Do you enjoy working with him? Would you like to do that again?
d'Amboise: Yeah, yeah, I loved working with him. Except I do have to say: Now it's great, because we're on the same schedule, and that's fantastic. And I love it because we actually come home together and we sit down and we eat some food and we have a glass of wine and we talk and then we go to bed and it's all great. And then we get up in the morning, we have our mornings together. We bring the kids to school, then we come back and we go back to sleep. [Laughs.] But it's so great, and it's nice. But I would prefer, I think, him doing a different show than me, because I see him all the time [laughs], so I actually think it's good that we have something to talk about. But we've done some plays together regionally and stuff like that, and that's all great. We did a thing in Williamstown, we did a thing up at Santa Fe. And we always work well together. I love working with him. He's great.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Charlotte d'Amboise, with Ryan Worsing and Michael Cusumano, in <i>Chicago</i>
Charlotte d'Amboise, with Ryan Worsing and Michael Cusumano, in Chicago Photo by Jeremy Daniel
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