A fresh breeze from the Windy City has swept into the Shubert Theatre and made herself very much at home in Chicago. "I have the accent down, that's for sure," chirps the pert Marilu Henner, who stars as Roxie Hart, the tabloid celebrity and murder suspect, in the Tony-winning revival of the Bob Fosse musical.
"The character is a girl close to my own heart," says Chicago-native Henner. "She's got this effervescence about her. She's this scrappy kid who assesses the situation and knows how to keep moving from one thing to the next."
Henner arrived in this star spot via television's "Taxi" and "Evening Shade," but she's no stranger to Broadway, where she appeared in the first go-around of Grease and, in 1974, cut a particularly mean Betty Grable figure in Over Here. Also featured in Over Here was Ann Reinking, the choreographer of the current Chicago.
Reinking was the last to fill Roxie's high heels in the original run and the first to fill them in its resurrection. When she was needed to recycle her Tony-winning choreography ("in the style of Bob Fosse") for London and the road, she conferred with director Walter Bobbie and producers Barry and Fran Weissler, and decided to page old pal Henner to take over the part.
"They wanted to know how much singing and dancing I'd done lately. And I said, 'Well, I sing every day to my kids. And I danced five years ago for my exercise video. Let me go into a studio to see where I am before I come to New York and tell you one way or the other.' So I went to this place in Los Angeles called The Edge. They gave me an evaluation and said, 'We can get you in shape if you do these classes of ballet and jazz and tap.' "
A little Fosse fine-tuning was also in order. "I found his assistant and booked studio time so she could teach me the Fosse technique. She drilled me over and over, teaching me the hands and the shoulders and the hips. And I watched every old Fosse tape I could get my hands on."
Henner's passion for research also prompted her to delve into the origins of the real Roxie. "Her real name was Beulah Annan. The other character, Velma [played by Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth], was based on a woman named Belva Gaertner. Belva was considered the classy one, and Beulah was considered the beautiful one. The real Roxie Hart had her picture taken with all 12 jurors. The men were in love with her. She was able to take different stories she learned from the women who were on murderers' row and incorporate them into her own life. She was very resourceful. A real character." Henner's favorite moment in the show is called "Roxie." "She gets a whole monologue to explain to the audience what her motivation is so that they're on her side. It's a great production number with seven guys. As an actress, I can't wait to do it every night. After 'Roxie,' my favorite number is 'He Had It Comin' ' ['Cell Block Tango']. It's like a firehose has been let out on the audience with that number. There're always great opening numbers in shows, but when you watch that‹you're plastered to the back of your seat, thinking, 'I'm in for something really special.' "
That's Henner's night job. Her day work is tending a couple of toddling tots with her husband, producer/director Rob Lieberman. Their three-year-old, Nicky, "came out dancing. I've taken him to The King and I, Riverdance, Stomp, Grease and, now, Chicago. He loves musicals."
The new arrival is Joey, age one. "If I'd had a girl, the girl's name would have been Roxie. I always liked that name. Ken Olin and Patty Wettig have a daughter named Roxie. I love her and the name."
Did, then, it seem like an omen when B'way came calling with Roxie Hart? "It did! Everyone said, 'There's your Roxie.' "