“I did cry the other day,” Mel B admits one week before debuting as Roxie Hart in the long-running Broadway revival of Chicago. “I did collapse in a very dramatic heap on the floor, and then I looked at myself and thought, ‘God, that really was f*cking dramatic.’”
It’s her first time back on Broadway in over a decade; she had a seven-week run as the drug-addicted Cat Scratch Club dancer Mimi Marquez in Rent in 2004. About nine years ago, she says, she auditioned for Chicago, but went on tour with the Spice Girls instead. So, now, when producer Barry Weissler called and asked if she had some free time for an eight-week run on Merry Murderess Row, she jumped at the chance.
Originally booked for a four-month break, she told Weissler, “I booked myself some time off, but f*ck it! If you’re telling me I could slot in…” She adds, “Obviously I discussed it with my kids and my husband, and they were like, ‘We’d love to be in New York on Christmas’ because we’ve never been here around Christmastime. Last week it snowed, too, so my kids were so excited. They ran outside and froze their butts off, but they were like, ‘It’s snowing!’ even though it was for only an hour.”
But while her children explore the city around the holidays, Mel B rehearses to be a leading lady that dances her way in and out of the Cook County Jail.
“I’m on the stage, and I’m actually climbing the ladder, and it’s so f*cking high, and I’m like, ‘Now I have to sing?!’ There’s no safety net or anything. It doesn’t seem that high when you’re in the audience, but when you get up on that ladder, it’s really, really high. Then I got down from the ladder, and I forgot one of my lines and [thought], ‘Ugh, I can’t do it! I don’t think I can do it!’”
Truth is: musical theatre always scared her.
“It was so dramatic and so specific, especially when you step into somebody’s role,” she says. “I’m used to being a performer and being very free. I was saying to a girl the other day, ‘If I want to sit down performing with the Spice Girls, I can sit down because I’m tired,’ whereas in musical theatre, everything is very [choreographed], so that scared me a little bit because I’m not used to abiding by somebody else’s rules.
“This has actually been a really nice process because, even though things are very specific and there are musical cues you can’t miss, I can be able to say a line however I want to say it. I have freedom, but also I have restrictions—a bit like my life really.”
Mel B rose to fame in the 1990s with her five-girl group, the Spice Girls. She was known as Scary Spice—the wildly outrageous and carefree member who was never afraid to say what was on her mind. When posed with the choice of Roxie Hart or Velma Kelly in Chicago, Roxie was the obvious choice.
“There’s no second-guessing herself,” Mel B says of Roxie. “She just goes balls to the wall, whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea, and she thinks very fast on her feet, and that’s kind of like me, whether it’s gotten me into trouble or not. Plus, she gets to just fantasize about fame, and I used to fantasize about that before I was famous. I used to practice signing my autograph. There’s a moment in Roxie, where she’s imagining signing autographs and imagining her name up in lights, and that was totally me.”
Mel B plays through February 19, 2017, at the Ambassador Theatre.