NEW YORK (AP) — The fictional character Roxie Hart has many hideous traits — she is adulterous, narcissistic, intrigues, manipulates, and murderous. Next week she is also something unexpected: Inspiring.
“Pose” star Angelica Ross will take the stage on Monday in Hart’s high heels, becoming the first openly transgender woman to star on Broadway.
“I think about the trans women who look at me now and now think this is possible,” Ross told The Associated Press. “I’m very excited to embrace the audience the way they embrace me.”
Ross’s journey to the Ambassador Theater seems almost destined, starting as a youngster who loved musical theater in Racine, Wisconsin. “I’ve been in musical theater since probably first grade,” she says.
Early roles as Sleepy in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – “I was a ham,” she admits – led to playing Tyrone in “Fame” and Billy in “Anything Goes.” She saw Broadway shows like “The Lion King”, “Wicked”, “The Color Purple” and “On Your Feet!”
“It’s really the vibrancy of it for me. As an actor on television, there are many cuts. There is a lot in and out of the moment and need to get back in the moment. But I love the live moments on stage. I like the silence.”
Set in the 1920s, “Chicago” is a scathing satire about how show business and the media make celebrities out of criminals. It has Bob Fosse-inspired choreography, skimpy outfits and great songs like “All That Jazz” and “Cell Block Tango”.
It tells the story of Hart, a housewife and dancer who kills her closest lover after he threatens to leave her. To avoid conviction, she hires Chicago’s brightest criminal defense attorney to help her mislead the public, the media and her rival cellmate Velma Kelly by creating shocking headlines.
“Roxie is quick to get herself out of trouble. She knows her feminine ways,” Ross says. “I feel like so many women, including trans women, have had to navigate a male-dominated environment and have issues with other people who had the vision to see their talent.”
Ross says she identifies strongly with Roxie and Velma’s closing song, “My Own Best Friend,” where the two women sing, “I play in a game/where I make the rules.”
“I play in a game where I make the rules and rule #1 from here to the end is I’m my own best friend,” she quotes the lyrics. “I just know there have been times in my life when I wasn’t. When I was in unison with everyone who said negative things about me.”
The celebrity-hungry heroine at the heart of “Chicago” has been played by dozens of women since the show opened in 1996, including Melanie Griffith, Christie Brinkley, Marilu Henner, Brooke Shields, Lisa Rinna, Gretchen Mol, Ashlee Simpson, Brandy Norwood, Jennifer Nettles and Robin Givens. Pamela Anderson made headlines earlier this year when she played Roxie.
“Chicago” producer Barry Weissler has welcomed all the new Roxies and is in awe of his newest star: “She’s just an amazing actress. She sings, she dances, she has personality. What more could I ask for?”
Ross, whose credits also include “American Horror Story: 1984,” “Transparent,” “Claws” and “Doubt,” will begin an eight-week run on Monday.
She joins a Broadway who is beginning to open her arms to transgender actors. In 2018, “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” star Peppermint became the first openly trans woman to feature prominently on Broadway, starring in the Go-Go’s jukebox musical “Head Over Heels.” This spring, L Morgan Lee made history as the first openly transgender to be nominated for a Tony Award for her work as an actress in the musical “A Strange Loop.”
Other Broadway actors who have identified as trans include Alexandra Billings in “The Nap,” Becca Blackwell in the play “Is This a Room,” and Kate Bornstein and Ty Defoe in “Straight White Men.”
Ross, who has worked with a singing coach, an acting coach and the dance captain in Chicago prior to her Broadway debut, has even amazed herself at what she can do.
“I project my voice without a microphone to the back of the theater and fill it in ways I didn’t even know I could. There are a few high notes in some of the songs, and I hit them effortlessly. And it’s just this moment when I look up and I’m like, I see when I was on stage in Racine, Wisconsin. I see all these moments add up and I’m like, ‘This is what this should have been.’”