And All That Jazz: A Morning with Bianca Marroquín
by Denisse Ambert
by Gabriela Garcia
To make it to Broadway you “gotta have a gimmick” or you better be a triple threat: someone who can act, sing and dance. Bianca Marroquín is an expert at the latter. An example to the Latinx community as well as a dear friend of 18 years, I sat down with her in her home to talk about her recent successes, life changes, challenges and upcoming projects.
Wearing a summer jumpsuit, wedges and minimal makeup to showcase the glow of her sun-kissed face, having just returned from her honeymoon, she chose to make herself comfortable on an inviting sand-toned sofa accented with dusty rose pillows set by a large window exposing a view of the Hudson River and Liberty State Park.
“This is my favorite spot. It’s my spot,” says Marroquín. “When no one is home, this is where I sit and relax, read or just look out the window.” So, in that space of ease, we chatted away.
You recently experienced a career highlight portraying the iconic character of “Chita Rivera” in FX’s episodic FOSSE/VERDON. What kind of weight and responsibility did you hold in playing a living theatre legend?
Immense weight and responsibility from the start. I immediately saw it as impossible, but I thought I’d give it my best and approach this with a lot of respect. I knew it would never be even close to what she represents. I actually called Chita and said to her “Please know this will be my humble attempt to portray you and I will do so with much love and admiration”. I know that a lot of people could have gotten this role, but I got this little blessing, opportunity and privilege from life and I am very aware of it.
Was there any specific advice Chita shared with you that you used in the process of playing her?
Well she did tell me, because I praised her, “Forget all of that, this is now your time to shine on the screen.” This is how generous this woman is. And she said, “You have to believe it.” I have her kind words in a text message. So, I kept that text with me on set and as I worked super hard to do her justice, I would re-read that and try to remember her words…that this was also my moment, so I should enjoy it and believe it! As dancers, we are taught to be so humble, and sometimes I don’t believe what I have accomplished. It is moments like these during interviews when I am reminded of everything I’ve done, that I also remind myself of where I started, of my journey, and how I got to this present moment.
What kind of preparation did you do for this role?
I tried to look at Chita’s work and our musical director told us, “we are not looking for a copy at all, it’s you portraying her.” So, I did just that. I did listen to a few of her interviews and listened to the way she would speak, her pauses and inflections, and where she placed her voice. I also paid attention to her body language because we had some scenes that were only dancing and I wanted to make sure the essence of her movement was present.
How was your experience seeing it for the first time?
When we saw the premiere it was a VIP screening and we sat in the movie theater which was packed with people from the industry, and traveling back to that moment, I’m getting a little choked up because it was so important, and I was very aware of what was happening to ME and that I was so lucky. My husband Joseph was sitting next to me, and he was praising me and saying “look at you” making me more nervous than I already was. We lived this process together, so this was very much happening to him as well. When we finished watching the first two episodes, I stood up and right behind me was Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth, and later I saw Debbie Allen and Priscilla Lopez — all women who are so respected in the industry — and I just thought, “Oh my God, look at where you are, look at who you are portraying, and look at the huge responsibility.”
In the TV series you play “Velma” instead of the beloved “Roxie” character that you have played on Broadway, how did that feel?
I was very honored because this has not been the character I’ve played in CHICAGO and I kept thinking of all of the wonderful women that have embodied the role of “Velma” who very well could have portrayed this on FOSSE/VERDON. I was trying to bring all of them to this moment. I tried my best to do justice to all of these women who have done this finger roll motion for eight shows a week for months at a time, even years!
Did your telenovela experience and being a judge of Mira Quién Baila and Pequeños Gigantes play a role in your success in the US or did you need to start with a clean slate?
Well I did start with a clean slate here when I arrived in 2002. No one knew who I was, I had no TV experience yet, and the theatre experience I had was mostly ensemble work in Mexico. After I did the television appearances in Esperanza del Corazón, Pequeños Gigantes, and Mira Quién Baila, it was great to know that I could attract the Latinx audiences to the theatre, and when I would come out of the stage door people would call out “Angela!” —the name of the character I played in the telenovela. I thought, “Good, it’s working! We are drawing Latinx audiences to the theatre.” Eventually, I became an ambassador for Viva Broadway, an extension of the Broadway League with the mission to do just that.
You recently returned to Monterrey, México with the CHICAGO tour. What was it like returning to the place where it all started?
My name was all over billboards and buses all over the city and I thought, “Oh my God this is a lot!” During an interview, someone said, “I know you are an ambassador for Viva Broadway bringing Latinx audiences to Broadway but now you come to Monterrey and they come see you here, so you bring Broadway to Monterrey.” It was crazy to realize my mission is here and there. In México I am seen as the girl that left to learn and go on her journey and returned to show what she’s accomplished and how much she’s grown with this one character that was given to her. In New York I think I’m still paying my dues.
“…the biggest challenges to overcome are the fears inside you. You are the only one that gets in your way.”
With projects such as FOSSE/VERDON and more movie musicals being made, do you think that there will continue to be greater opportunities for triple threats in film and TV?
What’s awesome now with TV projects is that they are making musicals where they need triple threats. It’s wonderful that they are giving the musical theater community a chance to be on the screen as well because they need us. On a recent audition, they were looking for a Latina who could not just act, but also sing and dance and it felt great because I knew how to prepare. It feels like it’s a trend, and for us Latinos, I think now is a wonderful time for us, with more diversity and more opportunities out there.
I see you playing with your beautiful wedding ring, which brings me to this moment in your life. You recently got married to a wonderful man, Joseph Schottland, and you are a stepmom to four lovely girls. How do you balance your family life and work?
For instance. There was talk about me doing CHICAGO in Mexico with a two-month rehearsal period starting in September. That was a deal-breaker for me, as it would take me away from my family. I suggested coming down two weeks prior to the opening for a put in but the director felt it was necessary to build the connection within the new company by having every actor involved throughout the entire rehearsal process. Of course, I understand but I cannot do that because now my priorities are different. I was willing to play the schedule Thursday-Sunday, fly back to NY on the red-eye to spend Monday-Wednesday with my family but they still required the two-month rehearsal process. So, I decided to pass. Maybe, later on, I can come down as a special guest and that’s what we landed on. So, things like that are part of balancing my home life and career. Even Broadway, right now I didn’t want to be away on the weekends performing because I’d rather spend it with my family. We’ve lived that before, me doing eight shows a week with one day off, the girls know what I do. My husband knows what I do. It’s hard, but now I am prioritizing differently. My entire life even during my first marriage I gave to theatre and now, I don’t want to miss out on life.
How is marriage at this stage of your life different?
It is very different. This is the second marriage for both Joseph and I and if only we knew then what we know now (she giggles again). This is why this marriage is so precious to us and that’s why we are more mature than before. We’ve learned our lessons and we don’t want to make the same mistakes. Joseph is more family-oriented and he is bringing me more stability and grounding me so that I can have the family-rich life now that I did not have growing up.
When we all sit down to eat and have our meals as a family, I taught them how to say our own kind of grace before a meal and we hold hands. We don’t necessarily say a prayer because I’m Catholic and Joseph is Jewish, but everyone says something that they are grateful for that day. I was a nomad and a gypsy on the road for years, and it’s the life I chose and it’s been wonderful and glorious. But now I want to live this part of my life a little more traditionally.
HANDS! HIPS! & HATS!
Something you always wanted and have now achieved…
Something you’ve always wanted and have yet to achieve…
The riskiest thing you’ve done…
Went to dinner with this man! (referring to her husband).
Proudest moment so far in your career…
My Broadway debut as “Roxie Hart” in 2002, and “Mary Poppins” in Mexico City. It was a big challenge physically, vocally coupled with the responsibility of playing such a legendary role who means so much to so many people.
Frida, a musical about Frida Kahlo where I get to play her. A benefit for “Dancers for Good”, this year they are awarding the Lifetime Achievement in Dance Tribute to Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Also I am singing at the 50th celebration of The Padres in San Diego with Ross Lekites. Then, back to auditioning and doing what we do.
Advice to the new generation looking to work in the performing arts…
I think the biggest challenges to overcome are the fears inside you. You are the only one that gets in your way. I’m going to finally say this, make sure that you get rid of any walls that you’ve put up, and stop saying “I’m not good enough” or “My voice is not good enough” or “My accent is not good enough.” Get rid of those barriers; knock them down. So, find out what your fears are, what it is that is holding you back and then go do something about it. There will be lots of challenges and it’s okay to fall because it is in the fall that we learn the lesson and we get to pick ourselves back up and dust ourselves off. I trained as a dancer, so I never trained my voice and I always felt I wasn’t a good enough singer until one day I said, “Enough! I’m done feeling sorry for myself and I’m tired of going to auditions feeling embarrassed about my singing. Stop!” So, I went to my voice teacher and I would record my classes and work on my voice and would listen back until I was able to understand and sing with technique. So, stop feeling sorry for yourself and take responsibility.
I want to tell you a story. Michelle Williams and I were randomly seated next to each other on a flight last year from New York to Miami where I flew first class. I had seen her in two movies on previous flights: All the Money in The World and The Greatest Showman. I was very respectful didn’t say anything, but at the very end of the flight I said, “Much light to you,” and she said “Thank you.” And that was it. Months later after the auditions for FOSSE/VERDON I found out she’s playing “Gwen Verdon” and I thought, “Oh, we had lunch together in the sky!” Cut to rehearsals. She is a very shy person who keeps to herself, so I thought I’d be the one to break the ice and I said, “Do you want to hear a funny story?” and I reminded her. “What!?” she says, “Oh how funny.” So we are shooting “Nowadays” in our white suits and there is a moment where we are standing side by side waiting for the director to call action, and she says, “Who would think, a little girl from Mexico and a little girl from Montana?” And then I say to her, “This is exactly how we were seated on that flight, I was to your right, Roxie and Velma.” Right after that they called action and I don’t know if you saw this but she goes like this [she gestures as if Michelle asking for her hand] which wasn’t planned, and so I had this connection with her right as we were starting the number.
A big shout out to Jeremy Daniel photography. Both Bianca and I met Jeremy during his time as a publicist for CHICAGO. Now he spends his time behind the lens as an entertainment photographer. We couldn’t have asked for a better person to capture Bianca’s spirit throughout this interview.
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