When it was announced that supermodel Christie Brinkley would star as Roxie Hart, the demanding song and dance lead in the long-running revival of "Chicago," there were a few raised eyebrows. But the 58-year-old Brinkley has proven to be a winner at the box office in London, on Broadway (during two separate stints) and now on tour.
The road company comes to the Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts for an off-subscription weekend engagement starting Thursday, Oct. 25, and continuing through Sunday, Oct. 28. (Also featured in the cast is John O'Hurley, who grew up in West Hartford and graduated from Kingswood-Oxford School.)
Brinkley started modeling in the 1970s and has appeared on more than 500 magazine covers. She is a mother of three children from her marriages to Billy Joel, Richard Taubman and Peter Cook, the latter in a much-publicized divorce. From her home in Sag Harbor during a break from the tour, she was up-beat, chatty, appreciative and, at times, emotional, choking up when talking about her father who died earlier this year from Parkinson's disease. The following are excerpts from that edited conversation.
Q: Are there similarities between being a super model and performing on a Broadway in terms of presence, focus and how you own a stage?
A: In modeling you're very aware of every move you make. You're thinking, 'Should the shoulders turn three-quarters?' 'Do I move my hips slightly away from the camera to look more slender' At first I didn't want to be be so deliberately pose-y [for the show]. But during the rehearsal period, when I started to slump [the director] would say, 'Christie, stand tall! Think as if you're standing there in a bathing suit.' It became code. He would holler, 'Bathing suit!'"
And then there's the transformation aspects. You can literally watch a model transform in the dressing after coming in hair wet and feeling draggy and then… And if you're there for an editorial [modeling] shoot, sometimes there's an angle or a theme. Maybe they're after a a fierce look, or something smoldering, or maybe something more natural. You bring a certain feeling and you project a character and sometimes that [character] would change depending if you were doing a Harper's Bazaar or a Cosmo cover. Sometimes you're channeling a movie star. By the time you're finished you feel like another person.
Q: Do people have a different image of models compared to when you started?
A: I have seen the image of models go from 'She's-just-a-coat-hanger' mentality, to 'She's-a-brand. I think that's because of people like Lauren Hutton and Tyra Banks who go out and forge a name and say, 'We're real people who can speak and do things. Some of that is due to the proliferation of these magazines [and other media] feeding that celebrity.
Q: How has the modeling business changed?
A: In the early days we did our own hair and makeup — and now! I was a fresh-faced kid from Malibu so there was a lot of '"just be yourself and natural." I remember working the eye lash curler for the first time and pulling out all my lashes.
For 'Chicago' I do my own make-up. As I do it I'm surrounded by pictures from the 1920s on my dressing room wall and I start getting into my character, thinking that [like, Roxie] I'm going down to the nightclub tonight. I give myself a whole story as I paint my lips, much sharper than normally I would and smoke my eyes out, just as Roxie would overdo her makeup. By the time I'm finished and I hear the music start up, I'm there.
While I'm not the best dancer or singer I hope that my enthusiasm comes through and it finds a way to tell the story. I keep trying to be in the moment.
Q: You don't have any singing or dancing training. When you were approached for the role last year, what did you think?
A: My dad convinced me to to go for it. He had this faith in me. He helped me decide that I was not going to be one of those people who allowed their fear to stop them.
I insisted on a real audition though I had no idea on how to audition. I didn't know what a vamp was and that you were supposed to talk over it. I figured if I was that bad they will stop and say 'good try' but I was determined that I was going to give it my all. You know Fosse's less-is-more [style]? Well, I did more-is-more and I just went out there and had fun.
[When it was over] I was proud of myself for doing it, telling myself that it's all OK, whatever, que sera sera. Then Barry [Weissler, the show's producer] came down to where I was and said he would be honored to have me in the show and it was like, 'Whoa!' I was in such a state I thought later that maybe I was just imagining it all or maybe I just dreamt it, especially when I didn't hear from [the production team] right away after that. (She laughs.)
Q: Could you compare the modeling world and the theater community?
A: I have to say the theatrical community is the most embracing community there is. I think it's because when you're on that stage you're all working together in this cohesive way. I found everybody to be so supportive, and so creative on so many levels, including working tirelessly for Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS, which I've had the good fortune to be part of for the last two years. The work that the theater community does [for the fundraising event] has just restored my faith in humanity. Now I truly wish I had danced my whole life and had singing lessons so I could be a better member of this community.
Q: That theme reflects much of your life. You were discovered when you were 18 when you were an art student living in Paris.
A: I go with the flow and, in a way. I have always been open, industrious, adventurous and curious to whatever happens. If I hadn't been curious about modeling something else would have happened.
Q: Such as...?
A: Maybe I would have kept painting.
Q: I look pretty wretched in the morning. What are you like when you go to that bathroom mirror?
A: My morning regimen is I put on sunglasses and a robe and get a big cup of coffee and wake up slowly. And yes the routine has gotten longer. I do feel it's quite interesting that as we age our eyesight starts to go so we don't have to see the details. I remember when I was flying on an airplane and I feel asleep and had forgotten that I had my reading glasses on. When I woke up I looked to the light with my compact mirror and I almost screamed. I closed that window shade so fast!"
I have heard from a lot of women my age that doing this has inspired them to take that job or try something completely new. I think we're all redefining the [age] numbers and what that represents.
Q: And what's ahead for you?
A: I generally take things as they come but I am also launching a cosmetics company — Skincare — and its my own company that I started from the ground up. This is not just putting my name on someone else's product. We've already put out two products but when I finish my 'Chicago' joy and adventure we're going to be put out the rest of the line and really launch it.
Q: After getting a kick from the choreography of 'Chicago,' would you like to be on ''Dancing with the Stars?"
A: I don't know. What I really loved most [from the 'Chicago' experience] was the whole Broadway tradition and mystique and being part of something bigger. I couldn't believe that I was there. I just got a kick out of opening the stage door and putting my hand on the handle and feeling the presence of all those who walked before me. It was that whole world that really excited me. I have been asked [to go on 'Dancing with the Stars'] but I had other conflicts. I have to say it looks like a blast so, who knows?
CHICAGO plays the Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford Thursday, Oct. 25, to Sunday, Oct. 28. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. ad Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $69, not including fees. Information: 860-987-5900 and http://www.bushnell.org.
Read Frank Rizzo's blog on theater, the arts and entertainment at http://www.courant.com/curtain. And be the first to know by following Frank on Twitter at http://www.Twitter,com/ShowRiz.
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