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January 26, 2016
Interview: From Roxie Hart to Anita in ‘West Side Story’, Bianca Marroquín Conquers the World, One Song at a Time

IMG_8827 copiaThe first thing that strikes you about Bianca Marroquín is her light. If she were performing in a darkened room, she would make it brighter through sheer force of will. Her megawatt smile lighting every single corner it touched. After that comes her grace, she seems to float onstage, evidence of her lifelong training as a classical dancer, and most likely what allows her to have the precise comedic timing of someone like Giulietta Masina or Charles Chaplin. Then she opens her mouth to sing, and it’s like discovering a whole new world. Her voice can go from deep bass notes, to an angelic soprano in a matter of seconds, touching every fiber of the people she’s performing for.

She is currently starring on Broadway as Roxie Hart in Chicago, a part she’s been living with for more than a decade and which has seen her act opposite Usher, Tony Yazbek, George Hamilton and Tom Wopat among others. As the fame-starved murderess she subtly takes over the stage to deliver a delicious, wicked performance. Whether she’s singing and dancing, or reacting to her co-stars, you simply can not take your eyes away from her. And just when you think you have her performance pegged down - “oh, she’s a perfect comedian!” -  she pulls the rug from under you, for never has the stage seen a more devastatingly heartbreaking Roxie.

The Mexican actress will surely bring this complexity to Anita in Carnegie Hall’s upcoming production of West Side Story, part of the legendary institution’s Somewhere Project which will see the classic musical set inside a Queens’ factory. Playing opposite Skylar Astin as Tony, and newcomer Morgan Hernández as Maria, the once-in-a-lifetime production commemorates Carnegie Hall’s 125th anniversary. The role of Anita is one of the most famous in all of musical theatre, and Marroquín’s tenacity and passion are sure to make her performance unforgettable.

I had the opportunity to speak to Ms. Marroquín whose eloquent responses and thoughtful silences, were even more impressive because of her warmth and sincerity. She spoke about her upcoming projects, her dedication to her craft and to bringing musical theatre to Latin America, and shared an optimistic, grateful worldview, so infectious, that it truly ought to be followed.

March is going to be a huge month for you. Not only are you going to be doing West Side Story, but you will also have a show at 54 Below. Can you talk about what audiences can expect from that show?

Yes, I actually had one show at 54 Below about a year and a half ago, it was lovely, and I feel very honored and privileged to be able to perform on that legendary stage. I received the invitation once more and it’s very special to me, because I like to do my concerts very autobiographically according to what I’ve lived and experienced. A lot has happened since my last appearance there, so I’m eager and excited to put on my show, it will happen right after West Side Story so I will have more to include in the repertoire because I like including things I’ve done. I’ve always dreamed of including something from West Side Story but I hadn’t a chance to do it, so this concert will be full of surprises, it will be a show that celebrates life.

Speaking of your own life experiences, your album El mundo era mío, is so beautiful, and I wanted to ask how important it is for you to write and record your own music, while you get to perform all these other great parts by famous composers?

It’s so special to me to get to do this, I need to do this to keep my heart, passion and creativity flowing. Recording that album was an amazing experience, I released it before my first 54 Below concert, so I was able to share a lot from it. I need to do this more! There were so many songs that didn’t fit in El mundo era mío! I have another album I recorded four years ago, called Mis tesoros, it’s all boleros and Spanish standards from the 40s and 50s from different Spanish speaking countries. There are beautiful songs from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Peru among others. To me this was really special, I’ve been waiting this album to see the light, there were some problems during the last four years, but I’m very excited and happy to share that I finally have the complete rights in my hands for the album, and it will be released soon enough. I will definitely share some of those songs at 54 Below, there’s a lot to share, it will be my best show yet!

You’ve been doing Chicago on and off since 2002, how do you keep the performance fresh every night?

Precisely because of all the things I’ve lived. All that has happened to me in the last 14 years, I started doing Chicago 15 years ago when I starred in the Spanish version in Mexico. The same creative team from New York came down to Mexico and they cast me as Roxie, I was very young at heart and mind, so I didn’t have a lot to offer Roxie back then. I had to pull a lot out of a hat, and use my imagination and instincts, but my experiences were very different. I married my first love when I was very young, and Roxie has been through a lot of men (laughs) so I didn’t know anything about that, I was a very protected girl. Throughout the years I’ve gone through a divorce, I lost my mother, I changed countries, I’ve lost things...I know about loss, victory, happiness, sadness and pain. That’s why it keeps getting more interesting, deep, honest and human, because every time I leave Roxie something happens, and then I come back with something more to share.

The brilliant thing about Roxie is in her monologue, when she tears down the fourth wall and is able to talk and connect to the audience. I try to connect with each and every single person in the audience, to make them feel special, like I’m including them in the story. There are many things now that I understand about Roxie; her hunger, her disappointment, her passion, things I can share with her, so I grow as a human being, a woman and a performer, I keep sharpening my tools, my arms. I feel like I go to war every time. Just the fact that there’s a new audience each night makes it different, there’s also different actors around you, so it can never be the same show.

Chicago has been running for 20 years, so they keep being creative in as who to bring as a guest star, so for us the regulars, part of the family, we get to share this energy from all these amazing people from different industries. We are grateful to receive them, and are eager to learn from them as well.

Credit: Jeremy Daniel
Credit: Jeremy Daniel

I grew up in Latin America, and throughout my childhood when I thought of Broadway musicals it was your face I saw in the Hispanic versions of Beauty and the Beast and Chicago. So to see you on Broadway fills me with such pride!

Thank you!

You were also the first Mexican actress to play the lead in a Broadway musical, and have also become an official ambassador for musical theatre in the rest of the world. Do you think it’s part of your mission to bring musical theatre to Latin America specifically?

Absolutely! Thanks for sharing this with me. When I first got the invitation to crossover and be on Broadway, I learned the day of my debut, June 18th, 2002, that this was not only a personal success of mine. I learned that it wasn’t only a success for my own country Mexico, but a success for all Spanish speaking countries, because I learned that there were very few Latinos being heads of a Broadway company. The press were actually the ones who told me about this historical fact, by now it’s been more than 60 years when Manolo Fábregas was the first Mexican to crossover with The King and I, after him came Claudio Brook. Reporters would tell me this when I did interviews, and they were educating me, so these facts stayed with me.

Now that I know this information I take the role and the responsibility very seriously. Now that we are very exposed and have social media, it’s so easy to connect with your fans, so I read what people say, I do my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I’m very fascinated with how the universe works, I have a very precise philosophy of life and I love to share it, because it helps me to understand and remain positive. If I share it I find it can help people, we are all fighting our own battles, I feel when I share my own personal mission, when it comes from an honest place, I can help others. This platform, of being the first Mexican woman head of a Broadway company, allows me to connect with people. I know I’ve accomplished a dream that is a lot of people’s dream, I’m realizing a dream that belongs to a lot of people. I know they’re watching me, what are the choices I make, the decisions I take. From day one I told God, I see the role you are giving me, I accept it and I’m allowing it to happen. That’s what it’s going to be like for the rest of my days because I don’t plan stepping off the stage.

I hope not!

I hope not too! Chita Rivera is still up there, she is one of my icons and idols. I look up to her and share a small relationship with her, we’ve done projects through the years, and I have love and deep admiration for her. We’ll evolve into other things, but I don’t plan to stop sharing the gifts God gave me, they’re not mine. They come from above, and our duty is to keep polishing and developing them. They’re borrowed, they’re not mine. I’m grateful for being able to sing, dance, be sensitive and emotional so I can connect with people.

Bianca Marroquín and Amra-Faye Wright in 'Chicago'. Credit: Jeremy Daniel

Bianca, and now you’re inheriting this beautiful part of Anita in West Side Story! I squealed from happiness when I saw you’d been cast. It’s a part that’s been played by Chita, Rita Moreno, Karen Olivo, now Bianca Marroquí’s such a beautiful legacy of strong Latinas. For starters how did you end up getting this part?

I was in Mexico last year working on my personal concert Bianca Marroquín En Concierto, when casting from Carnegie called me and they asked me to audition for Anita. I told them I wasn’t in New York, so they said I could send them a video. They asked me to put “A Boy Like That” on tape, so they sent me the music, I prepared an audition, got myself a piano player and a friend of mine who’s a soprano did Maria. I sent them that, they said Carnegie “is freaking out with you” (laughs), but before they show your video to the Bernstein Estate, they would like to give you some notes and indications so you can improve your audition. The director and music director sent me an email with their indications, “do this, do that, stand here, don’t stand so close to the piano so it won’t overpower your voice...” I did it again with my team. We sent it, I said to God “if it’s for me, it’s for me”, and it came back with an official offer from Carnegie.

It’s an honor to play Anita in this historical masterpiece! But being a part of Carnegie history, you have no idea how privileged I feel. Like you said, to follow the steps of these iconic Latina women...this is one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever received. Also a huge responsibility, no pressure, right? Especially because we only have a month of rehearsal for only three performances. I started mini rehearsals recently, with the musical director and the lovely Morgan Hernández who is playing Maria. Just yesterday I did “A Boy Like That” for real this time, with our Maria! Every time I’m at Carnegie Hall I take a moment to take it all in. Look at where you are, how far you’ve come, don’t take anything for granted! Never, ever stop saying thank you. Official rehearsals start February 2, so it’s all about West Side Story now. We only have three performances, so I best bring it! I’ll be the best I can for these three performances.

You’ve played Maria in The Sound of Music, Roxie in Chicago, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but Anita in West Side Story, will be your first Sondheim. Which other of his great parts are you looking forward to playing?

Anita was one of the big ones! Anita has come into my life several times, but never as far as to stay with me. It was only glimpses of her, tastes of her, and Sondheim too. The fact that it’s coming back into my life makes me so inspired to explore more of Sondheim’s world, to see what else I can do. To be honest with you, I thought Sondheim was a too complex world for me, that maybe I wasn’t refined enough for Sondheim. Can you believe that? I’m probably too humble, although I don’t think there is such a thing, but people tell me to dream bigger and know I can do more things.

I started as a dancer first, so I never thought I’d reach vocally the things that I’ve reached, or acting wise. I reached a point where I realized my voice was not up to par with my dancing, so I started training more vocally. I’m a trained dancer since age 3, but vocals came later. When I finally started training vocally with Barbara Bliss, may she rest in peace, she taught me so much and gave me so many tools. So when I stepped into auditions I would stop saying “I’m just a dancer who can hold a tune”. I was tired of saying that, I got off the couch and got to work. Barbara taught me technique in my singing, so I think now I’m going to dare, wander and explore Sondheim’s repertoire so I can answer your question properly next time.

For tickets to West Side Story click here.

For tickets to Bianca Marroquín's show at 54 Below click here.
For tickets to Chicago click here.

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Written by: Jose Solis
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