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From the Beach to Broadway: How Pamela Anderson Landed Chicago

That's not a Baywatch joke. She was literally on the beach when Rob Marshall saw her.

Pamela Anderson in a promotional image for Chicago
(© Ellen von Unwerth)

Ten years ago, Pamela Anderson says, she had a fateful encounter on the beach.

No, there was no red bathing suit involved; instead, it was a surfboard. It was at a surf contest with her children that Anderson had a chance encounter with Rob Marshall, director of the 2002 film adaptation of Chicago, who had watched her moves and decided for himself that Anderson needed to play Roxie Hart on Broadway.

"He was like, 'I'm calling Barry Weissler,'" Anderson remembers, "and I was like, 'Sure, here's my number. Ha-ha.' The next day, Barry called me."

Chicago on Broadway has become synonymous with star and stunt casting in most of its central roles, and it's no surprise that Weissler, the show's lead producer of 25 years, would want Anderson, she of Baywatch and Borat and the cover of every supermarket checkout counter magazine in the world, to play Roxie Hart. It took a decade, but her name is on the marquee at the Ambassador Theatre starting tonight, April 12, and will stay in lights for the next eight weeks at least.

When Weissler called her the first time, she turned the job down because her children were young and she didn't want to be away from them. As she started working on her memoirs over the last year or so, she realized that an opportunity had passed her by. Out of the blue, toward the start of 2022, Weissler called again. This time, she didn't have any excuse.

It happened fast. She signed on in mid-February and she was in rehearsals in Los Angeles a few weeks later. "It's a lot to learn, to say the least," Anderson says, dazed but extremely happy. "The two weeks I did in LA were pretty eye-opening. Voice was three to four days a week. Dancing was every day. In New York, it was five or six hours a day either in the theater or in a rehearsal studio, for vocal coaching and singing. It feels like jumping into the fire and figuring it out when you get there. I know it sounds crazy to a theater person, but I didn't know what I was in for. And now the pieces of the puzzle have come together." She credits associate choreographer Greg Butler, supervising musical director Rob Fisher, and her acting coach, Ivana Chubbuck, with getting her Broadway ready.

In Roxie, in Chicago itself, she does indeed see a lot of parallels with her own life. "It's an iconic story because the message of how the media can be good or bad, or used was a weapon, doesn't get old. No wonder it's been on Broadway for 25 years." And she's having a ball. "I didn't realize how much I needed this. I needed something to help me see what I'm capable of. I'm going full throttle, which is the only way to go. It's all or nothing." An added bonus is that she doesn't really have anything to compare it to. "I've never had the opportunity to do any of this, so I have no expectations except that I have to be my best and have fun. Because when you're having fun, everyone else is."

As for her favorite part of the show? "'Nowadays,' with the cane and the hat. It's so emotional. There's three parts to that song: the broken part, the survival part, and the empowerment. And the longer you rehearse, you see the levels. It sounds crazy of me trying to break it all down like that, but it's all new to me and I'm enjoying it so much." She smiles widely. "I hope that comes across. I'm vibrating. It's like, 'Let's do this!'"

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