Angelica Ross says it’s ‘about time’ of history-making turn on Broadway in ‘Chicago’

Angelica Ross is making her mark. The acclaimed actress is currently starring as Roxie Hart in “Chicago” on Broadway, making history as the first openly transgender woman to headline a show on the Great White Way.

Ross’ history-making, eight-week run began on Sept. 12 at the Ambassador Theatre and audiences are pouring in to see the “Pose” actress take on one of Broadway’s most beloved roles. Broadway has welcomed transgender talent as of late (L Morgan Lee made history with a Tony nomination for her role in ‘A Strange Loop’ earlier this year), but Ross makes history as the first transgender woman to ever headline a show. Ross told theGrio that it’s “about time.”

Out of all of the classic roles on Broadway, Roxie Hart is one that features triple-threat talent as she sings, dances and acts her way throughout the Kander and Ebb musical. Ross’ own experience growing up in the theater, acting in television and creating her own music, makes her a perfect fit for the role.

27th Annual Critics Choice Awards - Arrivals
Angelica Ross attends the 27th Annual Critics Choice Awards on March 13, 2022 at Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles. The actress is currently making Broadway history with her role in “Chicago.” (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association)

“When my agent called me and said that ‘Chicago’ wanted to talk to me about doing the role of Roxie, he was like, ‘Thank goodness you’ve been like singing and releasing music and kind of conditioning your body and your voice this whole time … it just felt like another step in the right direction that was mirroring my passions of acting and music together.”

Ross has a successful television career in shows like “Pose” and “American Horror Story,” but the unique live experience of performing on a stage, she explained, is something that is hard to replicate.

“One thing I missed about being in the theater was the sort of live energy. Even in the silence as a character, when you can hear a pin drop in the theater … I love those moments,” she said. “I love doing television, but it definitely is a different animal when you have to get in and out of character in-between cuts, sometimes filming things backwards and filming out of sequence, so its really nice to go on an emotional roller coaster that is Roxie Hart.

Ross also has had the support of castmates, many of whom have been with “Chicago” on Broadway for over a decade. After initially rehearsing alone in Los Angeles, she eventually arrived in New York, where the company slowly added other cast members into her rehearsal process.

“My opening preview night on Monday [Sept. 12] was the first time, when I actually got to have the lights off, put on my microphone, the whole costume and work with the whole cast … so it was really hard,” she said. “They [the cast] are the most supportive. Some of the people in that cast, they have been working there for 10 years, and some of the people in the orchestra — like 70, 80-years-old — have been in the orchestra since the beginning. So, when you walk into the space it definitely feels like a family unit. It doesn’t feel like a transient space. The business is the business, but everyone just wrapped their arms around me and have been so supportive. They make me look even better!”

Speaking to trans and LGBTQ+ visibility and the significance of her turn as Roxie, Ross told theGrio that she has been “very mindful” of keeping the community at the front of her mind as she takes on this role. “This is my experience and this is my path to walk, but I understand how that also is inspiring other people and encouraging other people. My first night, seeing so many trans and nonbinary people in the audience. I was really happy that I was able to have a conversation with the “Chicago” crew and the directors … and kind of bring about a little change.”

The conversation to which Ross is referring is one about the character of Mary Sunshine. Her wig is ripped off her head in the original iteration of the musical. Much of the general public may not see the character as a trans person, but Ross was able to educate her collaborators on why the character is, reminding them of trans audience members who may have to sit through a potentially transphobic moment in the show.

“I talked to the whole crew and was like listen, ‘we all love a good ‘Ru-veal’, [the “reveal” moments popularized in “RuPaul’s Drag Race”]. The difference in it is agency, and if we can see that the person has agency in making that reveal, then we can all enjoy it,” Ross recalled. “The change is a small thing from Billy Flynn taking off her wig to her taking off her own wig. I feel like it landed wonderfully with the audience. Everyone had a good time and I think it’s just the small little changes that make the world of a difference.”

Tickets are currently on sale for “Chicago.”

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