Broadway Sandwich: "Chicago"
Follow Broadway's biggest stars during their breaks between matinee and evening performances. Go rock climbing with Jessica Ernest from “Chicago.”
We wanted high stakes on "Broadway Sandwich,"
but I don't know if we wanted this high of a stake.
I mean, this is really a lot.
Scribner: The lives of Broadway performers are busy.
They only have a few short hours
between their matinee and evening performances.
And they're giving us an inside look, from grabbing a bite
to unwinding, plus a backstage tour.
Have you ever wanted to see what we do in the time
sandwiched between performances?
Follow along and find out.
This is "Broadway Sandwich."
Today we're at the Ambassador Theatre,
where the Grammy-, Olivier-,
and six-time Tony-winning American musical "Chicago"
is about to let out its matinee.
♪ Come on, babe, why don't we paint the town? ♪
♪ And all that jazz? I'm gonna rouge my knees ♪
Scribner: "Chicago" is based on a series of true
high-profile murder cases
committed by women in Jazz Age Chicago.
The story follows Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly,
rival vaudeville stars who use their trials to gain
publicity and popularity -- and eventually their freedom.
"Chicago" is the longest-running
American musical on Broadway today.
It just celebrated 22 years.
This is actually a revival of the show.
The original show played from 1975 to 1977,
and the original team included Kander and Ebb
and, of course, Bob Fosse.
♪ Oh, she's gonna shimmy till her garters break ♪
Scribner: Today we're meeting up with Jessica Ernest.
Jessica plays Go-To-Hell Kitty, an heiress who commits murder
and steals the spotlight from Roxie and Velma.
Let's go meet her.
♪ And all that jazz ♪
Hi! Hey, Jessica!
How was your matinee?
It was great. It was really good.
Okay, so, you have a show to do tonight.
I do, another one.
And you have a big break between.
Mm-hmm. So, what's the plan?
Well, I think we're gonna go do a little
poke bowl action to eat... Mmm, delish.
...and then maybe rock-climb.
How do you feel about that?
You rock-climb between shows?
Yeah, and then we'll come back and do a little theater tour.
Unbelievable. Let's go. Yeah?
It is. Get ready.
Have you had a poke bowl before?
Definitely had a poke bowl. Okay, good.
But let's talk about you.
So, this is your Broadway debut, this show.
It is, yeah. Two years ago.
You've been in the show for two years.
Had you been in "Chicago" before?
Mm! How many times have you been in the show?
maybe six. Six times?
It was actually my first audition
after I graduated from college,
and they were actually looking for a Go-To-Hell Kitty,
which is the role I play in the show now.
And as a nonunion performer,
I got typed in, so I got to dance.
I got to do "All That Jazz."
So, to think that in 2011, I...
I mean, I wasn't ready then.
I definitely was not ready.
But it could've happened then,
and it just took another eight...
seven... seven years?
When was... I don't even know.
All good things are worth the wait, though, you know?
That was supposed to happen for you.
Definitely, and so much happened with me as a person
and as a performer since then.
I auditioned in New York, and I booked a cruise ship.
I was Singer 2 on a cruise ship,
and it was the most incredible experience of my life.
Oh, I got to be a show girl in Las Vegas
in Donn Arden's "Jubilee!"
The costumes were so incredible, and that stage was giant.
It was like two football fields
and had elevators that would go up and down.
Okay, so, the thing that most people don't know is
that when we get these roles,
when we get a call to go in for a show...
...we have no time to get ready to do it.
Like, we have to go in so fast, learn it all,
and barely get any stage rehearsal.
What was it like for you in "Chicago"?
Well, most people start a show together,
and they all get to rehearse it for, you know, sometimes...
Six weeks, eight weeks, yeah. Right, exactly.
But with us, our show's been running for 23 years.
And you just have to be thrown into the show,
'cause some people have -- like, I've now -- in two years,
I've done the show 800 times.
So if we put someone new into the show,
I don't need to learn it again, because I've learned it.
It's basically second nature.
So, you said 800 times you've done the show?
Yeah, you think like 400 a year.
Ooh! That's a lot.
800 slides down the banister.
Oh, my gosh.
So, for the show, I actually have the first line of the show.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder,
greed, corruption, violence,
exploitation, adultery, and treachery --
all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.
My parents were at my Broadway debut on my opening night.
And after the show, my mom said to me, she said,
"Jessica, did they give you that line just because we were here?
Or do you get to do that every night?"
So sweet. I said, "No, that's my line!"
Like, I get -- That's my line in the script.
Yeah. It didn't really hit me
until I was walking up the alleyway
out the stage door after the show,
what had just happened that day.
Every cylinder has to be firing in you for it to go well
and not to run into anyone and to remember all your lines
and to remember all your vocal notes and everything.
And I just started tearing up walking up the alleyway.
Why? Just moment of relief?
I don't know. It made me tear up now
just thinking about it. It was so great.
You feel like you made it.
Some people have that Cinderella story,
and they get off the bus and they book
their first show or whatever,
and that was not my experience at all.
So once it was there, it just even made it
that much more special, I think.
You earned it. Yeah.
You should be really proud. Yeah.
And one of the ways you stay strong
is by rock-climbing between shows.
So, should we go? Let's do it. Come on.
I hope I don't throw up my poke.
So, I want to talk about the fact
that this is a Fosse show, which means that --
Yes, it's the only Fosse show currently on Broadway.
What makes doing a show with Fosse choreography
different from doing something else?
Well, I think the Fosse style is so iconic.
There's so much to it, but yet it's also so simple
that it is unlike anything else.
Subtle. Yeah, sensual.
Yeah. A little tongue-in-cheek.
Yeah. And dark, but --
I like how you put your hand on your hip
and you just, like, fall right back into it.
You want to, like, do a little? Here, wait.
Yeah, teach me some. Okay, so, shoulders.
Your legs. Shoulder, leg.
A little Charlie Chaplin. Yeah?
And then stop and plié and wipe your nose.
Now the other way. Oh!
Sh-sh-sh! I got it!
That is good.
Hi. How's it going? Hi!
We're here to climb, like that movie "Free Solo."
That's kind of how I envision myself for this moment.
I don't know if that's normal for everybody.
No, we need to be safe, please.
Safety first. No, she's a pro.
Now, do we hold each other with the ropes?
Or is someone else gonna...
We're gonna hold them for you.
Oh, thank God.
Just trying to remember what that guy from "Free Solo"
did to warm up, you know. Yeah, a lot of, you know...
That's good. That's about right.
It's how I envisioned this experience for me right now.
Amazing. This is so great.
Who knew this is right here, right next to Times Square?
Right here. Incredible.
So, kind of go up like you're in a triangle --
hands, feet, hands, feet.
Ooh, that was like a Fosse move right there.
That was some kind of Broadway...
Ooh! Duh-na-na-na-na-na! Are you a dancer?
That was "A Chorus Line."
I don't love heights.
Okay, now I'm starting to notice the height a little.
I feel like a dog when a dog gets picked up
and they don't want to be picked up.
♪ Give 'em the old razzle dazzle ♪
♪ Razzle dazzle 'em ♪
I made it! Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch.
Did you make it? Yay! You did it!
[ Laughs ]
I'll take it. Look at that.
You did great. Alright!
Well, I'd love to climb this wall again with you.
But, first of all, I can't because I'm too tired.
My biceps are shot. Aw!
And more importantly, we have to get you back
for your second show. Yeah, we do.
You have to perform again. Okay, but come next weekend.
You'll come next weekend, and we'll go again?
Okay, that sounds good. That sounds good.
Uh, we can't really leave, because we're tied up.
I'm stuck. I think I'm attached.
But as soon as we get untied, we're gonna get out of here.
Okay, so you know what it's time for? What?
It's time for our 60-Second Sandwich.
One minute on the clock.
You have to answer as many questions
as you can in one minute. Are you ready?
I'm ready. And...
we're off! Okay.
From @factsofbroadway on Insta --
Favorite song in "Chicago"?
Uh, "Cell Block Tango."
Insta user @linds.rc
wants to know, "How do you deal with nerves onstage?"
Practice! Practice, practice, practice.
Practice! Do you sing in the shower?
Yes. What song?
Uh, whatever's on the radio.
@broadwayhacks101 wants to know,
"What's your worst onstage slip-up?"
I don't know. I can't think of one.
Okay, we'll go back. Go back.
Insta user Justin wants to know,
"Any failed attempts sliding down that ramp in the show?
And if so, how did you recover?"
But once -- once -- I almost fell,
and the violin player had a Stradivarius,
and I almost kicked him and almost broke
his million-dollar violin. Didn't.
That would not have been good. 20 seconds left.
Makeup -- do you take it off between shows or leave it on?
Leave it on. Leave it on.
Best advice for someone trying to get to Broadway?
Practice. Learn everything you can.
Keep training. Favorite Broadway show?
10 seconds! Aah, aah!
"Chicago"! First theater experience?
First theater experience?
Favorite post-show treat?
Taco Bell. Oh, that's it!
Perfect! Taco Bell!
Great. Nailed it. You nailed it.
Now you got to go do a second show.
Oh, my gosh! Let's go.
I need some Taco Bell now.
[ Both laugh ]
Okay, so, here we are onstage at the Ambassador Theatre.
Pretty cool, right?
What was it like the first time you were out here?
Undescribable, I think.
You know, it was stepping on this stage that I knew
I was making my Broadway debut on
for the very first time, and it was just the ghost light
and just the house lights and the work lights.
And just knowing that this was gonna be my life...
Pretty awesome. Yeah.
It has an amazing energy. It really does feel good.
It does. It really does.
Okay, so, we have to talk about your entrance onto the stage,
which is sliding down this whole bandstand onto the stage.
Yes, yes. Tell us how that happens
and what you have to do to get up there.
Well, I climb up a little ladder.
So, you know, rock-climbing helps that.
Exactly. I climb up the ladder,
and I go up right next to the trumpet player.
Okay. So, Trumpet 2 is right there.
So, I hang out right by him,
and then I pop up when they introduce me,
and I get my spotlight.
And then you get on, and you know, you let go.
Can you show us the ladder how you get up there?
Yeah, of course. Come on over.
Okay, so there's a hidden ladder in here.
Yes, this ladder here gets taken off by one of the set guys.
And he sets it up here, and the trumpet player
actually opens up the little hatch that I crawl through.
The musicians are also stagehands here.
Uh-huh, uh-huh. And they have to be actors
because they're onstage with us the whole time.
Ooh! What's that paycheck like?
Yeah, right? Can only imagine.
So then I climb up the little ladder,
and there I am, up the hatch,
and then get on and slide on down.
It's an amazing entrance. I have to say.
Thank you. It's my favorite.
This is my dressing room and my four
And as if it wasn't enough to rock-climb
between shows and do the first show,
you had to climb up a bunch of stairs to get here.
Four flights of stairs. You probably do that many times.
Oh, yes, multiple times.
Alright, let's see your dressing room.
Yes. Alright, come on in.
This is my little spot over in the corner.
Let's see -- pictures of my family, my boyfriend,
my brother and his dog, my Razzle Dazzle Rose crayon.
Ooh, make sure we get that.
Oh, and then, here.
You want to put it on? Sure.
There we go. That's better.
I love backstage at "Chicago"!
Alright, yeah, so tell us about these costumes.
Yes, okay. So, my panties.
I have my bra in here. I have my tights.
That's what we're here for on "Broadway Sandwich"
-- bra and panties in goodie bags.
And my blousy crop top. Cool.
But that's not much. No.
And my shoes. Don't forget my shoes.
Did you feel really exposed
when you wore that for the first time onstage?
It's more clothes than I wear at the beach.
So, what's it like being in a show that's such an institution?
I mean, it's been around for a long time.
People have been in the show 20 years, some people.
Yeah, yeah. I think, honestly,
I never thought I would make my Broadway debut in this show,
because it is such an institution.
Yeah. People like Donna Marie,
who have done this show for 20 years...
Hey, Donna Marie. You've been doing it 20 years?
Donna Marie: I was 12 when I started.
She was. That's true.
What's your piece of advice? Yeah, please!
Oh, my God. Give us something.
You know, you realize that there's never the same audience
and there's never the same reaction.
So everyone that comes into the theater deserves 100%.
And if you can't give it, then it's time to leave.
Yes. I love that.
Yes. That's wonderful.
So, until then, you're here, and you love it.
Hell yeah. Yeah!
I love that. Alright.
Thank you so much. Thank you.
Have a great show. Thanks!
See you next time. I'll break a leg.
More Episodes (9)
Broadway Sandwich: “Beautiful” and “Hadestown”October 16, 2019
Broadway Sandwich: “My Fair Lady” and “The Lion King”October 02, 2019
Broadway Sandwich: "Waitress" and "Chicago"September 10, 2019
Broadway Sandwich: "The Cher Show" and "Beetlejuice"September 04, 2019
Broadway Sandwich: “The Prom” and “Pretty Woman”August 21, 2019
“The Band’s Visit” and “Wicked”February 20, 2019
- TheaterOur most popular episodes and shows of 2019, from “Broadway Sandwich” to “The C-Files”December 27, 2019
- TheaterFans start campaign to save “Beetlejuice” amid Broadway hit’s looming evictionDecember 10, 2019
- “My Fair Lady” actor Rebecca Eichenberger shares showbiz wisdom in “Broadway Sandwich”September 25, 2019