By Alexa Ray Joel
photographs by kate orne | June 17, 2011 | People
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Dress, D&G ($1,345). 434 W. Broadway, NYC; dolceandgabbana.com. Earrings ($9,500) and color sapphire bracelet ($30,300), Bulgari. London Jewelers, 2 Main St., East Hampton; londonjewelers.com. Hammered-gold bangles, Me & Ro ($6,000, set of 3). meandrojewelry.com. Bezet bangles with diamonds in rose and yellow gold ($2,875 each) and metro bangles with diamonds in rose and yellow gold ($6,300 each), Tiffany & Co. 53 Main St., East Hampton; tiffany.com. Bangle with garnet stones, Irene Neuwirth ($6,000). Hirshleifer’s, Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd.; hirshleifers.com. Rings, Pomellato ($2,535 each). London Jewelers, SEE ABOVE. Haute couture sandal, Christian Dior ($1,700). Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd.; dior.com
ALEXA RAY JOEL: So, Mamacita, you’ve made a lot of bold moves throughout your career, but I have to say starring in Chicago on Broadway has to be your most courageous move yet. What made you decide to take on the role of Roxie Hart, and how did you get up the courage to do it?
CHRISTIE BRINKLEY: It’s not every day that one has an opportunity so rife with possibility, excitement and adventure. It awakened me to the realization that this is something I had always dreamed of doing but never had the time, or perhaps even the courage, to pursue. And I didn’t know if I had “the goods,” but I would rather go down in flames than spend the rest of my time wondering, What if? So, with a reckless abandonment and a hot pair of Louboutins, I marched into my audition, ready to have some fun. And believe me, after four or five really tough years, I really was ready to have some fun.
ARJ: I hear you! I know you’ve been having a blast, but there’s also a lot of hard work involved. Give me a brief glimpse into the rigorous preparation required for taking on the massive role of Chicago’s bombshell lead.
CB: First of all, the script for Chicago—written by the brilliant Fred Ebb and the legendary Bob Fosse—is so well done that just reading it gave me a very real understanding of who Roxie Hart was. But then I was also very lucky that this production has been put together by some of the biggest names on Broadway. I got to meet and work with Walter Bobbie, the revival’s original director, and he gave me wonderful emotional direction and some very helpful technical direction. For example, he suggested that I handwrite all my lines in order to open up other neural passageways toward memorizing Roxie’s lines. Also, the show surrounded me with a team of highly knowledgeable and patient professionals such as my conductor Leslie Stifelman, who worked with me on vocals. I’m also lucky enough to get squeezed in, once a week, for lessons with Broadway’s most in-demand vocal coach, Joan Lader, who is helping me find ways to keep singing even through this season’s record-breaking, history-making, highest pollen count ever!
ARJ: And she keeps you singing with constant poise and charm, might I add. I used to have to correct you on your pitch when we would harmonize together from time to time, but I’ve noticed your pitch is right on the money now. Remind me to make an appointment with her for my own vocal training.
CB: You don’t really need it. Your dad always said you
have perfect pitch, remember? But thanks, honey, I’m
glad you’ve noted my improvement.
ARJ: Well hey, I have to be good at something since you’re good at just about everything these days. One of the many things you’ve got a leg up on is dancing (no pun intended).
CB: I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it, but I sure am having fun trying. Three weeks before coming to New York City, I got to work with a wonderful dancer named Steven Sofia for private lessons in my home—three hours a day, three days a week. Once I actually got to New York, my rehearsal schedule intensified to six days a week, from nine or 10 in the morning to six at night. I worked with Chicago’s dance supervisor, Gary Chryst, who, coincidentally, played one of the guys on the motorcycle in your dad’s music video for “Uptown Girl.”
ARJ: I love that! You can’t top the dance moves in that video; I actually find myself going on YouTube to re-watch it pretty often. The dancing is pretty great in it—and you’re not so bad yourself!
CB: Well, thanks, honey; that definitely takes me back. And yes, Gary’s a wonderful dancer; he taught me so much. But the biggest boost to my growing confidence in assuming the role of Roxie was when the great Ann Reinking herself—who, as I’m sure you already know, choreographed this production [in the style of Bob Fosse], as well as starred in the role of Roxie—spent two full days with the cast and crew at rehearsal. And she told me that I made her laugh and cry.
ARJ: And, let me guess, knowing you as I do, then you cried.
CB: Don’t I always?
ARJ: Boy, talk about the icing on the cake [noticing a gorgeous slice of cake sitting on a table in the living room]. Mom, what gives?
CB: Very clever... Chicago just celebrated its 6,000th performance, and they had a giant cake to commemorate this momentous occasion. I was sprawled out over a giant design reading 6,000 on the cake. They gave me a slice to bring back for the kids, but nobody wanted to eat it.
ARJ: That’s because it looks much too pretty to eat.
CB: It’s like my new paperweight now.
ARJ: While we’re on the subject of aesthetics, I see you do all your own makeup for each night’s performance [watching her mother struggle with applying a huge set of false eyelashes]. Now, that’s pretty impressive, I must say.
CB: I think doing the lashes might be the most demanding part of the job. It’s a battle I fight every afternoon—I call it the “Clash with the Lash.” I try to name all my battles, just like the great Muhammad Ali. [Sidenote: As if she hasn’t already done enough, my mom was a boxing photographer back in the day; she even got to photograph Muhammad Ali. I can safely say she’s lived more lives than a cat at this point.—A.R.J.]
|Cardigan, Dries Van Noten ($550). Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave., NYC; bergdorfgoodman.com. Dress, Balenciaga ($4,875). Bergdorf Goodman, SEE ABOVE. Earrings, Pomellato ($26,500). London Jewelers, 47 Main St., Southampton; londonjewelers.com. Necklace, Ippolita ($3,000). On special request, London Jewelers, 2 Main St., East Hampton; londonjewelers.com. Shoes, Christian Louboutin ($2,095). 965 Madison Ave., NYC; christianlouboutin.com|
ARJ: Speaking of athletes, Roxie Hart is a very athletic role for you. I’m dying to know, how do you keep your energy up for performing a staggering eight shows a week? Just thinking about is exhausting.
CB: Some people think exercise is draining; for me, it’s energizing. So, before each performance, I do about 20 minutes of both Total Gym and yoga exercises. And on show days I eat light; I’m a vegetarian and I prefer organic food. And it’s highly invigorating and motivating to know that I have this rare opportunity to step out on a stage and tell a great story, and give people an enjoyable evening. That, more than anything else, keeps me going.
ARJ: And, Mamacita, wherever you go, you go in style. Tell me about your personal sense of style. I would call it “chameleon’s casual-chic” because you vacillate between so many different looks. How would you describe it?
CB: “Chameleon?” That’s funny. When I was younger, I probably fit that description much more. I used to drape myself in indigenous clothing from around the world, very much a role-playing wardrobe.
ARJ: Like your theater outfits.
CB: Yes, I love my Roxie Hart wardrobe, designed by the famous costumer William Ivey Long. And while my personal style is eclectic—and varies daily, depending on my mood—there always has to be an element of comfort to it.
ARJ: Well, if you ask me, you look quite comfortable in your theater outfits. I’m obsessed with the tailored, sexy, black jackets you and your costar [the brilliant Amra-Faye Wright, who plays Velma Kelly] wear.
CB: I agree; it’s a timeless look. The first time they handed me my bowler hat and cane, I felt like bursting into tears. I was so honored to be entrusted with that classic, iconic Chicago imagery.
ARJ: I’d say you’ve earned that right, especially considering how much you give back to the community. Among your latest philanthropic work, you recently performed in the Easter Bonnet Competition for Broadway Cares.
CB: Broadway Cares is a nonprofit organization that helps people living with HIV/AIDS, breast and ovarian cancers and other critical diseases who can’t afford the medical and emotional attention they need. This year, it’s also helping victims of the catastrophe in Japan. The Easter Bonnet Competition is its annual fundraiser and every Broadway show contributes a scene. So, for two days, people can buy tickets to a show that’s incredibly creative, wildly entertaining and inspiring in the generosity of time, energy and effort it takes this beautiful Broadway community to put it together.
ARJ: Wow, you’re a part of so many different communities now. Stop making me look so lazy! So, this raises the question, do you have any important, personalized message for your fellow Hamptonites?
CB: Well, since you guys are probably reading this from a beach in the Hamptons, I’d like to remind you that you are in the crosshairs of several old, leaky nuclear reactors that we need to join together to shut down. For updates on this subject, as well as other environmental updates, please visit my Facebook page. Sorry, I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer here….
ARJ: Actually, your Facebook page is probably the cheeriest page I’ve seen—and you’re so active on it. Come to think of it, you’re super active in every aspect of your life. Multitasking has never been my strong suit, so I always wonder, how are you juggling all your various careers? You’re a jewelry designer, you recently designed an organic skincare line and you still manage to make quality time for Jack and Sailor [Brinkley’s two other children]. Luckily, I’m a regular fixture at your shows, so we see each other all the time, but really, how do you do it?
CB: Right now, it’s all working symbiotically; everything is really copacetic. I’m trying not to question it too much.
ARJ: I think it’s because you’re genuinely enjoying every aspect of your life. Plus, you’re not exactly the type to sit around and veg out in front of the TV. Laziness doesn’t ever seem to tempt you, which is so incredibly baffling to me. [As I’m saying this, my mother is seamlessly answering my questions while flipping backward, forward and sideways on a yoga mat.] But honestly, I think this is the happiest I’ve ever seen you.
CB: Yes, honey, life is… good... grand... great... swell… fun.... Isn’t it, nowadays?
ARJ: If you’re not sure what my mother was just referring to, then you are in desperate need of seeing her performance in Chicago. Even if you are clued in, go see her anyway, and I’ll see you in the front row.
Styling by Wayne Scot Lukas for waynescotlukas.com
Styling assistant Deb Cantillo for whattowearonmain.com
Makeup by Moyra Mulholland for Dior Beauty
Hair by Mitch Barry for Bryan Bantry Inc.
Photographed on location at The River Café, Brooklyn