Chicago's Robyn Hurder and Bianca Marroquín Compare Notes on Playing Roxie and Velma | Playbill

Special Features Chicago's Robyn Hurder and Bianca Marroquín Compare Notes on Playing Roxie and Velma

After years of camaraderie, the two friends are finally opposite each other in Broadway's longest-running musical.

Robyn Hurder and Bianca Marroquín in Chicago Jeremy Daniel

Chicago's Cook County Jail may be murders' row, but backstage, the queens of the clink are having a marvelous time.

After years of dancing around it, the long-running Kander and Ebb musical now stars fan favourites (and close friends) Bianca Marroquín as Roxie Hart and Tony nominee Robyn Hurder as Velma Kelly. The journey to co-stardom has been a winding one for the duo—Hurder started off as Marroquín's understudy when she played Roxie in 2017.

"Bianca was, like, my idol," Hurder exclaims as Marroquín laughs. "Bianca is my Roxie. She was my world." As Marroquín's understudy, Hurder put hours of effort into memorizing her every move, learning to slip into Marroquín's interpretation of the starry-eyed protagonist. "She became a part of my core," Hurder sighs, looking on with love as Marroquín shakes her head indulgently.

Hurder would have struggled to pick a more qualified Roxie to pattern herself upon: Marroquín is deeply intertwined with Chicago and its history.

"Chicago has been my life," Marroquín says, smiling. "I started in 2001, when I was 23 years old. I've literally grown up with it. I started first in Mexico City, performing in Spanish, and six months later, they pulled me out and brought me to Broadway." As Roxie, Marroquín made history as one of the first Mexican actors to play a principal role on Broadway. In the intervening years, Marroquín has returned to the Broadway production 24 times. "The only constant thing in life is change, but in my life, it's also Chicago and Roxie."

Bianca Marroquín in Chicago Jeremy Daniel

While Hurder's journey with Chicago hasn't been quite as prolific, her history still runs deep. "I was obsessed with it when I was 14 years old," Hurder confesses, her eager smile showing something of that passionate teenager. "It was always the dream to be in this show."

In 2007, Hurder achieved that dream, coming into the Broadway production as Mona, the murderer of Alvin Lipchitz. Later returning to the production in 2016, understudying the roles of Matron 'Mama' Morton and Roxie Hart, Hurder has long yearned to take on the musical's resident vaudevillian vamp, Velma.

"I have always wanted to do Velma," Hurder states fervently. "Everyone has always thought of me as a Roxie, but I see myself as Velma. And now at the age of 42, with the history I have had with this show, I feel ready for her marvelous and delicious challenge."

When Hurder signed on to play Velma, leaving her stint in A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical to do so, she had one specific request of the design team: a wig. "I have been blonde in every single Broadway show!" Hurder exclaims before flipping her platinum hair over her shoulder. "For Velma, I didn't want people to go, 'Oh, there's Robyn.' I wanted to look completely different." Together, she and the production's hair designer devised a new look, inspired by the slinking sexuality of Jessica Rabbit and the controlled poise of midcentury French coiffures. "I want her to be severe, icy, intimidating. The fierceness of red hair, but thrown up into a French twist. The shade we picked makes my eyes go crystal-like, almost an emerald greenish blue. I look at myself in the mirror before, and it makes me feel like I'm a completely different person."

Hurder's cherry red hue also calls to mind the natural tint of Chicago's original Roxie, Gwen Verdon. The comparison makes both Marroquín and Hurder burst into giggles. "Oh, it's so funny," Hurder says through her laughter. "I wear this halter sparkle dress, and there's a bodysuit underneath it with a built-in bra that matches the halter. When I'm getting ready, in just the wig, the body suit, and the fish nets, I look like Lola!" Hurder exclaims, summoning another round of laughter with her reference to Verdon's Tony-winning performance in Damn Yankees.

Robyn Hurder in Chicago Jeremy Daniel

Then Marroquín surprises Hurder by sharing the following: "I actually began Roxie as a redhead. When I started in Mexico City, my hair was long and I had it sort of blondish, because I had lots of highlights. The Velma was much older than me, and she was blonde blonde. They needed to make me look a little bit older, so they cut my real hair into a little pixie, and dyed it red." Marroquín smiles as Hurder gasps. "It was beautiful, and they did a great job with the color. But I had to color it every three weeks on tour, and I had to tease it and spray every little piece, so everyone always thought it was a wig anyway." 

After a few years away from the production, which allowed her hair to grow out and return to her natural brown, Marroquín put her foot down. "Now, I just part my natural brown hair down the center. That's comfortable to work in, without my preparation having to be all about hair. I loved it, but it was just a lot of work."

It doesn't take long for a conversation between Hurder and Marroquín to drift into a walk down memory lane. Their histories with the show are such that endless stories are at their disposal for comparison. Both have played Roxie and Velma, and are quick to commiserate on the unique challenges of each.

“Roxie is hard in a different way,” Hurder states as Marroquin nods emphatically. “With Roxie, you never leave the stage, and you're a basket case of emotions.”

“And you don't think about it, right?!” Marroquin interjects. “You're on the entire time, so before you know it you go through the entire arc and the show's over. But Velma, you have got all these little pauses, and [you're] trying to keep warmed up…”

“This track is like zero to 100,” Hurder adds, rolling her shoulders back as she takes a deep breath. “You fly out on stage, show off, and then leave. Come back, show off, leave, repeat.”

As the pair begin to share tricks of the trade for staying warm and limber on each of Velma’s entrances, Marroquin suddenly turns introspective.“It’s so amazing that you and I get to share both roles,” Marroquin states, looking on Hurder with friendly fondness. “We get to compare and share. I’m so grateful to the universe for the gift of getting to share this with you.”

The ease of their camaraderie contrasts strikingly with their onstage animosity, with their mutual adoration only coming out to play in the show's final number, "Hot Honey Rag." That moment of onstage connection is treasured by them both.

"When the music swells and I turn to the left, and you come out..." Marroquín waves her hand in front of her face as Hurder hums in commiseration. "It's the most wonderful thing. You see Roxie and Velma as these delicious rivals. And when they come and unite, it's just so powerful. It just rocks me!"

Hurder agrees fervently. "It's one of my top three favorite moments in the show. The lighting when you're walking down, when we look at each other before walking in at the same time as the gold curtain comes down...the light casts a golden shadow on you as you pass, and the energy is just magnificent." With a smile, she waves away her own tears. "I could smile at you forever in that moment."

Robyn Hurder and Bianca Marroquín in Chicago Jeremy Daniel
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