Chicago has been running on Broadway for 22 years and is one of the longest running Musicals on Broadway. South African born triple threat Amra-Faye Wright is a Broadway fixture as Velma Kelly in CHICAGO the Musical, a role she has played worldwide to critical acclaim since 2001; for 18 years.
She is returning to the stage where she last performed the role of Velma Kelly in 2008 in South Africa, and tonight is her last show here.
She is an inspiration to all women in an industry where age is usually a limit for most.
“There is so much more for older women these days and one shouldn’t restrict oneself just because you’re older.” She adds.
How does it feel coming back to SA to reprise this role that you’ve had this almost lifetime relationship with?
“This feels so nostalgic for me because I want to show my gratitude to the theatre community, because it was the catalyst of a career that I could never have imagined. I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to perform in South Africa again, it means a lot to me.”
Let’s look back at 2001 when you first played the role – did you ever think at that time that this would be your career?
“No and so it has gone on through the years. Performers are contract workers; we work from contract to contract – sometimes they are long and sometimes they are short. I never know, when it comes to the end of a contract whether I am going to continue or not, or whether I’ll be asked to continue. That being said, over the last few years I have been quite a fixture in this show, and I know that they are going to continue to book me. But no, when I started I had no idea it would be a full career of doing this show.”
How have you managed to play this role for so long and still make it interesting for you?
“There is so much meat to this role, and as you change as a persona and get older, the way you present the role and the way you react to the people around you changes as well, so it has become an interesting journey on its own; to perform this role, with a different cast for one thing, because you react to people differently, but also finding different things about this character as the years go on. It has been super interesting. I have really enjoyed it.”
“The audiences are always different – the audiences have a collective personality, and they are never the same. Their reaction feeds us and we react back to that. Sometimes we don’t get any reaction. In New York, they are always bringing in new celebrities or stars into the other characters – never usually in my character because Velma has to be physically agile and be able to dance and so on. So having the chance to be able to react to different people, certainly does keep it fresh. Most people go to a job and do the same thing, day in and day out. We all do that, it’s no different for me. I go in and do my job; I just happen to have a fabulous job and I really enjoy it. Everyone has monotony and it’s just part of every day life.”
This show is so relevant because it speaks of the same issues now, that were at the forefront then. It still appeal to everyone as it is timeless.
“Exactly. Especially in America now, the manipulation of the press to get people to do things. And in this show the Jury and the press are manipulated by the lawyer and eventually he ends up freeing these women. It is very relevant especially with social media where people see more. The show is continually relevant.”
You mentioned you’ve starred alongside big names – is there a moment or working with a particular celebrity that has stood out for you?
“There have been so many celebrities. Just recently we had Cuba Gooding Jr who played the role of Billy Flynn and he was so much fun back stage. I have also just worked with Christie Brinkley, who played Roxy. There have been some who have come in with the wrong idea, and who thought they were there as the star of the show and then they realize quickly that the show is the star and that they are just another cog in the wheel, and that is a little hard on some people.”
“When we have people coming in from the Movie/Screen industry, they cannot get over how hard we work, which is surprising to me, as I have never been in the film industry. This is intense work and 8 shows a week, and they are quite surprised at the amount of effort it takes to do this.”
“Once the show starts there is a whole lot of energy you have to put out, but there is a whole lot of preparation for the show before hand. From about 4pm onwards for an 8pm show, I’m preparing; mentally and physically. Making sure I eat at the right time so I can do what I need to do, so its not as if it is just 2 and a half hours of intense work.”
Do you have a specific exercise regime to keep fit and of course to make sure you don’t injure yourself?
“There is a fine balance. A lot of the ensemble got to gym and do classes; a lot of people in New York do classes. I have developed my own regime where I know what I can and cannot do, so I do my own; I do a ballet barre every day and then extra strength exercises. I eat well and make sure I am in bed straight after a show, so I get enough rest. That’s a constant. I have to take care of the instrument that I work with, which is my body. I don’t go to the gym. I know what is bad for me so I don’t pull anything.”
You’ve been playing this role so long but are there other roles that you’ve done, or would love to do eventually?
“Sure. I don’t just do this. I do take off every now and then to do other shows; just short ones to have some fun. Recently I did Follies which was so much fun. Any of the roles in that show I would do again. Into the Woods – the witch is something I would love to play. Any of Sondheim’s older female characters I am up for. Maybe when Chicago comes to end for me, I am ready to play any of those roles and do justice to them. So I am looking forward to what’s ahead of me after Chicago.”
For more info, go to: https://bsharpentertainment.africa/amra-faye-returns-to-sa/