Emma Pittman has some famous heels to fill as she takes over for Pamela Anderson in “Chicago” this week. The small-town Mississippi native competed in Broadway.com’s “The Search for Roxie!” contest, earning her spot after getting the stamp of approval from a trio of former Roxies.
When it was narrowed down to three finalists, she was asked to perform in front of Bebe Neuwirth, Bianca Marroquin and the late Ann Reinking, who called Pittman a triple threat when crowing her with the official title. “When people ask me, ‘What was it like?’ I’m like, ‘You don’t even dream of that kind of stuff,’” she gushed.
The 26-year-old Hell’s Kitchen resident prepped for her Broadway debut by reading about the time period of the ‘20s, researching vaudeville and “just trusting that what Annie saw in me was enough.”
The future will surely shine bright for one of the Great White Way’s newest stars. When asked to name some of her dream roles, she replied, “The pilot in “Come From Away” or Elphaba. I mean who doesn’t want to play Elphaba?”
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a very, very small town called Batesville and then I moved to Oxford [Mississippi] in the ninth grade and that’s where I fell in love with theater because my high school there had a theater program and it was the first time I’d ever really been exposed to theater.
You graduated from Wagner. How did you wind up in college on Staten Island?
You know, it’s very, very random. I don’t remember the girl’s name off the top of my head, but a girl who had gone to Wagner from Memphis, Tennessee — we’re only about an hour away from Memphis — recommended it, a family friend. And she was probably 10 years older than me, I think, so I wouldn’t have known her as a person. It was more like, “Oh, your daughter likes theater? I’m pretty sure so-and-so’s daughter did theater at this one place.” When I was looking around to see where I wanted to go, I visited Marymount, NYU and then I visited Wagner and I just fell in love. I was like, “This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Tell us about the contest.
It was a video-submission audition, where we had to send in us doing a Roxie monologue, the song ‘Roxie” and then the “Hot Honey Rag,” like about half of it. And my college professor and Tony Award winner, Michelle Cox, emailed me and was like, “You need to do this.” And I was like, “You’re right, actually, you’re totally right. This is a role I would love to play and the worst thing that could happen is they say no or I don’t get picked. It would be an opportunity that would be silly to miss, so let me just do it.” I was doing a show at the time and it was about to open, so I found some rehearsal space after we finished rehearsing the show I was in and I learned the dance and then the next day, I came in and I filmed it and I sent it and I never thought about it again.
And then on October 23, which is my birthday, I got an email that I was top 10. So it was a very special and emotional birthday, the waterworks were a flowing. And I called my mom and she was like, “What happened? What’s wrong?” And I was like, “No, no, it’s like the best news ever.” After that, it was kind of similar to “American Idol,” you had to vote for your favorite of the top 10.
So who was voting?
Just any old person, anywhere. So people from churches that I’ve been to, the whole school board. To see how many people were posting and reaching out and saying, “Hey, everybody, vote for this girl. I’ve known her since second grade.” It was really, really special and I felt super connected to my community and saw how many people were rooting for me.
Then they announced the top three finalists.
It was me, Kate [Gulotta] and Khalifa [White]. These two girls couldn’t have been better contestants to work with. They were so humble and so appreciative and grateful, and we all just came from a place of “Ok, we’re all shocked that we’re here, right? Like, we’re in disbelief that this is our lives right now.” So we had this understanding that we were not here to compete, because when you hear “contest” ... but what we discovered through just each other’s personalities, but also through the work of this show and especially this part, is that it can be anybody. Roxie is not a part you strive to be, you strive to find your Roxie.
We got flown to New York to come and work with the creatives on it — the dance captain, the music director and the casting agents — and we got to workshop the monologue and workshop the song and learn more of the dance. And it was such a beautiful process because we got to go, “Ok, what does your Roxie look like?” and celebrate that. And then I was like, “Ok, now mine, what does mine have to offer?” And it wasn’t about who was better, it was connecting to the most you in the role.
Then you had the final audition with Ann, Bebe and Bianca.
Yes, it was in front of the late, great, Ann Reinking, so, so, special, Bebe Neuwirth and Bianca Marroquin, which was really, really cool to have all iconic Roxies being the judges and having the chance to have them see our work. We all went one time together to do the “Hot Honey Rag,” which was very beautiful to kind of get the jitters out and dance together and feel supported and be there with one another. And then we went in one at a time and we did the monologue and the song. And then in the end, they brought us out and Annie spoke to us and was incredibly encouraging and told us how we were all beautiful and all of her Roxies are spectacular. And then she went on to compliment Kate’s incredible poise, Khalifa’s incredible acting skills and then she went on to me, and it’s caught on tape forever and ever that she sees me as a true triple threat, which is like, what an incredible compliment.
How have you prepared for the role?
I’ve definitely done a lot of reading about the time and also done a lot of research on vaudeville because the style is so, so important to the show. It’s funny; it’s not realistic. It’s all vaudeville. It’s, in a way, a show within a show. And then lots of singing and lots of dancing and going to the gym and just taking care of my body, making sure I get lots of sleep, drinking loads of water.
Did Pamela give you any advice?
I have not met Pamela yet, but I’ve been able to see her work and her Roxie is so special and so cute and so funny! I was cracking up watching her. She was absolutely a hoot on the stage. I really enjoyed watching her throughout my rehearsal process.