"Chicago" stunt casting: 13 performers tapped to play Roxie Hart

Renee Zellweger; Chicago Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Renee Zellweger; Chicago Franco Origlia/Getty Images
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"Chicago" the musical has long been a revolving door for celebrity castings.

The Broadway staple premiered in 1975 and was revived in 1996. Still going strong after 26 years, it's the longest-running Broadway revival ever.

In the musical set during Prohibition-era 1920s Chicago, a promising but untalented chorus girl named Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, a star whose light has dimmed, are facing a murder trial for a man whom Roxie shot and was having affair an affair with. Both scandalous women compete for the services of a lawyer Billy Flynn, who promises to get them off and turn them into megastars.

The musical is based on a 1926 play of the same by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins. Ultimately the story of "Chicago" is a satire on corruption in the criminal justice system and the idea of the celebrity criminal. But most importantly, the musical earned six Tony Awards — one Tony for best revival of a musical in 1997, two Olivier Awards and a Grammy because of its killer score and ensemble cast. Rob Marshall also adapted the musical for his 2002 film starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It went on to win six Oscars including a best picture win, making it the first musical win since "Oliver!"

Outside all the accolades, "Chicago" is mostly about Roxie's life on the edge. It is a role well-suited to celebrity casting because it can accommodate a range of vocal and dance abilities. This has opened the door to singers, actors and even reality stars to be the next to don the top hat and play the musical murderer.

Let's take a look at some of the celebrities who've played Roxie on stage.

01 Melanie Griffith

Melanie Griffith
Melanie Griffith

Melanie Griffith, who was nominated for an Oscar for "Working Girl," portrayed the murderess from July to October 2003.    Of her performance, The New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley wrote, "Ms. Griffith is a sensational Roxie, possibly the most convincing I have seen." Some said that Griffith's singing and dancing were the weaker points of her performance.   Griffith is one in a line of Hollywood royalty. She's the daughter of Tippi Hedren – Alfred Hitchcock's muse in films like "The Birds" and "Marnie" – and is the mother of "Fifty Shades" star Dakota Johnson with Don Johnson.

02 Ashlee Simpson

Ashlee Simpson
Ashlee Simpson

"Pieces of Me" singer Ashlee Simpson played Roxie in 2006 for a five-week run from September to October. She was 21 when she took on the role in the West End in London. Her singing abilities made her a perfect candidate for the role but it was the first time the singer was on stage for a theatrical production.

She also made her Broadway debut reprising her role as Roxie in New York City.

Sister Jessica Simpson said, "I think Ashlee made Roxie who she wanted to make Roxie [into]. It was her stage tonight. She was brighter than the lights. She was it. My girl!"

03 Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields

Model and actress Brooke Shields took on the role of Roxie, replacing Charlotte d'Amboise, from September to October in 2005. Shields had recently played Roxie in the West End production only a few months before and left London to join the Broadway production.    She was one of the first performers to have starred in "Chicago," "Cabaret" and "Grease" on Broadway, three long-running revivals that are known for their stunt casting. Some critics called Shields too wholesome for the role of Roxie.

04 Jennifer Nettles

Jennifer Nettles
Jennifer Nettles

Grammy-winning musician Jennifer Nettles, known for fronting the country band Sugarland, also starred in "Chicago's" most popular role. The singer played Roxie for eight weeks in 2015.    She had a  No. 1 country album with her solo debut "That Girl." and as the lead singer of Sugarland, she garnered worldwide sales of over $22 million.    The Chicago Tribune said Nettles was "chatty, charming and energetic, Nettles was an accessible presence throughout."

05 Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams

Singer Michelle Williams is most known for her role as one-third in the Grammy-winning pop/R&B group Destiny's Child, but she has also dabbled in theatre. As a former girl band member with the ability to sing and dance at such a high intensity, Roxie fits the starlet perfectly. Williams joined the revival as Roxie in a limited seven-week engagement from February to March in 2010.   But she didn't only play Roxie on Broadway, she went across the pond to London to play the character in the West End production of "Chicago" too. The multi-talented Williams was also in the Broadway production "Aida" and also joined the national touring company of the hit musical "The Color Purple."

06 Olivia Holt

Olivia Holt
Olivia Holt

Disney star Olivia Holt, known for her Freeform drama "Cruel Summer" and '80s-set slasher film "Totally Killer," made her debut as Roxie earlier this year, from April to June.   Holt is another actor-singer who grew up in the Disney pipeline, which requires performers to learn to do both skillfully and gracefully. Her songs "Phoenix" and "History" have racked up millions of views on YouTube and streams on Spotify.   "This character is such a powerful female role. Roxie is so layered and has so many dimensions. She's up, she's down. She's quick. She’s smart and has this amazing wit,” Holt told Forbes.

07 Angelica Ross

Angelica Ross
Angelica Ross

"Pose" and "American Horror Story" standout Angelica Ross made history as the first openly trans woman to play a leading role on Broadway. The star played Roxie from September to November 2022 in an eight-week limited engagement. Ross is one of the very few transgender performers on Broadway, a list that also includes "Wicked's" Alexandra Billings, "A Strange Loop's" L Morgan Lee, and "Straight White Men's" Kate Bornstein.   “There are moments to be had of joy and affirmation and creativity,” Rosss said. “Being trans is not all about suffering and challenge . . . There’s still a determination, and there’s a certain determination within me . . . to break through and have this moment.”

08 Pamela Anderson

Pamela Anderson
Pamela Anderson

"Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson had a successful run as Roxie from April to June 2022. Anderson's portrayal of Roxie was met with love from audiences and critics alike. The Guardian wrote Anderson "finds a way around the limits of the feminist redemption plot." Critics said she took "back the narrative in 'Chicago.'"   Anderson has been enjoying a renewed time in the spotlight since the release of her memoir and Netflix documentary "Love, Pamela" in January 2023. In her documentary, we witness Anderson's excitement over being asked to play Roxie and glimpses of the star rehearsing for the musical.

09 Brandy

Brandy Norwood
Brandy Norwood

R&B superstar Brandy famously played Roxie Hart in June 2015.   "I didn’t want to be the new R&B chick that comes in and messes everything up. It was the music that sustained me; these are the kind of solid, jazzy numbers I saw myself singing," Brandy told the New York Times about tackling the role. "And I knew I could put my own flavor into them without disrespecting their very Broadway style."   The singer has sold more than 40 million worldwide including her poppy R&B hits “I Wanna Be Down” and “The Boy Is Mine.” Luckily for the singer, she's also a well-established actress starring in the long-running sitcom "Moesha" and Disney's beloved TV adaptation "Cinderella," which co-stars Whitney Houston and Whoopi Goldberg, in 1997.  

10 Erika Jayne

Erika Jayne
Erika Jayne

"Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Erika Jayne is one of the handful of reality TV personalities to play Roxie. Her storylines are said to be some of the most interesting on this iteration of the "Housewives" franchise. Thankfully, she has also starred in some minor roles and has released an occasional single to give her extra acting and singing experience that could be transferred to Broadway.   The infamous "RHOBH" member is said to have played "a perfect Roxie Hart," Vulture reported. Her stint as Roxie lasted from January to March 2020 with the show ending abruptly when Broadway shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

11 Rumer Willis

Rumer Willis
Rumer Willis

The daughter of actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Rumer Willis also had her shot at playing Roxie on Broadway. The actress made her debut as Roxie from September to November 2015.   The actress has singing chops (like her dad), but she also proved she could move as well, ending up winning the reality competition series "Dancing With the Stars" in 2015.   Of her performance as Roxie, The New York Times wrote, "Her voice is strong with a wailing upper register that she wielded with an awareness of how far to go before reaching a point of diminishing returns."

12 Lisa Rinna

Lisa Rinna
Lisa Rinna

Another "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" cast member, Lisa Rinna, also had her stint to Roxie. The former reality TV star and soap actress played Roxie throughout the summer of 2007 and actually starred opposite her husband, "Clash of the Titans" star and longtime soap actor Harry Hamlin.

Unfortunately for Rinna, critics gave her performance negative reviews. The Oregonian said that she wrecked "Chicago." The review went on to declare, "Every once in a while, it's worth it to see a performance that completely recalibrates your sense of what's bad."

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13 Ariana Madix

Ariana Madix
Ariana Madix

Calling all "Vanderpump Rules" super stans! Ariana Madix, the wronged party at the center of Scandoval earlier this year, is set to play Roxie in 2024, reports People. The reality TV star is yet another Bravoverse personality to snag the role of Roxie, which is reportedly one of Madix's dream roles.    However, Madix hasn't had the easiest year. After finding out her partner of nearly 10 years, Tom Sandoval, had been cheating on her with her best friend Raquel Leviss, everything fell apart. What's worse is that Bravo's cameras were trained on them the whole time, so Madix had to relive the humiliation as it played out during the season. Her misfortune paid off big for Bravo though, earning the series an Emmy nomination.   But since then, Madix has been on the rise with new brand deals, placing third on "Dancing with the Stars," and being named the reality TV star of the year by Us Weekly. Now that she'll be seen on Broadway, it seems that she's also benefited from being the Scandoval victim.