The family that plays together -- or, at least, the family where the wife plays across the street from her husband -- stays together.
That was Melanie Griffith's thinking after hubby Antonio Banderas' Broadway debut as ladies' man Guido Contini in Nine at the O'Neill Theater on 49th Street. Instead of enduring a bi-coastal marriage, Griffith made her Broadway debut, too, as man-killer Roxie Hart in Chicago, literally across the street at the Ambassador.

Having two major movie stars on Broadway has created pandemonium on that formerly quiet block. No stranger to flashing cameras and autograph seekers, Griffith says there's a distinct difference on Broadway. "The fans are so polite," she marvels. "It's a far, far cry from the paparazzi!"

If Chicago hadn't moved from 44th Street's Shubert (to make way for the Gypsy revival), to 49th Street, this Big Event may not have occurred. Griffith got the idea of doing Broadway accompanying Banderas to the theater. "I couldn't help noticing Chicago's marquee and I thought, 'I could do that!'" She called her agent to ask if she could audition. The producers' answer was, unsurprisingly, a resounding yes.

Broadway's something Griffith has dreamed of doing since she was 15. She admits to not being a trained singer and dancer, "It's a challenge." At rehearsals, Banderas rooted his wife on exclaiming, "You look great, honey!"

That was never in question! But, unlike her Roxie alter ego, Griffith's acquitted herself nicely and received critical raves and kudos from theatergoers.
[Note: If you want to see Melanie Griffith, hurry; she'll be departing Chicago on October 5.]

Griffith isn't Chicago's only cast member with six degrees of separation from Nine. Camille Saviola, who made her Broadway debut in the 1982 Nine as Mama Maddelena, is back on the boards here after 19 years in Chicago, playing another mama: the tough-talking prison matron. In Nine, she stopped the show with her spirited "Germans at the Spa." [Ironically, both the character and song are cut from the Roundabout revival.] But Saviola, who was drawn to show business by her love for Judy Garland and Ethel Merman, is stopping the show again in Chicago with her spirited "When You're Good to Mama." Her Chicago duet on "Class" with Deidre Goodwin as Velma is another connection with Nine. Until recently, in the revival, Goodwin was Our Lady of the Spa.

Saviola relocated to Los Angeles, where she's kept busy with theater, film and TV (including "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"). Her last role there brings up another Nine connection: she played opposite the legendary Chita Rivera in Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba. Rivera plays film producer Liliane La Fleur in Nine.

And how's this for deja vu? After Nine on Broadway and its national tour and a year in Toronto, where she created the role of political firebrand Emma Goldman in Ragtime, Saviola auditioned for Chicago. "So, all good things comes to those who wait," she laughs. Some feared the popularity of the film adaptation of Chicago, which took the Academy Award for Best Picture, would have a detrimental effect on the Broadway show. "It's just the opposite!" says Saviola. "We've been selling out! Audiences want to see it live onstage. And Melanie has brought us a 'celebrity bump.' When you exit the stage door, you think you're at a premiere with barricades and cops on horseback. It's wonderful, just like a block party!"



Key Subjects: 
Melanie Griffith, Camille Saviola, Nine, Antonio Banderas
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).
August 2003
Melanie Griffith, Camille Saviola and the Chicago/Nine Nexus