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Pop! Six! Squish! Get to Know the Merry Murderesses of Broadway's Chicago as They Talk "Cell Block Tango", Fosse Dream Roles, & More

December 10th, 2019 by

joshferri JoshuaFerri Share
Pop! Six! Squish! Get to Know the Merry Murderesses of Broa…

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Everyone knows the moment in the longest-running American musical on Broadway: six ladies drag their chairs over to a spotlight, and one by one they explain why their husband had it coming. "The Cell Block Tango" is an iconic moment in Chicago

—it's arguably the best moment in the Oscar-winning movie, and it electrifies Broadway audiences eight times a week at the Ambassador Theatre. Scroll on as BroadwayBox gets to know Mary Claire King, Rachel Schur, Pilar Milhollen, Tonya Wathen, & Arian Keddell, the Merry Murderess of the Cook County Jail and the stars of Broadway's "The Cell Block Tango". (Note: this is not them in the video!)

Mary Claire King as Liz (Pop)

Mary Claire King- Chicago-Broadway-Cell Block Tango-Liz

When did your journey with Chicago begin?
My journey with Chicago began when I fell in love with the movie. I wanted to be Catherine Zeta-Jones. When I was in college, I had the incredible opportunity to work with Dana Moore in a three-week residency at Syracuse University. “Hot Honey Rag” was the most fun dancing I had ever done, and I was hooked on Fosse’s style. When I moved to New York, I studied often with Dana at Steps on Broadway. I auditioned for the show several times throughout the years, but only got to the end of the audition twice—and then I booked it this past May!

How would you describe the feeling of performing “The Cell Block Tango” each night on Broadway?
It’s truly an honor to perform such an iconic, rich number nightly. I am always slightly nervous, as I have the first monologue. It’s a thrilling moment in the show to perform because we are all featured. The audience is really a key player in the number as well, so it's fun to have different energy every show.

What’s the most defining characteristic of your Merry Murderess, Liz?
I think that Liz is very sensitive. To those around her, to situations, and apparently to what she finds to be Bernie’s most egregious habit—incessant gum popping. What she really needs from Bernie after the longest, most aggravating day of her life, is giant hug and a kiss. Instead, he doesn’t even look up when she asks him to stop doing what he knows drives her nuts—and pops that gum louder than ever. Oh, Bernie.

What’s been your most memorable performance so far at Chicago?
My most memorable day at Chicago was September 7, 2019, when I made my Broadway principal debut as Velma Kelly. It was truly the best day of my life. I felt so much love and support coming from my company, my family, and my friends. It was surreal to play my ultimate dream role for the first time.

Which musical made you fall in love with musicals and performing?
Oh, there are so many. But, the first Broadway show I saw was Aida, when I was in sixth grade. I was obsessed with everything about it—the story, the music, the spectacle, and the dancing. I listened to that album nearly every day. I’d say that’s when I got the bug. Another defining show for me was when I played Penny Pingleton in Hairspray at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse— I'd never had more fun. EVER.  

Do you have Fosse dream role?
Well, Velma Kelly has been a dream role of mine since the age of 17. It’s wildly intoxicating to understudy the part and have the opportunity to perform the role. Another Fosse dream role of mine is Ponytail Girl in Sweet Charity’s “Rich Man’s Frug.” I’d also love a crack at either Helene or Nickie in Sweet Charity.

What do you love about coming to work at Chicago on Broadway?
I love being a part of the legacy of this special show. It’s an honor to dance in the style of Fosse every evening and to carry his torch as the only show on Broadway of its kind. I love how much improv is embedded into the numbers, so there is always an opportunity to create, no matter how many shows you’ve done. It’s truly unique in that way and offers the actor plenty of avenues for continued exploration. 

Rachel Schur as Annie (Six)

Chicago-Cell Block Tango-Broadway-Rachel Schur-Annie

When did your journey with Chicago  begin?
I started with Chicago  in July of 2018!

How would you describe the feeling of performing “The Cell Block Tango” each night on Broadway?
No matter what mood you may be in, “The Cell Block Tango” gives you so much energy and excitement. I used to do this number in my living room when I was kid. I would play all the different roles and dance around my picnic chairs. It's so surreal to do this every night. It's truly living out a childhood dream.

What’s the most defining characteristic of your Merry Murderess, Annie?
Annie had this whole domestic life she envisioned for herself, and when that was betrayed, she felt like she was reduced down to just a number. Six to be exact. The funny thing is that Annie loves numbers but now she's just a number in the system.

What’s been your most memorable performance so far at Chicago?
Either going on for Roxie in front of all of my family and friends or Donna Marie's last performance. It was like an episode of "Donna, this is your life!" Truly an epic evening. 

Which musical made you fall in love with musicals and performing?
The Secret Garden. I wanted to be Mary Lennox. I still find that score to this day to be the prettiest score I have ever heard.

Do you have Fosse dream role?
I honestly would LOVE to be the Emcee in Cabaret. Let's get weird!

What do you love about coming to work at Chicago on Broadway?
It's an honor to be a part of a show that has a long-running artistic legacy. There is something so special about being in a show that I feel like I have been preparing for since I was 10. I love the crazy world of the Cook County Jail and the iconic choreography we get to do every night.

Pilar Milhollen as June (Squish)

Chicago-Cell Block Tango-Broadway-Pilar Milhollen-June

When did your journey with Chicago begin?
In 2006! I joined what was then the third national tour as a swing and then also took on the Assistant Dance Captain position. I’ve ended up on two other tours in addition to now staying here in the NY company. 

How would you describe the feeling of performing “The Cell Block Tango” each night on Broadway?
It feels like getting to “have our say,” which in most ensembles doesn’t have a chance to happen. I love that each of us gets to really tell our stories so that the audience has a deeper sense of who these characters surrounding the principles are, and the primary stories—Roxie and Velma’s—become richer for it.

What’s the most defining characteristic of your Merry Murderess, June? 
She sure has no fear of blood. 

What’s been your most memorable performance so far at Chicago?
I would have to say the final performance of cast member Donna Marie Asbury, who played the role of June in the ensemble for 20 years here in New York. Besides the fact that this incredible feat almost never happens, it felt like an opening night—our producers were there, lots of original creatives were there, and so many people who know and love Donna were in the audience, so the energy was palpable. There were curtain speeches, flowers, the works. It was magical. She deserved the wonderful farewell!

Which musical made you fall in love with musicals and performing?
Actually, I think it was seeing the First National of Crazy For You. It played my hometown, and I thought, this is musical comedy perfection. It was the most joyful night of theater my young teenage self had ever seen. So, I thought, I think I want to do THAT. 

Do you have Fosse dream role?
I’m doing it every night. I loved doing Cabaret, which I got to do at two different regional theaters, but this show is just so relevant for our culture at this time that I’m grateful to get to tell this story. I’ve loved playing each murderess at different points and I still love it. 

What do you love about coming to work at Chicago on Broadway?
Ha! Well, in addition to the above, I love that my prep is relatively straightforward for an eight-show schedule. I don’t have to put on complicated makeup or prosthetics and I wear one costume the whole time. So, I can just focus on warming myself up and staying with the story, and that is gold...but even better, there are just some absolutely wonderful people that I work with. It’s really a close-knit group who take care of each other. And that’s the best part. 

Tonya Wathen as Hunyak (Uh Uh)

Chicago-Cell Block Tango-Broadway-Tonya Wathen-Hunyak

When did your journey with Chicago begin?
I started my Chicago journey playing Roxie on the non-union national tour of Chicago in 2000.

How would you describe the feeling of performing “The Cell Block Tango” each night on Broadway?
There's a moment right after the number is announced that, four or five shows out of eight, there is a murmur from the audience, a kind of, “Oh, yeah, it's this one!”  I really love it when that happens.  It reminds me how powerful “Cellblock” is.

What’s the most defining characteristic of your Merry Murderess, the tragic Hunyak? 
I'm innocent!  Hunyak is the foil to all the other characters in the show.  She is the light against the darkness, so to speak.

What’s been your most memorable performance so far at Chicago?
There are too many to pick!  Sharing the stage with Jennifer Nettles was a highlight for me.  She is a class act and a real talent!

Which musical made you fall in love with musicals and performing?
There's not one specific musical. It was just all musicals.  I love stories, and the music and dancing made the telling of the stories that much more fun.  If I had to choose, West Side Story would probably be high on the list. 

Do you have Fosse dream role?
In all honesty, Roxie is pretty much my Fosse dream role.  That I get to understudy it on Broadway is such a blessing. 

What do you love about coming to work at Chicago on Broadway?
I love the work.  I love that there is always something new to discover in the movement, in the storytelling.  It's yummy in a way that I think is rare, and I'm grateful that I get to be a part of it.

Arian Keddell as Mona (Lipshitz)

Chicago-Cell Block Tango-Broadway-Arian Keddell-Mona

When did your journey with Chicago begin?
My journey with Chicago began August 2018 when I joined the national tour cast. I had auditioned for the show several times prior to that but officially began my piece of the story then.

How would you describe the feeling of performing “The Cell Block Tango” each night on Broadway?
“The Cell Block Tango” is electric. My favorite phrase we use to describe it is “a slow burn”. It really accurately gives words to the feelings of building up to the boiling point at the end.

What’s the most defining characteristic of your Merry Murderess, Mona? 
I tend to think Mona is the most unhinged of all the women. Between her high-pitched voice and the details of her story, you never really know what happened to her lover...it’s pretty creepy. 

What’s been your most memorable performance so far at Chicago?
My most memorable performance at Chicago would have to be during the tour. We had a few nights in my hometown, and having my family, friends, teachers and so many people who knew me when this was just a dream in the audience was really special. 

Which musical made you fall in love with musicals and performing?
Porgy and Bess. A tour of it came through my hometown when I was a child and picked up some people to play townspeople to fill the stage. I remember sitting down stage left, watching the action, listening to the beautiful vocals and music thinking, “Wow, I really like this.”

Do you have Fosse dream role?
I would love to play Lola in Damn Yankees. I like any role that brings a bit of mischief to the stage.

What do you love about coming to work at Chicago on Broadway?
EVERYTHING. Regardless of what is going on in my life or my day, I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of such an amazing show and working with so many great people every day. 

See these five ladies kill it each and every night in ‘Chicago’, running at Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre.