Bianca Marroquin is one of the first Latinas to appear in a leading role on Broadway. She began her career in Mexico City, appearing in the Mexican productions of Beauty and the Beast, Rent, Phantom of the Opera, and Chicago, in which she starred as Roxie Hart, a role that garnered five awards from the Mexican Critics Association, including New Revelation and Best Actress. She starred in the U.S. national tour of Chicago, and can currently be seen as Roxie in the Broadway production in New York.
Marroquin has also appeared as Daniela in the Broadway production of In the Heights, and as Carmen in Pajama Game. In 2009, she returned to Mexico to play the role of Maria in The Sound of Music.
In 2004, Marroquin was awarded the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress, making her the first Mexican to receive this award. She was also the youngest Roxie ever to appear on Broadway.
Were you one of those kids who was always performing and goofing around?
Dancing was my world. When I was little I always wanted to dance. I made my mother take me to ballet when I was three years old.
How did you even know about ballet at three years old?
Well, actually, I remember watching the Olympics. What I really wanted to do was gymnastics— when they danced on the mat, all that. I would tell my mom: I want to do that! When my mom took me to a ballet school, I walked in and said, “Where are the bars?” I remember asking that.
I grew up in a very small town in the Northern part of Mexico, at the border to Texas. A lady had just come to our town to open a ballet school. She came from the capital, she came from Mexico City. So, all of the mothers were taking their little kids to the school.
When you were little, did you want to be a prima ballerina?
For the longest time, that was the goal. That was what the teacher imposed on all of us: ballet, ballet, ballet! And I was so disciplined. Ballet always came first, before, like, going to birthday parties or anything like that. I remember making my mother drive to the birthday parties at night, after my ballet class. I would ring the doorbell and say, “Oh, Señora, I come for my little bag of candy! I couldn’t come to the party but—”
You wanted your goody-bag.
Where do you think your determination came from?
Well, my mom was a strict mother. And there was always music in the house, so when I was a little girl I learned to appreciate music. I remember during the first year of ballet, the teacher would say that we were too young for music, so the whole class— at the bar— would be to the beat of a cane. When she finally introduced music to us later, when I was five or so, oh my God…I just loved the music so much.
I was a very sensitive kid, an emotional kid. I knew I was very different from the other girls. The other girls would miss a lot of class, and I was always there. But the teacher was very hard on me, she was stricter on me. One little story that sticks with me: I was eleven— all those years of ballet, ballet ballet— and I was finally old enough to land a little important part, a principal part, in the big recitals she [the teacher] would put on. The mother of one of my classmates told me that the teacher had told her that she was going to give me this role. I was so excited. We were supposed to go back to ballet class after the summer on a Monday. But that Saturday, we went to a party. I told everyone at the party that I was going to get the role. I was so happy.
Well, I don’t know how it made it back to the teacher, but it did. Monday comes, and I am so excited to receive the news from her. She takes me aside and she tells me that she found out that I was telling people at the party, and so she was going to teach me a lesson. She took the part away from me, and she made me write a six-page report on discretion.
Looking back, was that a good thing…?
No! Honestly. I then grew up with that feeling always in the back of my head that things can be taken away unfairly. Because I worked hard. What wrong was there in a little girl of eleven years old being excited and telling her friends? That was part of growing up in that school: the discipline and working hard, but never getting it… The teacher would always reprimand me for being too exuberant. “Don’t smile too much!”
I lived on the border and I went to school on the other side, in Texas. When I started high school, I heard the other girls talking about the other ballet schools in Texas and I started telling my mother, “I think I want to change schools because all these girls seem very happy, and they smile, and they tell me about their school and it sounds nothing like what I experience over here.” So, I changed school. I got up there and they were in the middle of rehearsing for the Nutcracker. I remember sitting and watching them, they looked so happy, and I thought: That’s what I was told not to do! So that opened up my petals.
You had dancing and discipline. When did music come into it?
When I was a very little girl, my mother gave me my first little Fisher Price piano. I was so fascinated by it. When I turned eleven, my parents gave me my first vertical, real piano. I came home from school, and there was the piano with a big bow on it.
I taught myself how to play the piano. I spent hours on that piano. I just had a very good ear. And I would watch people play and figure out what they were doing. So I played piano…on my own terms! I started creating on the piano. “Inventing,” as I would call it. I was actually composing, but I would call it inventing! And I started singing in bands.
When did you start to sing in bands?
Not until I got to college. I didn’t have a trained voice, but I had a good voice. I loved rock music: the Cranberries, the Cure…
Tell me about your college experience.
I went to college in Monterrey. I had no choice. I wanted to go to Spain to continue training my Flamenco. I did ballet until I was fifteen or sixteen, but then I turned and said, “Flamenco, that is what I want.” I was too passionate, too expressive, for classical ballet. In Flamenco is where I could really show everything.
So, when I graduated from high school, I knew exactly where I wanted to go in Madrid, what school and everything. A friend of mine from high school was going to go as well. She was going to study something else, but we were going to live together. I had it all planned out. Then a month before I was to leave, my father said, “No, no no.” He hadn’t thought I was serious. He said, “You are going like your older brothers to college in Monterrey.” We were all born in Monterrey and my father still had a house there that my brothers lived in when they were students. So, that is where I had to go, I had no choice. There I was, so depressed and frustrated in college. I studied journalism. If I wasn’t to dance, I was going to write about those that could. My parents wouldn’t even let me join a ballet school or anything until I passed my classes.
But then one day, I walked through the campus and I saw a tree with a big poster on it, and it said, “Auditions for a Flamenco Concert.” I went to the auditions and I got the soloist part. Because all the other girls were jazz dancers who could sort of do it, but I had really studied Flamenco. When the guy saw me dance, he said, “Who trained you?!” So, I was the soloist of the company. And after the first performance, we made the papers. That’s how my parents found out. They were upset because they’d said, “No dancing, no distractions,” until I had passed my classes. But they came to the second show and saw me– it was amazing, I had a fourteen-minute solo!
But looking back, all the ballet, the piano, you might say they were grooming you to be a performer?
All of that they just thought were hobbies.
So, how did your parents feel about you pursuing a performance career?
They hated it – it was not part of my parents’ mentality. They didn’t think you could make a living off of that. But then, when my parents saw me dancing in that Flamenco show, my father made a deal with me. He said: “As long as you pass your classes, you can keep dancing.” At that point, I started doing everything the Art Department offered, and I started joining competitions for songwriters. I started getting known and getting heard. And I was singing in bars with a cover band, getting all that rock I had inside of me out.
Then, when I was in the fifth semester of college, Beauty and the Beast came to Mexico to open the first Spanish speaking company— from the Broadway production. They had auditions in Mexico City, but also in Monterrey and Guadalajara. So, I go to the audition in Monterrey. To make a long story short, I get picked. I am the only girl to get picked from Monterrey. There is one other girl from Guadalajara, and the rest of the cast is from the Capital. It was a big deal. I get cast as one of the six dancers in the chorus of the ensemble. They needed dancers who could sing, and I sung well enough.
And what did your parents think of that…?
I went to the audition without telling my parents. But then, after I got it, I told them: “I found out what they’re going to pay me and it’s enough to get myself an apartment. So, with or without your approval, I’m doing it.”
They came with me to my fitting and had a meeting with the producers. And the producers explained to them, “This is big. Your daughter got picked from thousands who auditioned in the whole country…”
Did you quit college at that point?
I told my parents that I would take a year and a half off— the rehearsal process plus the time they were calculating for the show to run— and then I would go back to Monterrey and continue my studies. But that’s where I met my husband. Luis was a sound designer for the show, and I was a dancer. We met, and four months after that year ended, I got married. I was twenty-two.
How did your parents feel about your marriage?
They were like, “Whaaat? You haven’t even had a serious boyfriend in your whole life and now this?” They were traumatized that I was marrying the first man!
You got married, didn’t go back to college. Then what happened?
Well, I lived in Mexico City and other shows started to come in. Rent was the next gig, and it was the perfect mix of my rock and dance. I was a swing. I covered several parts, including Mimi. I only played Mimi twice, because that girl never got sick or asked for any personal days or anything! But I learned a lot. The next show was Phantom of the Opera. All the shows were coming from Broadway; the creative teams would come down, audition, teach, put it up, and then leave people in charge and come down to supervise now and again. That’s how it worked.
For Phantom of The Opera, I was the Dance Captain. I was left in charge of the dance. I was twenty-three. A lot of responsibility, to give notes to the whole company, ballet dancers from the Mexican company of ballet…it was a big challenge. But it gave me a lot of character.
Then Chicago came. I wanted to be Dance Captain and to have a small part in the ensemble, that was my dream. Never did I imagine that I was going to get Roxie.
I was there auditioning mostly to get my spot in the ensemble. But I asked them for the parts for the principals so I could audition for them too. I remember them telling me, “You’re too young.” But [I thought] if I keep showing up and they keep seeing my face, I’ll get my little ensemble part and then maybe I can be an understudy.
There were all these women, all these celebrities that came and auditioned. I remember Gary Chryst saying, “Ok, I’m going to cut based on type.” We had danced, but we hadn’t sung yet. I’m looking at him, and thinking, “I understand.” I mean, I was twenty-five at that time, and the newspaper ad had asked for women between thirty-five and thirty-seven. But he keeps me! So, I was in the last ten.
We each do our monologue. There was an Englishman named Nigel West there— and I will never forget this— after I do my monologue, he comes over to me and introduces himself. He is surprised that I speak English so well, as were all the creative teams that were coming to Mexico. I would always be the only one who spoke English, because of growing up on the border. That was always a little plus for me. He told me to go away and study the monologue with his changes and then come back and sing the song and transition seamlessly into the monologue. So I go into the Green Room and all the ladies are there. They don’t even notice me, don’t even give me the time of day. I was the little girl sitting in the corner. At the end of the day, they call us back in and I do my thing, and it goes well. And they say, “Ok, we are down to Bianca and Olivia,”— an older lady. Oh my god, they [the other women auditioning] got so angry. “Her?! That little kid?!”
After that, there were more auditions. My [Mexican] people would say, “She’s too young. She’s not famous. She doesn’t have a name, so she doesn’t serve us. She can’t be our leading lady.” And the English guy and the directors from New York said, “I don’t care. Of all the celebrities you brought in, that little girl is your Roxie.”
What was it like to stand on the stage for the first time in a leading role?
Opening night comes, and I couldn’t even think of reviews or anything, I was just so tired! Now, I can go to the gym, get my groceries, do an interview like this before a show, whatever. But back then, I would sleep ‘til two or three in the afternoon. I wasn’t a trained singer, remember, so I would lose my voice at the end of every show. I would sleep 12, 13, 14 hours. After the show, I would always go to my favorite taqueria. My husband would take care of me and put foil paper on the windows to block out the light so I could sleep.
Then I would go and do two shows, back to back. Our schedule over there was one show Thursday, two Friday, two Saturday, two Sunday, with ten minutes between shows. We had more time in the intermission of one show than between shows! They would lead people out through the emergency exit and the next crowd would come in the front.
Then there I was winning all these awards, oh my God! And, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, six months into the run of Mexican Chicago, I get invited to come here [to New York]. They had a gap between a switch in Roxies, and so they asked my Mexican company if they would lend them their Roxie. So, I came here for a whole month. George Hamilton and Stephanie Pope were playing with me, and it was still at the Shubert Theatre. So I was on that stage!
What was that experience like, the first time on a Broadway stage?
I was so focused. People wanted to call and congratulate me, and I told my husband not to let any calls through. I was happy, but I was so focused. It was in a different language, so I had to learn the English script. I had four rehearsals, that was it. Then I had my Broadway debut.
You parents had been doubtful about you pursuing the performance path. How did they feel about it at this point?
Oh, they were so proud, so happy. People would tell them, “We didn’t know she was such a comedienne!” My parents knew, because that is the way I was at home, but during those ballet school days I wasn’t allowed to be like that—
There was the cane!
Right! The cane…
Tell me what the living was like at this time in your life.
I had friends, and my husband and I loved to, every now and then, have BBQs. We lived in a house and we loved to have parties and dinners. But mostly, it was just Luis and me, Luis and me. He knew that my career came first, and he had his own business. So, it was very quiet. We were like two little old people.
Did you have to do other jobs on the side to support yourself?
No. But I still loved my music, so I still had a band. When I was in Phantom I would change out of my ballet point shoes after the show and then dress up in my rock gear and go sing at clubs! Covers and stuff.
Eventually, I started meeting musicians from the theatre and putting together a band of my own. Then I met another very famous band in Mexico whose lead singer had abandoned them, so they wanted me to be their lead singer. We got together, it was amazing. We were just about to sign a contract with EMI, and I was just about to sign a contract to do a soap opera— we were going to join the two things. I was going to play a young dance teacher in the soap opera who sang all these songs— the same songs that were on the album that EMI was going to release.
So, what happened?
At that point, Chicago had already closed in Mexico. They called [from New York] to say that because of the success of the movie, they were going to kick off a national tour in America. They wanted me to be their Roxie. I was so nostalgic for the show, and it was a huge deal to play the American Roxie. So I went into the office of the TV producer of the soap opera. It was a Friday and we were supposed to sign the [soap opera] contract on Monday. I told him about it [the Chicago tour] and he said I should do it, “If you don’t go, I will kick you out myself.” Six months only, that is what they had told me. So the producer told me they would wait for me for six months and then write me into the soap opera.
So, I go and tour the States. And it goes so well that it turned into two consecutive years. There was a break of three weeks, which I did not take because I was invited to come and do those weeks as Roxie on Broadway with Patrick Swayze, before he went on tour with us. They offered me a third year. And that’s when I said, “Well, no…”
Where were you living at that point?
We had moved to New Jersey by then and we were very happy there. So I started auditioning in New York. And that’s when I started training vocally for real. I knew: my little voice took me far, but it needs to be on par with my dancing and my acting. There was so much I could not do with my voice. I wanted to be able to sing anything that they gave me. So I started working with Barbara Bliss, in 2005, and I am still working with her today. I had a breakthrough! Now I am like a little girl with a new toy. I am no longer walking into auditions being like, “I’m a dancer who can sing.” Now, I’m a singer!
What was life like on the road?
Challenging, but I learned a lot. I didn’t go to a musical theater school, but that, on the road, is where I made myself. I got used to the traveling. And it was really cool to open in a new city every Tuesday— opening week every week! And reviewed every time, evaluated every time.
You said you were a vampire when you did your first show. Have you managed to balance life better now with the performance schedule?
It’s fine. I wake up, do other work all day, then go off to do my show. I have more resistance, my voice is as strong as my body. I perform six days a week, eight shows. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone. But it is what I’ve known.
Any particularly memorable early triumph?
My Helen Hayes Award. I remember the speech I gave, telling them my story of coming from Mexico. I told them, “You’re welcoming me into your country. This is you telling me, ‘you’re on the right track.’” It gave me more courage to keep going.
Were the two cultural worlds— the American and the Mexican— difficult to navigate and change between?
Yes, especially as an actress on stage. The timing for a comedian was very different. The script was the same, but they laugh at different times. Different cultures have different senses of humor and sensibilities.
Actors always talk about navigating the thorny world of agents and managers. You seem to have had a somewhat unconventional path.
I didn’t have to go through any of that. Since I’ve always already had contracts in hand, it was different. But I’ve switched agents a lot. Now I’m with my fourth agency. But I’ve never been completely happy with anybody. I don’t think anybody has really understood all that I can do. The role that brought me here [to Broadway] is not a Mexican or Spanish role, you know? So, stop sending me to auditions for only Latina parts!
That’s a pretty limiting approach.
Oh yeah. See me as a triple threat, who can dance, sing, and act, and send me to all those auditions. But that’s been difficult to get into an agent’s head. They think: “Great! We need a Hispanic in our agency!” So, that has been my challenge here: don’t classify me and put me in the Hispanic box.
You’re a lead on Broadway, do you still have to run the audition rat race?
Yes, you always do. But, of course, casting directors know you now. You’re treated differently. I get invited to auditions and readings.
In an industry and a career that in may ways is so unstable, do you think having a stable personal relationship so early on in the form of your marriage helped?
Definitely. We would always remind each other and tell people that we were very lucky to have found our partner very early on in life, because we took on this adventure together. But…we’re separated now. We separated three months ago. So right now in my life, I’m going through a lot of changes. I followed my instincts and took the decision, don’t know yet if it’s the right one.
I have never been alone in my life. Because I literally moved from my parents’ house to Luis; I was always taken care of. I had this awakening in me, and I told him I want to be independent, to learn to do things on my own. There are a lot of things I haven’t lived yet. So, it’s the toughest time, I’ll tell you, that I’m going through, apart from when my Mom died [three and a half years ago].
Thank God for my show. I pour my heart out, all the pain that I’m going through right now, into that part.
In a way Chicago, which you’ve had a decade-long relationship with, is like a stable pillar now.
Yes. The show is the only familiar thing in my life right now. And that dressing room is my home. There are a lot of people in that cast who’ve known me since day one and they’ve seen me grow up.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know. But I did a TV show last year for Univision, the Spanish speaking network. It was the equivalent of Dancing with the Stars, and I was a judge. It had such great success, we had 8-9 million people watching us every Sunday. It changed my life a little, because now I go on the street and Hispanic people recognize me from the show. I am going to do a second season of it come next September.
That’s an interesting offshoot. Because even if the live-performance lifestyle suits you, from a lifetime perspective it is very demanding. In a way, TV is more sustainable.
Totally. And in the ninth episode of that show, they asked me to perform. I put together a medley of Chicago. It was a big thing. People just loved it. That’s what I do every single night of my life, but I do it once on TV and people are all like, “Wow!”
It was amazing to share my work with so many people, especially people who are not usually exposed to it. Because of that, lots of Hispanics are coming to see the show on Broadway. So that’s really cool for Chicago too.
Maybe something will come from there, maybe I will have my own show…who knows!
Do you have any advice for young performers just starting out?
Everybody has a different process or order of events to get where you’re going to get. Don’t look at the person beside to you. Everybody has a different path.
We live in a very competitive world, and all we can do is our best. So always be the best you can be in every department. Nothing is impossible, never settle: “I’m a great dancer, but my voice is okay…” NO! I am living proof. I had a little weak voice, and I made it into something big. Anything can be done if you really have the heart for it and work hard for it.
This is an industry of a lot of rejections, so just know that. And learn from it. Every rejection has a little story that will teach you something and help you be a better person, and a stronger performer. Don’t let it crumble you. Yes, you can cry, just for a day. And then get up the next day and try again. It’s full of that. So make sure you get your tough skin. Know what you are getting yourself into.
Do not be afraid to take challenges. Sure, the comfortable road is more comfortable. But I have found in my life that you are mostly rewarded when you take the— what?— stonier path. Take risks. No matter what the world tells you, no matter how discouraging people can be. Life rewards you more. Don’t be afraid to be the director, choreographer, editor, musical director, painter of your own life. Your canvas is white, start painting.
Being a performer is a risky path. Does it ever stop being scary?
No, it never stops being scary.
Interview by Astri von Arbin Ahlander
Images courtesy of the Artist