When “Chicago” comes to the Granada this coming Tuesday and Wednesday, it brings along actress, singer, comedian and voice actor Roz Ryan , who in 2013 broke the late Marcia Lewis’ record of 223 weeks playing the essential role of Matron “Mama” Morton. She’s now in that show’s 19th year. When asked if she remembers the day they told her she’d broken the record, she says, “I can’t remember the day they called and told me, but I was on Broadway when it happened.” (The date was Oct. 21, 2013, in case somebody wants to check.)
Bolstered by Tony Awards and then Oscars, this Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb and John Kander musical continues to grow in popularity. Based on two real-life murderesses from the Roaring ’20s, the musical equates vaudeville with the media circus that pops up around salacious murder trials. It is smart, cynical, sexy and sad, and always helped by a saucy poster campaign filled with leggy stars wearing fishnet stockings. The production coming this week also stars Dylis Croman as Roxie Hart, Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Jacob Keith Watson as Amos Hart.
Ms. Ryan’s “Mama” Morton rules the Cook County prison to which Velma and Roxie both spend time, and Morton’s number “When You’re Good to Mama” is always a show-stealer.
Ms. Ryan went to her first audition in 1979 and nailed it the first time out, landing a role in “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Ten days later she left her life in Detroit and was working in New York City.
“I was a nightclub singer. I didn’t know for auditions. I didn’t know theater from Timbuktu. They were totally different worlds. But it was time for me to get out of town! I knew I wanted something more; I just didn’t know what it was.”
Did she think she got the role when she left the audition room?
“I was too vain at the time not to think so! I came in with that Detroit nightclub attitude and they liked it.”
Her first speaking role was in 1981 in “Dreamgirls” and she took a break from Broadway for 11 years while she worked on the Sherman Hemsley sitcom “Amen.” She joined the 1996 revival of “Chicago” and has been on tour with it ever since.
Half her time is spent in New York and occasionally she gets a month off where she either spends time with family or tries to go somewhere tropical where she can scuba dive, something she’s been doing since 1995. She learned in Australia, when she was touring “South Pacific” . . . in the South Pacific.
“It’s physical and mental therapy,” she says. “The first time was euphoric. It changed my life. There are things going on down there that we can’t fathom.”
Back on dry land she is used to living on the road for months at a time. She has very basic routines for staying healthy.
“I don’t hang out,” she says. “With the road the climates change constantly. But it’s a routine thing. Okay, we’re on the road, so we know what to do. And the body goes into road mode. It’s conditioning. I’ve been doing it since 1979. That makes me mature, not old!”
She also loves imparting her wisdom to new arrivals in the theater world.
“I didn’t have a mentor when I started. And I believe in being that for (younger artists). It gets chaotic though — really crazy. When you’re on the road those people become like a part of you and you can tell when the energy shifts. You can tell when somebody needs a hug, when somebody needs a hit upside the head; you can look at someone and tell when they need to eat!”
When I tell her she could turn all of this into a self-help book, she laughs.
“I could. But it will be my second book. My first book is going to be ‘Let Me Tell You Something.’ My coworker said to me, do you realize that when you’re just about to give us these pearls of wisdom you say, ‘Let me tell you something’? So that’s gonna be my first book.”
Chicago: The Musical
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.
Information: 899-2222, granadasb.org