After a long COVID-induced hiatus, Oxford’s Emma Pittman will make her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in the musical “Chicago.” Pittman won the role in broadway.com’s contest, “The Search for Roxie,” in late 2019 and was expected to take the stage in 2020. The pandemic shutdown Broadway completely, and Pittman’s plans were put on hold. She will join the Broadway cast as Roxie for a limited time (June 6-19), replacing current star Pamela Anderson.
Pittman studied theater at Oxford High School (class of 2014) and at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York (class of 2018). In October 2019, she found herself in the top 10 semifinalists for the role of Roxie Hart in the Broadway musical, “Chicago.” The following month, she made the top 3. Then, guess what? She got the part!
Q: How did this all come about?
A: I got an email from a professor, Michele Pawk. She’s a Tony award-winning actress, and she teaches at my school. She’s still performing. She’s kind of like my mentor. The audition was an online video submission. She emailed me because one of the press reps emailed our school, and Michele sent it to me and was like, “You need to do this, you would be perfect for it.” I think if I had seen it by myself I might have been tentative, but because it was someone that I trust and admire and respect, I knew that I had to do it.
The requirements of the audition were posted online. You had to sing a little excerpt of the song, “Roxie.” You had to do part of the Roxie monologue, which they provided. They linked a YouTube video of the dance captain teaching a dance part.
I recorded it around the beginning of October. I posted it online and then let it go. And was like “whatever” — if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be. I just let it go. I didn’t look at any other submissions. In a real audition you don’t get to see other people.
Q: Where were you when you heard you made the top 10?
A: I went on a road trip with my boyfriend in New York. I heard from them Oct. 23, which was my birthday, that I got in the top 10 semifinalists. I’m sorry all you who gave me a present, but it was the best birthday present ever!
Then I had to sign a contract saying that I wouldn’t tell anyone until the video was announced. It was funny because I was on a road trip, and I had to get the thing that I signed notarized, and I was like, “Omigod, what do I do?” We had to find a library that had a notary. And I had to get it done by the next day, so that was kind of scary. It was outside Cashiers, North Carolina.
Q: How’d you make the top 3?
A: Basically the next part was, they announced the top 10 and then it’s up to the viewers (on Facebook). Nov. 1 was the first day of voting. They had to go online and vote for the top 3. That’s when everything blew up — it was amazing. I had so many people from my hometown, from Oxford, from people I met in dance camps in New York, to people I went to college with, to people’s families that I knew that were sharing on Facebook and Instagram for people to vote for me. It was really, really unbelievable the amount of support that I got. I was floored. Nov. 12 I found out I was in the top 3. That was super-cool. Paige Davis, the face of the search, Facetimed me to tell me. It was amazing. I was home — I was choreographing “’Tis the Season” (at OHS).
Q: Then you headed back to New York for the final audition. What was that like?
A: After the top 3 announcement was made, we were being flown to New York for the audition. So we flew in the 18th of November, and we were out by the 20th. It was crazy. It was the fastest three days of my life. We had a Roxie boot camp first, where we worked on the song with the musical director of the show. We worked on the dance with the dance captain, which was super cool, and then we worked on the monologue, which is longer than the first audition. That was so fun. Kate and Khalifa (the other two candidates) are just so talented. These girls are two God-loving girls, and that night we chatted about how happy we were to just be in it. No matter who wins. There was nothing bad that could come out to this experience. Going into the boot camp with these girls, I just felt very supporting and supported by these two girls. It was a great, great time.
The next day was the audition. We all went in and did the dance first. In front of Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth. She was Lillith in “Frasier.” And Bianca Marroquin. (All former Roxies.) And then we went in one at a time again to do the monologue into the song because they flow right into each other. And it was just incredible to do these iconic roles that these people who are sitting in front of me have done. I just had to have fun and be myself — that’s all I can be. There’s no point in trying to be these greats. It’s so much more fun to find yourself and your own personality in these iconic characters.
Q: When you found out you got the part, what was that like?
A: Honestly it wasn’t really about me, which I loved. Because Ann Reinking was speaking about how great the other two were. They were like, “We’re giving this to Emma, but don’t be discouraged, continue to work. Dance better. And come back and see us so we can hire you.” Hearing “no” is a part of this business. It shouldn’t be discouraging.
Obviously we had like a big group hug. I remember just hugging them and saying that I’m so grateful that we went though this experience together. If it was anyone else, someone who was looking for a competition or a cutthroat process, it would have just ruined the entire process. And we’re going to be there for each other in the time to come.
Q: Wait, so when did you actually find out you got the part? Were you back in Oxford?
A: I found out right then (at the audition)! I had to keep it a secret until they announced it (two months later) — it was crazy!
Q: Will you stay friends with the other finalists, Kate and Khalifa?
A: Oh absolutely. We have a group message, and we talk all the time. They are super encouraging, and I know we’ll always be there for each other. We call it “the Roxie sisterhood.”
Q: You’re a hometown hero now. Anything you’d like to say?
I think just if there’s any way I could extend a huge thank you to the community for always being supportive of the arts. John Davenport: they are just blessed to have him. He’s a genius, and he is so kind, and he challenges them. It’s about learning how to work on your weaknesses but also to be a better person. I literally wouldn’t be here without you guys. I’m just so, so thankful.
A condensed version of this interview appeared in the March 2020 issue of Invitation Oxford.