Wagner theater grad gets lead in Broadway’s ‘Chicago’

Wagner College has several theater alums who’ve made it to Broadway — but it took most of them, on average, 10 years to get there after graduation.

Emma Pittman ’18, who graduated from the Wagner College Theatre program less than 2 years ago, has scored an amazing coup: This month, she was cast as Roxie Hart, the lead character in the long-running Broadway revival of “Chicago: The Musical.”

A 2014 photo of Emma Pittman’s freshman learning community at Wagner College — she’s standing, toward the left, with a plaid scarf around her neck. The LC is doing a walking tour of the street art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy Felicia Ruff)

“Emma did everything right,” said Michele Pawk, Pittman’s Senior Showcase professor. “She was always exploring her craft, especially in areas where she had room to grow.”

Pittman’s star shone brightly on the Wagner College Theatre stage from her very first year, remembers WCT head Felicia Ruff. As a freshman, Pittman played the role of Victoria, the white cat — “the famous ballet one,” Ruff says — in “Cats.”

She went on to perform as a dancer/actor in “a ton of shows,” Ruff recalled. “She was in ‘A Chorus Line,’ and ‘Titanic’ — that was really huge. She also worked as an assistant director and assistant stage manager,” roles that may have helped her get inside the heads of her “Chicago” casting judges, Ruff suggested.

Then, in her senior year, Pittman shifted her attention from the dancer/actor roles to ones that relied exclusively on acting and singing, like her final mainstage performance as Claudia Nardi in “Nine.”

“Emma’s voice is as bright and clear as her spirit,” said Pittman’s voice instructor, Amy Williams remarked. “It was a joy to teach her.”

“All the while, in addition to her performance studies, Emma explored directing and choreography,” Ruff said, “and where she could have chosen to do less demanding technical assignments, she opted to serve as assistant stage manager, requiring her nightly presence at rehearsal, as well as a completely volunteer position as assistant director on ‘1776’.”

By the time she graduated cum laude in May 2018, the recipient of a new award for exceptional performance as a theater major, Emma Pittman had become a genuine triple threat — a top-notch actor, singer and dancer — and more.

But through all the shows upon which she worked as a Wagner student, Pittman had studied dance, dance and more dance. By the time she graduated — including her years of study before enrolling at Wagner — she had put in 12 years of ballet study, 14 years of jazz, 13 years of tap, 6 years of hip-hop, 7 years of contemporary and 5 years of modern dance.

And it was, apparently, her facility as a dancer, in particular, that nailed her big Broadway break.

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Emma Pittman ’18 was tapped earlier this month as the next Roxie Hart in the long-running Broadway revival of “Chicago: The Musical” on the final episode of a five-part web video series sponsored by Broadway.com, a theater-news website, and the Ambassador Theatre, the current home of “Chicago.”

The web series documented the competition to find “Broadway’s next Roxie,” which was launched on Sept. 9 with a casting call.

Emma Pittman made the cut for the contest’s Final 10.

When Pittman found out, she said on the web series, “I was in Cashiers, North Carolina. My boyfriend and I were on a road trip from New York all the way down to Mississippi, my home. We were stopped for my birthday, actually, having a nice outing in the woods, in a cabin.”

“Wait a minute,” web series host and former Roxie Hart actor Paige Davis interrupted. “On your birthday?!”

“It was the coolest birthday present ever,” Pittman said.

And then, several weeks later, when she was told she’d made another cut into the Final Three: “I’m going to pop some champagne tonight!” she said. “I’m gonna have wine and cheese for dinner!”

The final competition between Kate Gulotta, Khalifa White and Emma Pittman took place at “Roxie Boot Camp,” where “Chicago” staff put the finalists through their paces.

“It’s amazing how different our Roxies are,” Pittman remarked for the web series. “We talk about it all the time. It’s like it’s all different, but not because we’re making different choices to BE different. It’s just that we are authentically full human beings who have lived our different lives and we’re bringing ourselves to this amazing, iconic character, and to just bring her to life is so cool.”

In the final episode of the web series, the competition’s judges laid out the case for their choice of Broadway’s next Roxie Hart. Those judges were casting director Duncan Stewart, “Chicago” choreographer Ann Reinking, and actors Bebe Neuwirth and Bianca Marroquin, both of whom had played Roxie Hart on Broadway.

It quickly became apparent that, talented as the other two competitors were — and they were both extremely talented — the role was going to go to Emma Pittman. She was a “genuine triple threat,” the judges agreed, but the deciding factor was Pittman’s extraordinary proficiency as a dancer.

All of those years, and years, and years in the dance studio had paid off!

We are not completely sure when Emma Pittman will start performing on the “Chicago” stage at Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre — but Erika Jayne, who started earlier this month in the role of Roxie, is scheduled to continue through the end of March.

For more about Emma Pittman’s casting as the next Roxie Hart in Broadway’s “Chicago,” visit the Staten Island Advance website to read the story by entertainment reporter Victoria Priola.