At the stage door of the Ambassador Theater in New York City, the name on everybody’s lips has been “Pamela,” as fans clamor to get a selfie with Pamela Anderson, the ’90s icon who is returning to the spotlight on her own terms.
Earlier this year, Anderson, 54, revealed she would be making her Broadway debut in “Chicago,” the second longest-running musical on Broadway. Known for its stunt casting of stars to keep audiences coming back for more, Anderson has garnered plenty of positive reviews for her turn as Roxie Hart, and it’s something even she’s surprised by.
The Telegraph gave the production 4 out of 5 stars, calling her performance “surprisingly good,” while The New York Post said that “she landed it all” and received a standing ovation on opening night in April.
“I’m very flattered and extremely grateful,” Anderson told TODAY via email about the reception of her performance. “I have put my heart and soul into this. I say God may not have blessed me with a lot of natural talent but a very strong work ethic, given the opportunity. I will always work the hardest. I have always understood that. I am capable of even more than I can give myself credit for.”
“I’m just a 5-year-old girl out there, living her dream,” she said.
From a Jumbotron to the Great White Way
To understand just how far she’s come and the feat that is Anderson’s Broadway debut, one must understand where she started.
The child of a waitress and furnace repairman, Anderson was born in Canada in a small British Columbia town called Ladysmith. At 22 years old, a chance encounter at a football game launched her career in modeling after she appeared on the Jumbotron wearing a cutoff Labatt’s Beer T-shirt. The brand was so enamored with her, they later used her in an ad campaign.
“I looked up at the big screen and saw this huge face, and I’m looking and going, ‘Oh, my God, that’s me,'” she told “Inside Edition” in 1992. “I didn’t even recognize myself .”
This paved the way for her infamous Playboy modeling career, having appeared on its cover 14 times — more than any other woman in Playboy history, according to the magazine. “Hollywood people are dreamers, always grabbing for something big,” she told Playboy back in 1990. “I’m a dreamer too so I guess I belong here.”
From there she began acting, starring in the ABC sitcom “Home Improvement” as Lisa, aka “the Tool Girl,” before joining the cast of “Baywatch” in 1992 as CJ Parker, one of the longest running characters on the ’90s series about lifeguards who patrol the beaches in Los Angeles.
Since then, she has appeared in a number of projects — from “Barb Wire” in 1996, to “Stripperella” in 2003 — but perhaps nothing as cathartic as “Chicago.” “The story and my life are so parallel,” she told Vogue back in March. “I always say … 30 years of therapy or just one Broadway show, then I’ll be fine.”
Anderson told TODAY that theater producer Barry Weissler called her during “a challenging point” in her life and that the casting decision “just may have saved me.”
“It all happened very fast, good timing,” she said by email. “I took a leap of faith. He said next week I want you in rehearsals. I believe in you. My sons agreed. It was something I must do for me, my soul.”
Anderson entered the zeitgeist even earlier this year when “Pam and Tommy,” the scripted Hulu series about her and ex-husband Tommy Lee, was reportedly released without her consent. In “Chicago,” she seems to be taking back ownership of her own celebrity.
“I poured all my life experience into the role, and when I’m on stage, I think of nothing else,” she said. “I needed it, and I’m so glad it’s being conveyed that I can (affect) people enough to make them laugh or cry. What an honor.”
In “Chicago,” Anderson plays Roxie Hart, the scrappy vixen who has lofty aspirations of a career in vaudeville. These come to fruition when she’s thrust into the national spotlight after being accused of killing her lover, becoming a media sensation. A story that could be ripped from any tabloid, it’s not the farthest departure from Anderson who was no stranger herself to a controversial life in the limelight.
“We are very similar,” Anderson said of her and Hart. “Quick on her feet, street smart, she uses all she has to survive. We both get away with ‘murder.’”
During the pre-show rituals—or “magic” as she calls it—that she’s created for herself, Anderson lights candles at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for good luck. She employs ginger candies, throat sprays and vocal warm-ups to ensure she can belt out the notes on stage. She runs three dance numbers before every show alone or with the show’s dance captain, David Bushman. And while she makes sure she has the choreographed steps down pat, she likes to mix it up each night, as well.
“I want to improve every day. I surprise myself with little things,” she said of the eight-week engagement that runs through June 5. “It’s spontaneity. Every show is a little different.”
‘Like we’ve done this together’
Improvised or planned, audience members are loving the “razzle dazzle” Anderson is throwing down eight shows a week.
“She had great stage presence,” audience member Nicole Green told NBC News after seeing the show. “She held her own amongst all these other talented actors, and I feel like she did a great job.”
“I was impressed,” Rahul Dudta — another audience member — also said. “She had so much energy and was so sprightly on stage.”
But of all the reviews, the most important ones just may be from her sons with Lee. Brandon Thomas, 25, and Dylan Jagger, 24, were there opening night on Tuesday, April 12, to support their mom.
“My sons both cried, along with some of my dear friends who have seen the show and have always believed in me, who knew I never reached my true potential,” she said. “This is it. This was what I was meant to do all along. I sign autographs for many people outside the theater after the show. It’s so sweet that people want to hug me and tell me how proud they are of me, like we’ve done this together.”
“They say we never knew you could sing, dance? And I respond, ‘Neither did I.’”