’Pippin’ Couple Juggle Parenthood, B’dway Careers
It’s good to report that the marriage between Terrence Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise is strong as ever, despite the fact that he throws knives at her eight times a week.
Both are appearing in the hit Broadway musical "Pippin" - playing, what else, husband and wife - and the revival requires both to explore circus tricks. Mann chose to toss knives at his wife.
"Are we working anything out emotionally? Like is this our therapy?" asks the veteran actor with a laugh. He shoots an adoring look at his wife. "Absolutely."
The show marks the first time in about a dozen years that they’ve shared the same stage, he as the manic king and father to the unsettled prince Pippin and she as a sexy stepmother.
"One of us to be in a hit show is pretty amazing," says Mann. "For two of us, you just have to stand back and say, `Thank you.’" His wife agrees: "I thank God we did it. I’m thrilled."
Director Diane Paulus has transformed the beloved tale of self-discovery by fusing it with circus elements - think fire jugglers, teeterboards, knife-throwing and contortionists.
Mann, who learned some circus tricks years ago starring in "Barnum," considered sawing his wife in half and she pondered being shot out of a cannon before they both landed on knife-throwing. (Relax, she’s never in danger.)
Mann and d’Amboise, who met in 1983 during the original production of "Cats," are proof that show business marriages can work. They have five Tony Award nominations between them and they’re raising two daughters in Harlem.
For d’Amboise, her initial fear was less about getting impaled by her husband than the consequence of sharing her workplace with him. Romance needs a little space, she thought.
"I worried about that a lot when we first got cast. I remember thinking, `We’re going to spend too much time together. It’ll just be too much. We’re going to have nothing to talk about,’" she says.
Mann waves that fear away. "We don’t have anything to talk about anyway, except our children," he says, laughing.
As if parenting pre-teens and juggling two Broadway roles isn’t enough, Mann and d’Amboise are also co-founders of an intensive summer musical theater program for students ages 12-18.
Called Triple Arts - for the trio of acting, singing and dancing skills needed on Broadway - the program, which ends Friday, taught more than 30 kids over two weeks. They learned to perform the song "When I Grow Up" from "Matilda the Musical" and "You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" from "Annie."
During a visit last week to the program’s home at the National Dance Institute, Mann and d’Amboise - aided by four full-time instructors and some guest teachers - watched like hawks as the children performed complicated choreography.
"Quiet! Here we go," d’Amboise yelled. "Three, four five! Perfect."
The course, which costs $1,500 and is on a first-come, first-served basis, benefits from the founders’ connections. Students this summer learned the famously difficult Manson Trio dance in "Pippin" from one of the actual Broadway dancers.
"It’s vocabulary that they’re not going to get in their normal matriculation through dance schools or summer programs," says Mann, 62. One of their alumna is Ariana deBose, who now plays Mary Wilson in "Motown the Musical" on Broadway.
D’Amboise, 49, who comes from a family of dancers and whose credits include playing Roxie Hart in "Chicago" and Cassie in "A Chorus Line," says the program’s focus on all three skills is its strength.
"Truthfully, I would have loved it if someone forced me to sing. I was a dancer’s dancer," she says. "So we make everyone do everything. The dancers are singing."
Mann and d’Amboise are just the latest husband-and-wife team to perform together on Broadway.
There’s also Boyd Gaines and Kathleen McNenny, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, and Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel, to name just three. (Mann and d’Amboise aren’t even the only married pair onstage in "Pippin": There are two other couples among the acrobats.) And this fall, real-life husband and wife Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz are to play an adulterous stage couple in a Broadway production of Harold Pinter’s "Betrayal."
D’Amboise says that while she may have been a touch competitive with her more-established husband when they first started dating, the years have softened her edge.
"Oh my, gosh. We’re so past that. Twenty-four years later and two kids later, I’ve literally failed a million times in front of him or succeeded a million times," she says. "Now it’s actually great. Our relationship is always helpful. There’s always advice. `This works’ or `That works.’"
For his part, Mann says he’s found a surefire system to keep harmony at home even when his wife has a nightly critique of his work. "She has copious notes for me, even in my performance in `Pippin.’ And I just tell her she’s brilliant. It works out perfectly."
D’Amboise nods. "It really works well," she says, smiling.