Terra C. MacLeod has been playing Velma Kelly in Kander & Ebb’s Chicago—on Broadway, on tour, and internationally—for the greater part of the past decade. Southern California audiences will now get to welcome Terra in her signature role as Chicago’s National Tour arrives at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts.  We recently got to catch with the Scenie winner (for her L.A. star turns in The Pajama Game and Kiss Of The Spider Woman). Heres our chat.

Hi Terra. Welcome back to this sunny corner of the world!

Hi Steven! It’s so great to be back in California again.

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am that I’ll finally be getting to see you in your signature role as Velma Kelly in Chicago.

I’m excited that you’ll get to see the show!

Velma is such a quintessentially American role that I was surprised to learn that you were born and bred in Montreal, Quebec! So, how did a young Quebecoise first get bitten by the performing bug?

I got the performance bug very early on. I’m one of those stories that you hear “I knew from the time I put on a pair of dance shoes what I wanted to do,” and I haven’t stopped.

Can you talk a bit about your theatrical debut?

I started my dance training in Montreal at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens as a ballet dancer. My first show was the Nutcracker. I was eleven years old. That was it for me. The minute I hit the stage and the lights went on I was hooked. I just loved to perform and dance.

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Terra as Ulla in The Producers

How did your parents feel about your being a performer?

My parents were incredibly supportive and allowed me to explore all forms of the performing arts. I was in a Children’s theater group, summer festivals, private voice lessons, film and TV… I just dove into it all. I would scout the auditions in the trade papers at eleven years old and tell my mom “Hey There’s this audition! I’m going!” and I would pick up the phone and make my appointments. I had this burning desire to perform and be on stage. My poor parents didn’t know what hit them. But the truth is when a child has support to cultivate their passion, a whole world opens up to them. I ran with my passion and my parents supported me in exploring it all. I was very fortunate to have that. Seriously it shaped my path in the performing arts.

You’re the quintessential triple threat, equally gifted as a singer, dancer, and actress. Which came first for you, and did one of these “threats” come more naturally than the others?

Hmm…. You know my grandmother has always said to me “Terra, you were always an actress first!” and yet it was dance that was my first experience as a performer. Singing came later on for me. I was shy singing. Believe it or not, to this day if I’m asked to sing at a party or event, I get very nervous. Some people can get up there and just take on a room and belt out a tune. I love that.

And the acting?

I think the “actor” in me is where I feel most at ease. There’s no end result with that kind of work. It is always a work in progress. I love theater and the whole concept of creating a role that comes from elements of yourself is exciting to me.

Your earliest roles were, I assume, in Canada. When and how did your American debut come about?

I moved to the U.S. at nineteen years old and went to AMDA in New York. At the time it was small campus on the Upper West Side and there were fifteen kids in my class. It was wonderful experience for me. NYC at nineteen! It was a dream come true! I soaked it in like a sponge. After my studies, I was granted a one-year working visa and the first job I got was Kristine in a Chorus line. A Chorus Line was the first “American” job I booked and I was thrilled.

Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Ensemble. Photo by Paul Kolnik I don’t know anyone with a longer and more diverse history with Chicago than you. When and in which company did you make your Velma Kelly debut in the Walter Bobbie-directed production?

After the movie came out, a lot of international cities were starting the buy the rights for the show. The producers for the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal bought the rights for the French version of the show in the summer of 2003. They held auditions nationwide looking for French-speaking actresses to portray the roles of Velma and Roxie. At the time I was shooting a series up in Vancouver and couldn’t make the auditions in Montreal. So I sent over a tape and from there got called in for final callbacks. I flew to Montreal where I met the whole creative team … and the rest is history. I booked the job and with the success of the Montreal production we were brought over to Paris for six months in 2004. It was such an amazing time and experience.

Wow! I had no idea your first Velma was en français!

Yes, I did play Velma in French first. That was my first introduction to the script. So I didn’t know differently.

Did you grow up bilingual?

Growing up in Montreal, Quebec, I went to a French elementary school and spoke English at home. I was fortunate enough to have a second language under my belt very early on.

2_National tour of CHICAGO © Paul Kolnik

How was it to relearn the part en anglais?

It was more of a challenge to learn Velma with the English script and yet English was my first language. For sure the performance changed with the fluidity of the French language. It had a musicality to it. I also worked with a dialect coach in France who helped me with the language because I was the only principle whose mother tongue was English, so they wanted me to be on the same level as the French actors. I loved the challenge, and it was quite an experience to pay attention to the delivery of the lines. To get that kind of work experience only made the work stronger in the end.

How many times have you been “back on Broadway” or “back on tour” with Velma?

I want to say I’ve have been back on Broadway nine times with the show and since 2004 I’ve been with the tour give or take a year. The tour has taken me to Tokyo, Taiwain, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Paris, Canada and all over the USA. It’s been a great ride indeed.

You’ve also played Velma in London’s West End. What was it like for you to be part of the British equivalent of our American Broadway?

That is truly one of the highlights of my career. The West End was a big step for me. It was a “pinch me now” moment. Thrilling! The cast was wonderful.

What is it that makes the West End so special?

There’s something romantic about playing the West End. Maybe it’s because I love the history aspect of it all. I was on tour when the creative team called me and asked “Terra, Ruthie Henshall is going back into the show in London and we need to find someone to match her. Would you want to go?” I was like “Yes! Yes! Yes! Absolutely yes, I will go!” Those are the moments in one’s career where you just feel so grateful. It was great to be in London working. I had always wanted that. I learned a lot and would love to work there again someday,

Chicago had a decent, even successful 936 performance run in its original Broadway production, a run that could hardly have presaged the 1996 Broadway revival’s phenomenal success—still running after eighteen years and over 6700 performances. What do you think it is about the revival version that has made it go on and on and on and on?

Oh, there are a few factors for sure, and it would be hard for me to narrow it down to one, however it was the sheer consciousness that shifted with people. With the introduction to reality TV and celebrity and how the media plays a huge part in the depiction of sensationalizing what makes the front page resonates more today than ever. Then the other factor I think was the success of the film as it only enhanced the global recognition of Chicago. It’s timeless, smart, witty, edgy and a great piece of American theater.

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Terra in Blood Brothers

With Chicago being such an important part of your professional life, it’s amazing that you’ve had time for other roles, and yet a glance at your résumé shows you’ve played quite a gamut of women between Velmas, most recently the very non-dancy role of Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers. I imagine you must feel very lucky to have both the stability that your “Velma gig” offers and the variety of roles you’ve gotten to play, right?

Absolutely! I feel very fortunate to have had Chicago with me over the years. I never could have predicted or anticipated the longevity I would have with the show. It’s been such a great experience to continue working on a role year after year. The work is never done. I love it that I can actually live that statement. To have that opportunity is a gift!

And what about undertaking those other “non-Velma” roles?

To dive into other roles when I’m not doing Chicago allows me to continue working on other material which I think equally as important. That’s where growth and expansion happens.

Terra in Kiss Of The Spider Woman

Southern California audiences know you from a variety of local appearances including (most notably for me) your star turns in Musical Theatre West’s The Pajama Game and as Spider Woman herself in Havok Theatre’s Kiss Of The Spider Woman. I’m wondering how much Spider Woman has in common with Velma, both of them being Kander and Ebb creations.

There are definitely similarities. Having played both of these roles I see the humor, the depth, and the nuances that Kander and Ebb gave these characters in the lyrics and storytelling. That is the brilliance of Kander and Ebb. Their women have layers upon layers to unravel. Both are colorful, driven, ambitious, sexy, witty, knowing and powerful. They have drive and purpose.

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And now you’re coming back to Southern California for a week at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts in Costa Mesa. As someone who calls New York City your home, are you looking forward to being back in our neck of the woods?

I’m so happy to be back in California. I love it here and I always feel like a piece of me is here. I miss it a lot and have a great group of people here.

Any plans for your brief stay in Southern California?

I will be visiting with friends and making sure to take in some of my favorite spots. I’m coming from the East Coast cold so Southern California at the end of January sounds perfect to me.

Following Costa Mesa, you’ll be spending the rest of February in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in Norfolk, Virginia, in Flint, Michigan, in New Philadelphia, Ohio, and finally ending the month in none other than the Windy City itself. How do you manage to stay sane with such a whirlwind life?

The most important thing to me is my family, and I always make sure to get back to Montreal as often as I can when I’m touring and there’s some down time. If there’s time off, I head to Montreal. End of story. Back to the motherland! It’s my grounding, and my roots. I love touring and seeing the country and getting the chance to travel. But there’s something also to be said about keeping myself connected to my roots and having a place to call “home” when all is said and done.

Terra, it was such a thrill for me to discover you as a performer in 2007’s The Pajama Game and then get to see you twice in Kiss Of A Spider Woman back in 2008. It’s been over five years (and far too long for me) since I last got to see you perform. Needless to say, I’ll be there with bells on for Chicago’s opening night!

TERRA C. MacLEOD (Velma Kelly) is thrilled to return to her Chicago family. She has played the role around the world from B’way to the West End, French Premiere (Montreal and Paris), internat’l & nat’l tours and the 10th Anniversary Gala. Other credits include: Blood Brothers (Mrs. J) and The Producers (Ulla), Vancouver Arts Club; Kiss of the Spider Woman (Spider Woman), LA Havok Theatre; Cats (Bombalurina) and The Pajama Game (Gladys), MTWLA; West Side Story (Anita), New Orleans Opera & Vancouv. Arts Club (Jessie Award, Best Supp. Actress); Guys and Dolls (Adelaide), San Diego MT; Damn Yankees (Lola); A Chorus Line (Cassie). Film & TV: The Lizzie Maguire Movie, “The Reagans,” “The Dead Zone,” “Jeremiah,” “Cold Squad,” “Life or Something Like It.” This is for Chiara, Calli and Chance.

Click here to purchase tickets to Chicago at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts

Chicago production stills by Paul Kolnik

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