Q&A: Chicago's Jennifer Nettles

Whitney Spaner

This winter, country singer Jennifer Nettles has gone from down-home to downtown, relocating from her farm in Nashville, Tennessee, to the West Village, where she's living while starring as Roxie Hart in the Broadway revival of Chicago. As the singing half of the much-decorated duo Sugarland, Nettles is finding the Bob Fosse–styled choreography to be the most challenging part of her Broadway debut. But when you're as big of a star as Nettles is, you get to learn from the best—including Fosse muse Ann Reinking, who's stepped in to help the Georgia native find her inner hip thrust. But even with hours and hours of rehearsal prior to her first performance (which took place on February 3), Nettles is still finding time to enjoy big city life with her husband, Justin Miller, and their 2-year-old son, Magnus. She recently talked with us about her Broadway debut and her favorite things to do in New York City.

How did the opportunity to make your Broadway debut come about? Jennifer Nettles: I had been waiting for the right timing in my career to be able to shift my focus and try new things. With the birth of my son two years ago, I became more inspired to make changes and brave choices. Chicago was looking for guest stars and reached out to my agent, and I said, “Let's make this happen.” It was the right role at the right time.

Had you seen Chicago before? What was your first experience with the musical? JN: I saw Chicago several years ago when Usher was playing Billy Flynn. He was so smooth in that role.

As the lead singer of Sugarland and a solo country artist you are used to performing as yourself on stage. How do you make the transition to performing as a character? JN: Although it's been a little while, I grew up performing in theater. The newest element for me in this role was the dancing. Luckily, I had a month of rehearsals with some of the most fabulous dancers around. They were super helpful in my making the connections within all the Fosse choreography. I love Roxie! She is a dreamer who found herself confronted with a unique opportunity to make those dreams a reality. She thinks on her feet and recognizes opportunity when she sees it. I can relate to that.

What was the most challenging thing about rehearsals for you? JN: My perfectionism has been most challenging! I was least experienced with trained dancing, and yet I want to suddenly be Ann Reinking. I had to learn to incorporate the Fosse choreography into my body and give my own interpretation in order to give my best.

Even though you are a country music star, do you have an appreciation for show tunes? What do you like in particular about the Chicago score? JN: I've always loved musical theater and show tunes; the first album I ever owned was Annie. The music in Chicago is fantastic. It is sexy and funny and very relatable.

Did anyone special come to see you on your opening night? JN: I had many family and friends in the audience, including my great aunt and uncle, who are in their 80s and 90s and are native New Yorkers. They took me to see my first Broadway show when I was 10!

What are some of your favorite things to do and places to go in New York City? JN: I love skating in Central Park. I love the Met. I love just walking around holding my husband's hand and looking at old architecture, dreaming, eating and shopping. I love strolling through the residential streets of the West Village. I love flea markets and vintage shops. I'm a downtown gal.

What's next for your music career? Where are you going to go from here? JN: I'm hoping to make a new record in 2015. And yet I am so inspired by my Broadway experience that I haven't fully decided what's next and when. Whatever is next for me, it's gonna have to be fun.

The current revival of Chicago has been running on Broadway since 1996; buy tickets to see it at the Ambassador Theatre.