facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
Are you missing theatre as much as we are? Support us now with Theatre Tokens and see your favourite shows when they reopen.

Chicago star Leigh Zimmerman

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 22 April 2008

To play Velma, the nightclub murderess, in Chicago you need to be a great actress, singer and dancer, have plenty of stamina, sex appeal and the longest legs in London. American Leigh Zimmerman has it all. She talks to us …

'What really makes Bob Fosse’s work so great' says Leigh Zimmerman “is that his characters are so rich. If you look at Chicago, Cabaret, Sweet Charity…just look at those women!.’ It is that depth of character that attracted Zimmerman to Velma in Chicago, the lead role she has been playing at the Adelphi Theatre since April. The show is based on a true story about the murderess Roxie Hart, who went on trial in the 1920s. Also in prison for murder, Velma forms a nightclub act with Roxie and the pair use their crimes and good looks to gain notoriety. Long before films such as Natural Born Killers and more recently, Fifteen Minutes, the 1976 show brilliantly satirises the link between crime and celebrity. In the first 15 minutes Velma is a pretty disagreeable character, which provides Zimmerman with a challenge to make the audience like her. But despite her sassy and sexy ways, Velma is still the underdog and Zimmerman finds that resonates in the audience’s lives.

With her ability to act, sing and dance, Zimmerman clearly relishes the role and is a great admirer of Bob Fosse, whose work she says ‘ is the classiest you can do’. She also says it is the hardest work and she should know, having trained to be a dancer as a child, winning a scholarship to perform as a soloist with the Boston Ballet at the age of 16. Unlike now, where she has to convey Velma’s character through dance, she says ballet taught her ‘how to dance from the neck down’ and ‘never even reached the depths’ of Fosse’s choreography. An experienced Fosse performer she starred as Go-To-Hell Kitty in the original Broadway production of this Chicago revival, a role she played for two and a half years.

When asked about the difference between American and British audiences Zimmerman feels that we are ‘more polite and just not as vocal’, which probably comes as no great surprise. However Zimmerman also suggests that the self-assurance of an all-American cast makes a subtle difference to the way the show has been presented on Broadway and in the West End. The Brits have proved to be more than capable in learning the accent and conveying the style of the show , but Zimmerman finds Americans are more direct in the way that they talk, dance and sing, although she is quick to point out that this doesn’t make either show better or worse, just different. Another interesting comparison is that she feels UK critics are more supportive towards theatre than US ones, and as there are more of them, shows in the West End are not as vulnerable to their opinions as they are on Broadway.

It is not the first time Zimmerman has appeared in the West End. Her debut, starring alongside another famous blonde, Daryl Hannah (who she describes as ‘really one of the girls’) was in The Seven Year Itch at The Queen’s last year. Her Broadway debut was in The Will Rogers Follies, hired by Tommy Tune, the 6ft 6’ choreographer who assured the statuesque dancer that being tall was a good thing. Since then her career has alternated between television (Spenser For Hire, Central Park West, The David Letterman Show) to film (Rear Window, Mr Jealousy).

She is contracted to appear in Chicago until the middle of October, but plans to stay working in London, particularly as her husband, Domenick Allen has written and produced a musical loosely based on the Glasgow gangster Jimmy Boyle, which is due to open at the Bridewell Theatre this autumn. Called A Sense of Freedom, it looks at the character Johnny Burns' rise, fall and redemption and promises to be a dramatic experience that is deeper than your average musical. Zimmerman may not be appearing but she has a list of future roles that she would like to do including Sally Bowles from Cabaret, Ula, the Swedish secretary in The Producers and Kate in Kiss Me Kate, as well as many people in the film industry that she would like to work with who include Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Altman. Zimmerman says her acting education came from working on Home Alone 2 during the day and appearing in The Will Rogers Follies at night. She has continued this interest in both screen and stage, and while she’s enjoying playing Velma she’s looking forward to her next challenge.


Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.