It’s hard to imagine New York without the glamour of Broadway. And now, the Great White Way is made even more dazzling because Jane Krakowski, the Tony Award winner and Emmy Award nominee, is starring in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “She Loves Me,” starting March 17.
Television fans are familiar with her sassy, offbeat comedic and musical skills as vain starlet Jenna Maroney on “30 Rock,” Elaine Vassal on “Ally McBeal” and, most recently, on the Netflix sitcom “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” But despite her small-screen success, Krakowski admits that at heart she is a child of the theater.
“The Broadway community has been my theatrical family for a very long time,” says the Manhattan-based comedienne. “It’s sort of how I got my start here in the city, and I’m always thankful and grateful to be welcomed back.”
In fact, Krakowski took on the role of Ilona in “She Loves Me” because of a sentimental attachment to the Roundabout, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “This is my third production with them,” she says. “I was lucky enough to be in the revival of ‘Company’ and then ‘Nine.’ They’ve been a very large part of my theatrical world, so when there was a part that was right for me in what they were doing this year, I was eager to say yes!”
No one could ever say the hardworking Krakowski hasn’t earned her theatrical success. After all, she’s been dreaming about the stage ever since she was a girl. She was born Jane Krajkowski on Oct. 11, 1968, in Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey, the daughter of chemical engineer Ed Krajkowski and his wife, Barbara, a college theater instructor who was also a producing artistic director for the Women’s Theater Company. With those bloodlines, it was hard to avoid the stage. “If we were in the city and the choice was to sit in traffic in the Holland Tunnel or go get standing-room tickets to a show,” she recalled, “my parents would always choose the show and wait for the traffic to pass.
“So I was very lucky. I saw a lot of shows that greatly influenced me—standing room only,” she laughs. “I was 4, 6, 8 years old. Very influential years, where you’re not even sure if this is what you want to do yet.
“I have very clear memories of seeing ‘A Chorus Line,’ and ‘Chicago,’ with Chita Rivera. When I was 9 years old, I sat in a third-row aisle seat when she was in it. At the end, she threw me a rose—and, of course, I never forgot it.”
Thus inspired, the young Jane immersed herself in her craft. Besides studying dance and voice, she did a lot of homework. “Back in the day, my father would VCR the Tony Awards, and I would memorize all the different numbers and the songs. It was my great passion.”
Before long, she was working in movies, including a memorably cringe-inducing scene in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” when she was 14. The following year, she made her first mark on TV on the daytime drama “Search for Tomorrow.” Soon she transferred to the Professional Children’s School before attending Rutgers University. Krakowski kept racking up plaudits for her work in shows like “Starlight Express” when she was only 18, and earning a Tony nomination for her role as Flaemmchen in 1989’s “Grand Hotel.”
To her surprise, she was starting to get noticed—in a uniquely New York way. “Right after I did ‘Grand Hotel,’ I actually was in the New York Post: Page Six reported that I was at a party in Central Park— when I was actually in Toronto filming a movie. I wasn’t even in the country!”
A few years later, she got a double dose of that notoriety when “Ally McBeal” put her face on national TV. “That was the first time I felt the range of a national television audience. I clearly remember driving to work, and on my car radio, people were analyzing the episode that had aired the night before. I remember thinking, ‘Oh wow, this is different than anything I’ve been a part of,’ and it ultimately did become what they call a ‘watercooler show.’”
A few years later, in 2003, it all came full circle. “I had an amazing experience on my first day of rehearsal for ‘Nine,’” she remembers. “I got to meet Chita Rivera, because I was now in the show with her.” Thinking back to the night the Broadway legend threw her a rose, Krakowski says, “To get to work with her all those years later was surreal, one of those bucket-list kind of dreams come true.”
Besides being known for her film and TV work, she gives back to the Broadway community by working with the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Appearing in “She Loves Me” gives Krakowski the opportunity to stay local. Most of her time off is devoted to her son, Bennett, who turns 5 in April. “It’s wonderful that I have the opportunity to raise him among all the cultural wonders of New York City,” she says. “I took him to see ‘The Lion King.’ It was his second Broadway show. ‘Aladdin’ was his first. So I’m slowly working him through the Disney catalog.” With a laugh, she adds, “Then we’ll move on to ‘She Loves Me.’”
As far as Jane’s favorite neighborhoods, “I’m a Downtown girl,” she explains. “I think [Stephen] Sondheim once said that once you move Downtown you never go above 14th Street. I stay very local to my neighborhood, and I do everything around the West Village and SoHo.”
She has seen the city at night, working on Broadway, and then again in the wee hours, when she’s working on television. “I love its quiet moments. There’s a beauty to the city early in the morning that I enjoy.
“And yet, even at 5 am it takes them too long at Starbucks to make my coffee.” Then, with a quick chuckle, she adds, “See? I’m a true New Yorker.”