From Broadway Stage to Harlem Home


Terrence Mann met his future wife, Charlotte d’Amboise, in 1983, when both appeared in “Cats” on Broadway. Showmance is the preferred term on the Great White Way to describe such pairings.

“It was lust at first sight,” said the waggish Mr. Mann, 64, who plays the nefarious man in the yellow suit in the musical adaptation of the children’s book “Tuck Everlasting.” It opens on Broadway April 26.

Also in the cast of “Cats” was Lily-Lee Wong, a dancer and actress who subsequently ditched show business for the real estate business — she’s now an associate broker at Halstead Property. Mr. Mann and Ms. d’Amboise, who married in 1996, stayed in touch with their former colleague, sometimes getting together at Ms. Wong’s brownstone in Harlem.

Ms. d’Amboise had long spoken of her own desire to live in Harlem, partly to give their daughters, Josephine, now 13, and Shelby, now 12, the great sense of community she’d felt growing up on the Upper West Side.

“I like neighborhoods,” said Ms. d’Amboise, 51, whose Broadway credits include “Sweet Charity,” “A Chorus Line” and “Chicago,” and who — talk about typecasting — played Mr. Mann’s wife in the 2013 revival of “Pippin.” “I think back to when nobody could afford air-conditioning, so everybody would be outside, and you’d see families together. That’s what I wanted for my kids.”

Finally, in 2002, with Ms. Wong leading the charge, the couple began looking at apartments in prewar buildings on and above West 112th Street. Then, disheartened by the meager square footage, they expanded the quest to include brownstones. But, as Mr. Mann said, “They were in such disrepair, you’d have to take them down to the studs and put in $200,000 to $300,000. I said, ‘Do you have anything that’s a little more ready to live in?’ ”

Hope springs eternal for house hunters. In time, they came upon a multiunit five-story brownstone for sale. Built in 1902, it had lots of original details. It had also been renovated recently and had new mechanicals.

“I loved everything about it, and I said, ‘We have to figure this out,’ ” Ms. d’Amboise recalled. “We crunched the numbers and figured out that it was really possible.”

The strategy: Keep the top two floors for themselves and rent out the rest of the house. “And,” Ms. d’Amboise continued, “I said, ‘We’re going for it!’ ”

To be entirely accurate, it was Ms. d’Amboise who went for it; Mr. Mann went along with it. And this would be because he’s a doting husband, one who sweetly intoned, “Whatever you want, dear”?

“Thank you for putting it that way. I’m going to go with that version,” Mr. Mann said gratefully.

Photo

Terrence Mann in the musical “Tuck Everlasting.”

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

“I didn’t see the house as alluring at all,” he confessed. “The only thing I saw was me becoming the super of the place, which is exactly what happened. I have a huge set of keys that I wear on my belt loop. We’ve had floods in the basement and leaks in the ceiling, and I’m not handy. I’m handy at making calls to get things fixed.”

But in the dozen years the family has been in residence, Mr. Mann has come around to his wife’s way of thinking. “It’s not fancy. It’s not beautiful,” he said. “It’s not appointed very elegantly. But it’s comfortable, and it’s a great hang.”

The great hang is a light-filled duplex created out of a former one-bedroom apartment (now a very inviting open kitchen, living room and guest room) and a pair of studios (now two bedrooms). Yes, Mr. Mann said, the honey-colored wooden staircase leading to the family’s bedrooms creaks on every tread. “But that will be good,” he added, “when our girls get old enough and start coming home late.”

Mr. Mann was nominated for a 2013 Tony Award for his work in “Pippin.” That kind of thing is always a big honor, of course, but there were other very tangible reasons to be grateful to the Stephen Schwartz musical. “ ‘Pippin’ bought our living room,” Ms. d’Amboise said, nodding to the earth-toned couch and figured rug, both from Restoration Hardware, and to the bench from ABC Carpet & Home. A chess set from Morocco sits on the adjustable pedestal table that hails from a somewhat less exotic place: Pottery Barn.

“Charlotte taught me to play,” Mr. Mann said. “And then I started beating her bad, so we stopped.”

The duplex’s emotional center is the refectory table Ms. d’Amboise bought at the ABC Carpet outlet in the Bronx soon after the death, in 2009, of her mother, Carolyn George, a New York City Ballet soloist turned photographer.

“It was expensive, but it reminded me of my mom,” Ms. d’Amboise said quietly. “I grew up with a dining room table where everybody sat.” She added: “This table used to be a lot nicer. We’ve worn it out, but I like it worn out.”

The couple’s Hirschfelds — hers from “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway,” his from “Les Misérables” — hang side by side over the raspberry love seat in the kitchen, everybody’s favorite perch for snuggling and napping. And Ms. d’Amboise’s top hat from “A Chorus Line” sits among the family photos in the living room hutch. But plaques and trophies and show posters are, by design, not part of the décor.

“We’re just not showbizzy people,” Mr. Mann said. “We’re not big on celebrating at home what we do at work.”

They are, however, big on big groups of people. Mr. Mann and Ms. d’Amboise grew up in houses where the door was always open and the extra bedrooms always occupied. The tradition continues. “We take in people all the time. We have students stay here,” said Ms. d’Amboise, who with Mr. Mann leads a musical theater workshop at the National Dance Institute, a nonprofit arts group founded by her father, Jacques d’Amboise, a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet.

Every summer there’s a block party. “it’s all about dancing,” said Ms. D’Amboise, who, suffice it to say, knows a few steps. “They’re jamming the music until 3 in the morning and everyone comes out. It’s so fun. It’s a real neighborhood.”

Which, of course, is what brought them there in the first place.

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