Timeless ‘Chicago’ comes to the Duke
June 8, 2011
Snatches of conversation drift forward from the groups sitting in the theater seats as choreographer Kelly Alvarez consults with director Susan Boulanger. It has been roughly seven weeks since auditions. Seven weeks of learning new choreography, lines, and music passed quickly. They are two weeks away from opening night, and decisions must be finalized.
“OK, we’re going to fast forward,” Boulanger calls out to the cast. “We need everybody in the finale please.”
As music director Mark Williams works out his music cues, Alvarez calls out one final instruction to her dancers.
“Make it interesting.”
“Chicago, the Musical” holds the record for longest-running musical revival on Broadway, and is currently the fifth longest-running Broadway show ever, which makes its run at Lake Tahoe Community College’s Duke Theatre a special engagement.
“This show is one of the greats in American musical theater – every theater person wants to do this show, and audiences want to see it. It’s a huge undertaking for us and it’s been a tremendous amount of work, and so rewarding. We have a terrific cast and production team and I think it’s going to be a terrific show,” Boulanger said.
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The college has been going after the rights to perform the musical for several years, but didn’t achieve success until now. Set in Chicago in the early 1920s during Prohibition, the musical is actually based on two real-life criminals who became front page news thanks to Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Watkins. Watkins used her popular columns covering the trials of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner as her basis to write a comedy titled “Chicago” that played on Broadway in 1926.
The concept opened on Broadway as a musical in 1975. Bob Fosse choreographed the original production and stamped his distinctive style on the show, so much so that the name “Chicago” and the song “All that Jazz” automatically brings to mind Fosse for many theatergoers. The original ran for 936 performances. It’s revival in 1996 is still going and still touring the country. The revival was honored with six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards, and a Grammy. The musical gained even greater fame in 2003 when “Chicago” the film won an Oscar for Best Picture. The film starred Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
“Many people have seen the movie with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger, and loved it, but they don’t realize how funny the stage version is,” Boulanger said. “The movie did a great job in telling the story, but Rob Marshall, the director, really fashioned the story-telling for film. A lot of the humor that is in the stage play was left out. Each musical number in the stage version was fashioned after a particular vaudeville performer or style, and the scenes sort of follow the structure of vaudeville skits. So, the humor is broad and sometimes over the top – we are having a great time with it.”
A satire based on the themes of corruption, celebrity and scandal, the musical numbers are closely modeled on traditional vaudevillian performers.
Music for the LTCC performance will be provided by an eight-piece orchestra led by Williams.
“The band is made of professional and semi-retired professionals from the area,” Williams said. “One of my trumpet players was born in the 1920s in Chicago.”
“The themes in ‘Chicago’ still resonate today. We are a society that is still fascinated by ‘the crime of the century,’ which seems to happen every few years. We see it every day in our news where petulant celebrities and outlandish reality TV personalities are given constant attention and manage to attain tremendous status. ‘Chicago’ has us look at ourselves, laughing all the way,” Boulanger said.