Fame, fortune and ‘All That Jazz’

‘Chicago’ musical opens 4-night-run tonight at St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre

Published on April 10, 2013

Terri Andrews and her company TaDa! Events have become synonymous with the world “musical” in St. John’s, and over the past decade or so, they’ve presented plenty of them.

Some, like “CATS” and “White Christmas” have been classics. Others, like “Rocky Horror Picture Show” have been contemporary favourites, while Andrews wrote the script for 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” as well as directed it.

Of all her productions, “Chicago” is the one that has had audiences begging for a remount since it was first performed in 2005, and tonight they’ll get their wish.

Andrews and Sheilagh Guy-Murphy are presenting the Broadway musical at the

St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre from tonight until Saturday, starring Kelly-Ann Evans, Clint Butler, Leanne Boland Haye, Philip Goodridge, Tessa Crosbie and Lynn Panting, among others.

With most of the original 2005 lead performers, aerial acrobatics and an elaborate set built with “enough lumber for me to put an extension on my house,” Andrews says, the show promises to be even more scintillating than the first time around.

Based in Prohibition-era Chicago, the show is based on a 1926 play by journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins, who was inspired by some of the crimes on which she reported. It’s a satire on the justice system.

“It’s about the manipulation of the courts and the media,” Andrews, who’s back in the directors chair, explained. “It talks about how if you’ve got enough money and enough PR, you can get away with anything.”

The play centres around two vaudeville performers, Velma (Evans) — who murdered her husband and sister after finding them in bed together — and Roxie (Boland Haye), accused of murdering her lover, Fred. Both women are sent to the county jail, run by corrupt warden Mama Morton (Crosbie). With a sensational lawyer, Billy Flynn (Butler), Roxie becomes a celebrity criminal and basks in the fame, while Velma feels her limelight (and her lawyer) are being stolen.

“Chicago” took ages to cast, Andrews said.

“We auditioned hundreds of people. We could have cast this show three times,” she said. “There are people who didn’t get roles on the show who in other circumstances I would be begging.”

Andrews was looking for triple threats — people who can sing, act and dance — who were comfortable in their own skin, because of the type of show. Costumes are burlesque-style, with corsets and garter belts, and the choreography is often sexy.

Next, potential cast members were brought in for choreography and musical auditions, divided into groups and singing off each other.

“Bill Brennan is the musical director and I just can’t say enough about him,” Andrews said.

“Where I would say, wow, that person is an excellent singer, he would say, ‘That person is a little bit flat in this key, and there are a lot of numbers in this key.’ There were people saying, ‘Is this audition process ever going to end?’ because we did so much.”

In the end, Andrews said, what they got was a dream cast, who had their musical numbers nailed before they even started rehearsing.

Many of the performers with minor roles have starred as leads in other productions, and even the returning performers have gained a considerable amount of experience since the show was first produced in here in 2005.

Butler has toured the world, performing on cruise ships and in other shows, while Evans has starred in the Queen musical “We Will Rock You” in Toronto, as well as on stage at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

In terms of reproducing the 2005 performance, there are some updates, although Andrews insists the show has been refined, not changed. Most notable is the addition of aerial acrobatics, thanks to aerialist Dany Munden of Acro-Adix, who also performs in the show. Munden first began working with TaDa! in “Alice in Wonderland,” and Andrews is pleased with the new dimension the aerials provide.

“If it makes sense, we’ll use it,” Andrews said of having aerial work in her shows.

All the well-known songs associated with the Broadway show are still included, like “All That Jazz,” “When You’re Good to Mama,” and “Cell Block Tango.”

The end result is a show that’s glitzy and gripping — not hard on the eyes or ears — that keeps moving. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on what’s happening, Andrews says, the show will  throw more candy at you.

“Every single part of the show will grab your attention,” she explained. “You won’t be wiggling in your seat, wondering when it’s going to be over. You’ll leave wishing there was another half an hour left.”

Tickets for “Chicago” are $56 for adults and $42 for students (HST and service charge included), and are available at the Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900 or online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.

Showtime is 8 p.m. each night, and there’s a 2 p.m. matinée on Saturday.


Twitter: @tara_bradbury