Since the end of August, the dozen dancers in the upcoming musical Chicago at Stage West Community Playhouse have toiled days, nights, even weekends to learn and perfect the Bob Fosse-inspired moves for the Tony Award-winning show, playing Thursday and weekends through Nov. 20 at the theater.
"This show is 90 percent choreography," said Barbara Everest, the seven-time HAMI Award-winning director of the show. "We have never done a show so intense in dance — it monopolized our rehearsing."
The show is a highly-stylized satire of how the media can turn criminals into celebrities and how the public is so easily manipulated. It was moderately successful in its Broadway debut in 1975, but it was the 1996 revival and 2002 Academy Award-winning movie that put the show into orbit. The revised revival is still running on Broadway.
Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, it's the tale of smalltime Vaudeville singer-dancer Velma Kelly (Jessica Virginia, HAMIs for Everything in the Garden, The Foreigner), who murders her husband and her sister when she finds them in bed together, and of housewife/aspiring showgirl Roxie Hart, who murders her lover when he walks out on her.
Both are sent to murderer's row in the Cook County Jail, where Matron Mama Morten (Morgan Reid, HAMI for Shadowbox), sings When You're Good to Mama and introduces them to the wily lawyer Billy Flynn (Ryan Bintz, Busch Gardens, Carnival Cruise Lines), who croons All I Care About Is Love, but, in reality, only cares about money and fame.
Billy makes Velma a media star, thanks in part to the bleeding-heart reporter Mary Sunshine (A. Cromartie), who sees good in everyone. But the fickle Billy switches his attentions to the more malleable Roxie, who can be played like a fiddle. Besides, Roxie's dopey but devoted husband, Amos (Todd Guenther, Heaven Can Wait), has managed to come up with some money, which makes Billy's eyes gleam.
Meanwhile, the murdering women back in jail do the Cell Block Tango, where each claims that the victims "had it coming" for their various offenses, flimsy though they may be.
The story is told with commentary by a snarky Announcer (Bill Myers, HAMIs, Shadowbox, A Few Good Men), who previews each development like a Vaudeville act.
Director Everest is delighted with her cast and crew and grateful for her two choreographers, the mother-and-daughter team of Joyce and Jodi Lang.
Joyce Lang, a former dance school owner in a Chicago suburb, won HAMIs for her work in Sweet Charity and Funny Girl. Her daughter, professional dancer Jodi, was visiting from Los Angeles just as mom began work on Chicago and opted to stay and help.
By good fortune, one of the many shows Jodi had done professionally was Chicago in L.A.
"We're very close to the original choreography of the show," Ms. Everest said. In fact, the reason Stage West could get performance rights to Chicago is that the local troupe is doing the original Chicago, a Musical Vaudeville, in full costume and sets, while the ongoing Broadway production is a reworking of both script and dance called Chicago, the Musical, done in leotards with a minimal set.
The show marks "firsts" for several of the cast members. It's the first lead singing role for Jessica Virginia, every though she majored in music in college, Ms. Everest said. And it's the first major dance role for Victoria Primosch, who performed some smaller dance numbers as a Kit Kat Girl in Cabaret.
It's also the first time that Morgan Reid has had a singing role at Stage West, though she once played Sheila in Hair on Broadway under her stage name, Martha Velez, and released four albums, one featuring singer Eric Clapton, another produced by reggae star Bob Marley.
"(The show) is coming along very well," Ms. Everest said 10 days before opening. "We have a few steps to get down, but we definitely have a fantastic show on our hands, and I'm very proud of these people."