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‘Chicago: The Musical’ opens at UWRF

October 24, 2013

The roaring 1920s prohibition era of gangsters, corrupt government, murder and scandal will be showcased at the UW-River Falls Blanche Davis Theater in “Chicago: The Musical” which opened on Oct. 24.

“Chicago: The Musical” is centered on another play written by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins in 1926. The 1926 play, titled “Chicago,” outlines the stories of actual crimes Watkins reported on. The musical itself is a satire and parody on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the idea of the celebrity criminal. “Chicago: The Musical” also showcases music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.

Rehearsal for Chicago.
“Chicago: The Musical” comes to UW-River Falls. The play features music by John Kander and lyrics by Fredd Ebb. Under the direction of Communication and Theater Arts Professor James Zimmerman, “Chicago: The Musical” will be showing in the Blanche Davis Theater in the Keinpell Fine Arts building. (Desi Danforth/Student Voice)

Directed by Communication and Theatre Arts Professor James Zimmerman and choreographed by Ad-Hoc Instructor Mari Kline, “Chicago: The Musical” features a cast of 28 and an onstage orchestra of 14. They are under the direction of Professor of Music J. Michael Roy who has been active with the musical productions for the past 10 years. Since the first week of school the auditions and rehearsals have been going on five nights a week.

“The nature of the show is huge with 22 scenes and over two acts. There are a lot of logistical things to coordinate and keep in control, so from that standpoint that has been the biggest challenge in trying to juggle all those entities to make sure we are productively using our time and that we are also educating,” Zimmerman said.

“I play the piano and I conduct the pit; I enjoy putting the show together, working with the students and I’m okay with the time commitment, because I volunteered to do this and I like it which is why I’ve been doing this for many years,” Roy said.

According to Zimmerman and Roy, this is entirely out of class time for students and the directors; there are many hours put into a production of this size. Claudia Vazquez Velez, a senior psychology major, is playing lead Velma Kelly, and Kendra Yarke, a sophomore double majoring in theater and marketing communications, is the other lead role: Roxie Hart.

“My favorite part about being on stage is the audience,” Vazquez Valez said, “Nothing makes me happier than seeing the audience emotionally moved by a performance.”

Character Velma Kelly is a famous cabaret singer who has many affairs and was convicted for shooting her lover and sister after finding them in bed together.

Roxie Hart is a club dancer who has had aspirations of being a famous burlesque performer. She is of lower class, cheats on her husband and murders her lover. She becomes famous after her trial becomes highly publicized. According to Yarke, she is selfish and vindictive, yet terribly innocent and naïve.

With both faculty and student input on what plays and musicals to do for the next year, directors Zimmerman and Roy as well as actresses Yarke and Vazquez Valez have all expressed their excitement for such a fun and jazzy show.

According to Zimmerman, the likelihood of them being able to gain the rights to put on “Chicago: The Musical,” was very slim; so slim that they even had a backup plan for a different musical.

“I’m sick, nervous, stressed, but most of all excited,” Yarke said, “It’s been such a lovely process getting to know my cast mates and working on such a wonderful role. I can’t wait to show our hard work.”

The musical will be in the Blanche Davis Theatre, in the Kleinpell Fine Arts (KFA) building beginning at 7:30 p.m., on Oct. 24 – Oct. 26, and also on Oct. 31 – Nov. 2. Admission is $17 for adults, $13 for seniors and $8 for students. Tickets may be purchased or reserved through the University Theatre Box Office on the main floor in KFA or by phone at 715-425-3114.