Pickerington Central Theatre’s production of Chicago, which runs March 17-20 at the school’s Performing Arts Center (PAC), “is like a circus!” according Rome Jenkins, the actor who plays Amos Hart.
“There is so much going on, it is a cluster of talent, personality and visuals. Who wouldn’t want to see that?” Jenkins asked.
Loosely based on actual events from Chicago in the 1920s, the musical follows two vaudevillian actresses, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who both find themselves in the Cook County Jail on separate murder charges. Aided by the self-serving duo of cell block matron “Mama” Morton and celebrity attorney Billy Flynn, the actresses compete to capitalize on their notoriety.
Ajallah Toure, who as the emcee is “basically god of the show”, describes Chicago “as a grim story told in a flashy, showy, beautiful way. There is always something big and booming and in-your-face which is so different from other shows we’ve done. It’s interesting to see the same people taking on different roles.”
Director Aileen Targett chose Chicago as the spring musical because of the “sensationalism/satirical lens in which it portrays the media and the yearning of the leads to be in the public’s eye no matter the cost. These murderers were the first “influencers” of their time.
This show also highlights how easily the media can be manipulated, and how quickly a person can be chewed up and spit out by the media machine. Chicago is also Brechtian in nature; it does not allow the audience to hide from the message. At times the spotlight is turned on the audience, the fuel of modern media.”
Brechtian is a technique in which the audience is continuously reminding that they are watching a play. To achieve this, the actors will often address the audience directly and a narrator introduces scenes. The sets and clothing are very minimal.
“Our costumes basically all black leotards,” Toure said. “It’s not how we look, it’s about our movements.”
Rather than pull viewers into a story that will end with a tidy conclusion, a Brechtian production will present a social injustice for the audience to continue contemplating after the final curtain is drawn.
“It’s fun to see,” said Ella Holley, who plays Velma. “The way it’s written is super tongue-in-cheek with lots of fourth walls breaks where the audience becomes directly involved.”
This musical has been a physical challenge for the cast, who had to learn the Fosse style of dancing. With Fosse, actors must “complete strenuous dances with ease” while using their bodies to create lines.
To Grey Kuhl, who portrays news reporter Mary Sunshine, the dancing is his favorite part of the show.
“The choreography is very dark – not happy and bubbly like that of past shows,” Kuhl said. “The technique is upright and powerful through very sharp movements.”
Jenkins also enjoyed learning the choreography.
“I really like the style of it,” Jenkins said. “I never knew that style of dancing. Fosse moves put confidence and chutzpah into everyone in the cast.”
The cast worked “incredibly hard” to master the difficult choreography, Targett said.
“With classical Fosse lines, clean black costumes, and an angular and dark set, this musical relies on the actors to convey the emotion and tell the story with intricate and difficult dance, clowning and a bit of ‘Razzle Dazzle’,” Targett said.
Kian Simcox, who plays Billy Flynn, agreed that audiences will enjoy the show.
“There are a whole lot of numbers but somehow none of them feel small,” said Simcox. “They are all important. It should be pretty entertaining and not just because I’m in it.”
Julia Christley, who plays Roxie, believes that audiences will be captivated not only by “the singing or amazing dancing but also the rich monologues. There is so much stuff going on stage at once you can’t help but be engrossed.”
Performances will be held at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at Pickerington High School Central (300 Opportunity Way, Pickerington) March 17-20. Curtain times will be 7:00 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, March 17, 18, and 19, and at 3:00 PM on March 20.
All tickets are $12 and may be purchased online at the PCHS box office.