'Chicago' aims to 'razzle dazzle' audiences

'Chicago' aims to 'razzle dazzle' audiences
Emmett Smith plays the role of Velma Kelly in Chicago. The production will run April 16th through the 22nd. / CW | Margo Smith

The University of Alabama Theatre Department will put on their spring production, “Chicago,” over the next two weeks at the Marian Gallaway Theatre. The premiere will be held tonight at 7:30 p.m.

The musical, based on the book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse that debuted on Broadway in 1975, follows young Roxie Hart, who murders her secret lover and becomes caught up in sudden fame as she attempts to escape execution.

UA faculty member Stacy Alley said she saw an opportunity, with the talent and crew in the theatre program, to put on Chicago. This will be Alley’s first time both directing and choreographing a show.

“I’m a singer and a dancer,” said Alley. “It’s a show I’ve always wanted to be in.”

The production has seen many interpretations, including a film adaptation that received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture in 2002. According to Alley, their take captures a style leaning toward the minimalistic and monochromatic style of the Broadway revival interpretation.

“I wanted the focus to be on the characters, the story, the songs and the dancing,” Alley said.

In this spirit, the costumes worn are true to 1920s Chicago, and their sets are clean, featuring a visible musical ensemble above the action and perceptible transitions from scene to scene.

Alley said a large portion of her interest in putting on the play was the opportunity to create her own choreography based off the original movements of the legendary Bob Fosse.

She said that though costume and set design and the song and dance are at the heart of the musical, the strength of her ensemble’s acting is what will capture their audiences and lead into the rest of the aesthetic.

Attempting to earn this credibility, Alley said she stressed with her actors the difference between a bold and sexy confidence, which plays to its strengths, and a simple raunchiness, which loses touch with the text and the audience.

“It’s dark and sexy, and that’s in every production,” Alley said. “But, there’s a dark humor in there too to be found.”

A key component in Alley’s vision coming to fruition lies on the shoulders of the musical’s two leads, Roxy and Velma. Both expressed a long-held passion for the musical, a shared enthusiasm with Alley for the work of Bob Fosse and a pride in their personal takes on each character.

Caroline Schmidt, a senior majoring in musical theatre, said she saw the play on Broadway before the 2002 film, but could recall little of the staged version until revisiting a staging a few years later. Schmidt said she rediscovered a love for the familiarity created with the characters and songs like “Me and My Baby” seen only on the stage.

“It’s very intimate,” Schmidt said. “And the character is someone really fascinating and fun to play.”

She said Roxy may be the most challenging role she’s taken on in her acting career, and that taking on Roxy’s obsession with celebrity and capturing the depths of her character was a thrilling and revealing process.

“It’s easy to see her as this doe-eyed girl caught up in fame,” Schmidt said. “But she’s a more layered character than that.”

Emmett Smith, a senior majoring in musical theatre, is no stranger to the Fosse love permeating the cast.

“Everyone grows up hearing about him and wants to be in one of his productions,” Smith said.

She said she hoped the audience would pick up on the natural chemistry and back-and-forth between her and Schmidt, which she believes adds to the both amiable and adversarial nature of their characters’ relationship behind bars.

“Caroline and I started in this program together,” Smith said. “It’s sentimental to me that we get to do this show together.”

Chicago will be shown from at 7:30 p.m tonight through April 22. Tickets can be purchased at the Theatre Department’s website or at the show for $12 to $18.

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