- Teresa Mathews/Daily
By Laura Kaye, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 11, 2012
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” — Shakespeare’s famous words from “As You Like It” still ring true today. Fame is one of the great attractions, little different from sex and money. It doesn’t matter who wields it or how they do so, whether it’s a celebrity on MTV or a professor at a University. In fact, for many people, infamy holds the same appeal as fame. The central focus of the musical “Chicago” is fame: Who has it, who wants it, and how can you get it?
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“Chicago” is based on the accounts of reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who wrote sensational columns about two women accused of murder in 1924. These scandalous stories became extremely popular, which caused her to write a play about the two characters. Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb later adapted her play into the musical, which has won multiple Tony awards and is one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway. The School of Music, Theatre & Dance is presenting an adaptation of Chicago, hoping to “razzle dazzle” the Ann Arbor community.
After discovering her lover never intended to make her a star on the stage, Roxie Hart kills him in cold blood. She is then sent to prison and encounters the celebrated Velma Kelly, who killed her husband and sister after learning of their affair. Lawyer Billy Flynn plays a central role, altering the true accounts of the women, exploiting sympathy from the media and increasing their notoriety in the process. As the plot unfolds and the tension rises, the musical explores their battle for the limelight and the depths to which one will fall to capture that glory.
“Nothing has changed since the 1920s,” said show director Linda Goodrich-Weng, an associate professor of musical theater. “We have the trial of Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox this year, which had all the hype in the media. People grab on until something else comes along. If anything, it is getting worse.”
Bob Fosse was a master choreographer who directed the original musical. He developed a highly sexualized and stylized technique, providing a smoothness and nonchalant air to his work. Goodrich-Weng emphasized that the choreography in this production is her own, but was heavily influenced by the Fosse style. As a performer who worked with Fosse and Gwen Verdon, a famed actress and dancer, Goodrich-Weng is using a combination of tap, ballet and jazz styles, honing in on the strength and isolation apparent in Fosse’s technique.
Goodrich-Weng makes note of the emphasis on the environment in this production and how scenes switch from those of reality to vaudeville caricature. This vaudeville atmosphere harkens back to the original production rather than the revival. The costumes reflect the styles of the 1920s, creating an authentic display of the times.
MT&D sophomore Conor McGiffin, who plays Billy Flynn, said that the characters’ true natures come forth in the songs.
“These are despicable people, and you can hear it in the songs,” McGiffin said. “There is back-phrasing in the songs that would not be in the revival. With back-phrasing, you sing a little behind the beat. This shows how there’s something a little off (with the characters) and we don’t know what it is.”
He added, “You want to think that the bad guys will be put away and the good guys will save the world, but the good guys, the Billy Flynns of the world, are creeps.”
Even though the production centers around the lives of criminals and their ambition for power and stardom, McGiffin mentions that there is a lesson that can be taken away from a show like this.
“Not to steal anything from ‘Transformers,’ ” McGiffin said. “But there’s more than meets the eye to the beautiful people who are put on trial, or who are in trouble or who are public figures. There is a lot more going on. We should take what they have to say or what they believe they stand for with a grain of salt.”