CHARLOTTE – Ardrey Kell High School will give the old “Razzle Dazzle,” as its theater department performs “Chicago” next week.
“Things that are happening in the show are very serious, but nothing is taken seriously,” Terry Gabbard, the show’s director, said. “I think we hit the comedic points more than other performances. That’s why it’s satire – these are really serious things and they’re not dealt with in a serious way.”
The American musical is set in Prohibition-era Chicago. It provides a satire on corruption of the criminal justice system and the concept of the “celebrity criminal.” The show follows Velma Kelly (who will be played by junior Anna Hertel), a vaudevillian who murdered both her husband and sister after she finds out they had relations and is eventually murdered for her crime. A nightclub sensation, the murder only thrusts Velma further into spotlight. But Velma ultimately has to compete for the spotlight when Roxie Hart (played by junior Bailey Thomas) also commits murder and becomes a new sensation in the tabloids.
“Chicago” has been on AK’s radar for a while, as many high schools shy away from the show.
AK theater teacher Brian Seagroves and Gabbard have built a strong understanding with their administration that the school community trusts their judgment.
It’s important to the directorial duo that the school provides a variety of genres and styles of shows.
“Chicago” serves as a new challenge for students, as it provides a new style of dancing and mature themes.
“It was a no-brainer. It’s been America’s longest-running musical for a reason because it’s a staple; it’s a classic. It teaches an entire of style of dance – Fosse – that kids need to be exposed to,” Seagroves said.
AK took out different parts of the show to make it more PG-13, such as some of the terminology and cutting down the choreography to not include lewd acts. The school also placed a parental guidance for children under 14 years old for the audience.
“We didn’t take away from the content. It’s still a show about murder, infidelity, alcohol and jazz,” Seagroves said. “But the kids get it. They’re not sheltered. This is very PG for them in the world we live in.”
The show, which has its first student director this year, will featured a fixed set, opposed to large set pieces moving in and out, with student-choreographed numbers in a Vaudeville style. But the school hasn’t used the 2002 film or other company’s performances as guidance for inspiration, but decided to take a fresh look by using the source material and Fosse style, said Gabbard.
“It’s a show that’s set in a nightclub and it’s telling something so serious, like murder, and making it a satire and using Vaudeville and telling that story. It’s a beautiful explosion of all these weird, different things and then you layer on Boss Fosse’s choreography, which is from the 1970s. It’s such a juxtaposition show, which is unique to any theater,” Seagroves said.
Playing Velma Kelly is a dream role for Anna Hertel, as a strong female character. She describes her as “fierce” and “sassy,” and embodies “the heart of ‘Chicago.’”
“She’s her own person and she doesn’t care what other people think. She really does have a heart, but it’s masked over the sassiness,” Anna said.
Anna believes the cast is what makes AK’s production of “Chicago” stand out, as the small cast has talent – herself included, as Gabbard calls Anna a “triple threat.”
“Everyone has their own part (and) is unique in their own way, but everyone has their own talent,” she said.
Ardrey Kell has a reputation for providing well-executed performances, including earning multiple Blumeys, Blumenthal Performing Arts High School Musical awards, and they’re hoping to live up to that expectation.
“We have a great cast and we’ve worked really hard. We’re trying to work on the ‘coolness’ of the piece,” Gabbard said. “We’ve done ‘Mary Poppins’ and we’re used to the over-the-top, but we’re finding the way to be cool and Fosse.”
“Chicago” will run from March 23 to 26 in Ardrey Kell High School’s auditorium. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at www.carolinatix.org/events/detail/chicago-2.