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Girls behaving badly

The Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents Chicago

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Any actor will tell you that it’s a blast playing the bad guy — after all, they usually get all the best lines.

So for many actors, landing a role in the musical Chicago is a singular opportunity, since with the exception of one hapless husband, all the characters in Chicago are bad guys.

More specifically, these unrepentant schemers with their eye on self-promotion and the main chance are mostly all bad girls.

In Chicago, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (played in the Fort Wayne Civic’s production by Kelsey Rodriguez and Jessica Butler, respectively) wind up in jail for sensational crimes of passion: Velma killed her husband and her sister, while the married Roxie has killed her lover. When the crimes turn them into celebrities, Velma, Roxie, and everyone around them scheme to exploit their notoriety.

But really, you probably know the story. The musical was first produced in 1975, and while its almost gleeful cynicism was considered a little controversial then, it has since gone through numerous award-winning revivals and a film adaptation that won Best Picture in 2003. As musical theater goes, it’s probably one of the most unsentimental plays out there, and boasts a soundtrack packed with great tunes — “All That Jazz”; “Cellblock Tango”; “We Both Reached for the Gun” — and the closest thing to a love ballad is a song Roxie sings to herself.

Kelsey Rodriguez makes her Fort Wayne Civic debut as Velma Kelly, a former vaudeville star who killed the other half of her sister act when she found her in bed with Velma’s husband. Rodriguez did theater work at the Waterville Playshop in Ohio and the Oregon Community Theater — she played a “Cell Block 6 girl” in another production of Chicago — before moving to Fort Wayne last spring. “It’s fun to be that girl you don’t want to be in real life,” Rodriguez says. “I’m pretty outgoing and sociable to begin with, but to be able to play that strong, kind of ‘I don’t give a damn’ role is pretty cool. But I don’t envy her.”

As we said, this is Rodriguez first role for the Civic, and her first role in Fort Wayne. “Coming into this situation where nobody knows me is kind of interesting, because as much as you want to be ‘mean Velma,’ I don’t want to be ‘mean Kelsey’ because I’m just getting to know these people,” she laughs.

Velma kicks off the show with “All That Jazz,” which Rodriguez ranks as her favorite in the production. It’s just one of those songs you can really belt, and the choreography is amazing.”

Jessica Butler plays Roxie Hart, the other celebrity criminal. Butler has been in many Fort Wayne productions, but says Roxie is particularly challenging. “The most challenging part is that Abby Ehinger, our choreographer, has really stuck true to the Bob Fossee style,” Butler says. “He was the original choreographer, and it’s difficult because it’s a very unnatural way of dancing. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s just so different. It’s kind of contorted and unnatural, though it’s supposed to be that way. So there’s that, on top of the challenge of having to sing it, on top of acting, on top of trying not to make Roxie look like such a bitch…”

Indeed, while it’s fun to play “bad,” Butler says she was a little worried about Roxie being just plain unlikable.

When she got the role, Butler did a little research. She was familiar with the Oscar-winning movie version, but also checked out other productions on the internet and got a hold of several cast soundtracks. “I want Roxie to be my own character, but there is such a prestige to playing Roxie, and so many wonderful women have played Roxie, that I wanted to make sure I was doing her justice,” she says.

Butler even looked into the “true” Roxie Hart, or rather the real story that inspired a book, then a movie, then the musical… And what did she find out? Butler demurs. “Ummm… I don’t think that would be very interesting to your readers.”

But in a way, delving into all the different Roxies helped Butler discover something that might make Roxie a little more likeable — her naiveté. Roxie doesn’t seem to get that everyone who is supposedly helping her are bigger and more seasoned players than she is. “It’s not that she’s stupid, but there’s something child-like about her,” Butler says. “Things are very cut-and-dried with her. She wants certain things to happen, and if someone tells her something, then that’s how it’s going to be. She surprised when things don’t turn out.”

Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents Chicago
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street

Saturday, October 29 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, October 30 at 2:00 pm

Friday, November 4 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, November 5 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, November 6 at 2:00

Friday, November 11 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, November 12 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, November 13 at 2:00 pm

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.