WILMINGTON — In a major showcase of local talent, the Deerfield Valley Players are bringing “Chicago the Musical” to Memorial Hall.
Reed Brown, director and choreographer, said he continues to be impressed by the performers he comes across in a small, rural area in Southern Vermont.
“It still astonishes me that we’re still able to find singer-dancers that can pull off a show like this,” he said at a recent rehearsal. “It takes a very unique skillset, this show.”
“Chicago” will be performed Thursday through Saturday at Memorial Hall in Wilmington. Box office opens at 6 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m. and the shows start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for general admission and $30 for table seating, which includes a complimentary bottle of wine. Tickets can be purchased on tickets.com, at Bartleby’s Books or at the door.
An event description states that the show follows Roxie Hart, a wannabe vaudevillian star who murders her lover and is arrested then meets her heroine, the famed murderess and nightclub performer Velma Kelly, in jail. Both women “acquire the celebrity they were willing to kill for.”
Barbara Lipstadt, musical director, said the Deerfield Valley Players performed “Cabaret” in 2019, and that led them to think about putting on “Chicago” since the plays initially came out so close together — the first being 1972 and the latter being 1975.
“I think the music is really representative of the Jazz Age in the United States in the 1920s,” she said of “Chicago,” calling the tunes “especially intricate and complicated.”
The local production does not have a band. So as the pianist, Lipstadt is essentially responsible for playing as the full orchestra.
Lipstadt said Bob Fosse’s work as choreographer in the original play is “on par” with its composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb.
“Some songs are very lyrical and very much like a ballad while others are just like a Dixieland band, just hot and fast,” she said. “Everything is the Charleston at that time.”
Brown credited Fosse with coming up with the idea for “Chicago.” He said Fosse helped Ebb write the book for the play.
Brown, who is no longer a dancer, said he was able to study briefly with Fosse’s protégé Ann Reinking.
The local production is inspired by the 1996 revival, which Reinking choreographed. Brown said it is now the longest running Broadway musical in history as it has not stopped since it was first put on.
“Everyone’s aware of it,” he said. “I joked when I said, ‘When Pamela Anderson has starred as Roxie, you know everyone has seen it.’”
Brown noted how Gwen Verdon, Fosse’s wife, starred as Roxie in the original version. A recent miniseries on their relationship, “Fosse/Verdon,” won four Emmy Awards in 2019.
Fosse, who died in 1987, “still has an impact on not only his generation, my generation, but the generation coming up behind us,” Brown said.
Brown approached local actress Lauren Andersons, who is playing Roxie, more than a year ago about the prospect of performing “Chicago.” He recounted how she said, “It’s the show I always wanted to do.”
“So it just keeps perpetuating itself,” he said.
Brown said he’s “thrilled” with the performers and John Iverson, who plays Billy Flynn in the production while also serving as scenic designer and light designer.
Iverson described his character as “a slimy lawyer guy.”
“He pretends to be in it for the good of everyone but he’s really in it for the money,” he said. “He’s a brilliant defense lawyer. He’s never ever lost a case. He takes on these girls’ murder charges for $5,000 a piece in the 1920s, which is big bucks in those days.”
The character is a fun one for Iverson and marks a big change for him. He had played the challenging role of the lead character in the Deerfield Valley Players’ “Cyrano: The Musical” last summer.
WILMINGTON — John Iverson had no idea “Cyrano: The Musical” existed until Barbara Lipstadt b…
Iverson called scenic design for the play “very simple.”
“It’s just the bandstand,” he said. “Otherwise, the setting is very minimalistic, just chairs and hand props.”
Lighting “is a bit more complicated,” Iverson said. He counted 75 lighting cues altogether.
“And the lights really help define the mood of the scenes in the show,” he said, adding that projections also help “define the flavor of the show” and include everything from 1920s-style front page newspapers and photos from that time period to Roxie’s name.
Brown said the Fosse style of dance is “not straight jazz” and “has very little to do with ballet.”
Since the age of 3 up through college, Andersons has danced. She had taken some master classes of Fosse’s technique in high school.
“It’s a different style of movement for sure and it has a very unique set of techniques,” she said, seeing the dance parts as less challenging than the acting in “Chicago” because of how much her personality contrasts from her character’s in real life. “As a person, I’ve been described as demure, and that’s completely different than Roxie.”
Still, Andersons called the role “super fun.”
“We have a really great cast that really commits to their characters, which makes it easier for me to jump into it,” she said.
Andersons recalled watching the movie version of “Chicago” when she was probably too young. She has three older sisters who showed it to her.
“I love this show,” she said. “I’m really excited to perform it. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a theater production. It’s just so great to be dancing again, to work with Barbara again.”
George Adair, who will be playing Amos Hart, described being thrilled to find out Fosse wrote the part of Amos and the song “Mr. Cellophane” in tribute to one of the greatest vaudevillians of the 1920s, Bert Williams. Adair said the original song “Nobody” was recorded by Johnny Cash in 2020.
Fosse was making commentary on celebrity culture in the 1970s as the story satirized women in Chicago who “became famous for murdering their husbands” then got their own act after they were found innocent, Brown said. When Reinking put on the show, he added, it was a comment on the O.J. Simpson trial.
“We all realized that today, celebrity culture is running rampant,” Brown said. “Online, you can become famous by doing TikTok. You can become famous for doing anything.”
Brown noted how the one character in the play who ends up getting executed is the only immigrant in the story and it’s because she can’t speak English. He said great art is that which speaks to the times and becomes universal.