If you go
Where: Dorothy Hackett Ward Theatre inside the Fine Arts Building
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, April 17-21; 2 p.m. Saturday, April 21
Admission: $12 students with valid UTC ID and seniors; $15 for the general public; purchase at the Fine Arts box office, by phone at 425-4269 or a https://www.utc.edu/theatre.
For a couple of months, Kimberly Rye has been up close and personal with a “beast.”
We’re not talking about an animal in a zoo, a big nasty person or the hard-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside hulk from Beauty and the Beast.
This particular beast is the famous musical Chicago, the newest production from the UTC Theatre Company. It’s an effort that requires the trifecta of acting, singing and dancing. Rye has the role of Velma, the nightclub singer thrown in jail after being accused of murdering her husband and sister.
“The fact that it’s such a beast of a show is probably the most challenging because there’s so many songs and so many dances, and Velma’s character is usually at the head of the dancers,” says Rye, a junior. “Then to play a role that’s not quite like myself is sometimes challenging, but that’s fun to get outside the box.
“Velma doesn’t have a lot of regrets about what she’s done, but it definitely has an effect on her life and the lives of everyone else in her immediate circle.”
Chicago is the third musical the theater team has tackled in the last three years, a trio that includes Oklahoma! and Evita. Director Steve Ray, chair of the Theatre Performing Arts, says performing a musical as opposed to a straight comedy or drama is “different in almost every way.”
“The first way is financially, the budget. It takes a lot more money, usually, probably three to four times as much money to produce a musical than a straight play because you have to pay for choreographers; you have to pay for musical directors and musicians, and costumes are usually more extravagant and there are more of them because you usually have a large cast. Then the sets are usually bigger.
In addition, he says, buying the rights to perform the play at all “are usually about three times as much as the rights for straight plays.”
But beyond finances, a musical is far more demanding for the actors, who must not only learn their lines, they must learn the words to the songs and choreography, too.
“The rehearsals themselves are a lot more demanding,” Ray says. “They’re usually at least two weeks longer than we normally do for a straight play. A straight play we usually rehearse for four, 41/2 weeks, and we add two weeks to that for the musicals because you have to learn music. Then you learn dance.”
Ray also must take into consideration that Chicago is famous as both an onstage musical and as the movie that won the Best Picture Oscar in 2002. There’s a tightrope act between pleasing audience members who know only the play and those who know the movie. The two not quite the same.
“A well-known musical like Chicago is an advantage in a number of ways,” Ray says. “It’s an advantage because people like to come and see what they’re familiar with. That’s great from a promotions standpoint, from putting people in seats and selling tickets. It’s fantastic.
“Now, the flip side of that is there are certain expectations. You have to go through with a finetooth comb, ‘What expectations do we want to give the audience?’” Then, ‘What do we want to reinterpret of our own?’”
As up-and-comer Roxie Hart, who’s willing to do almost anything to be a star, senior Rachel Shannon sees Chicago as a chance to “to tell these stories of these women who act on impulse and know what they want, but they’re dreamers, which so am I. Who doesn’t want to tell a story about a dreamer? I do.”
Shannon has played Ava Perone in Evita and Ado Annie Carnes in Oklahoma!, so the strain of singing, dancing and acting is familiar. And Chicago, she believes, tells a universal story.
“The musical examines “the search of humanity, the search of the American dream, and the exploration of self that I really feel that each one of our cast mates are doing and what Roxie is doing. She’s exploring herself, figuring out who she is.
“Watching her achieve her dream, but becoming herself is really, really wonderful. As an actor, I’m really blessed to be able to flourish alongside her.”