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“Chicago” Will Bring Murder, Greed and Corruption to the Lenfest Stage

The department of theater and dance at Washington and Lee University will present “Chicago,” a Robert O. and Elizabeth M. Bentley musical full of “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts” on March 11-14, 2010, at 7:30 p.m. in the Keller Theatre of Lenfest Hall.

Tickets are required and can be purchased on-line at lenfest.wlu.edu or through the Lenfest Box Office at 458-8000.

This is the first time that a Bentley musical has been accompanied by a promotional trailer, created by Alicia Budich ’11 with help from Markheavens Tshuma ’10.

The musical transports us to Chicago in the Roaring ’20s. Roxie Hart (Ellie Duvall ’11), an aspiring starlet, is having a torrid affair with Fred Casely (Keaton Fletcher ’13). When she finds out that he is not her ticket to stardom, she murders him in a burning rage. Thus begins the wild ride through the theatrics of her imprisonment and trial, leading Roxie to hire famous defense attorney Billy Flynn (Drew Lambert ’10), known for guaranteeing his female clients acquittals, for the right price.

The musical is directed by Rob Mish ’76, director of the Lenfest Center for the Arts. Mish has directed two previous Bentley musicals, Secret Garden (2009) and Kiss Me Kate (2007). He finds this particular musical to be different from previous productions because “while the production of all theater is a collaborative experience, “Chicago” is especially so as dance is used to tell so much of the story. The songs and scenes enhance the dancing in this type of musical – not the other way around,” Mish said.

Joining Mish is choreographer Jenefer Davies, vocal director Shane Lynch and accompanist Josh Harvey ’00. Davies, assistant professor of dance-theater and Washington and Lee Repertory Dance Company creative director is “our own Bob Fosse,” said Mish. Davies describes the dancing as a “physical manifestation of the plot, not just stuck there but moving the plot forward.” Lynch, director of choral activities, finds the strengths of the show to be in the “principal’s vocal ability and adaptability.” Harvey says this show is one of the most challenging, interesting and intense productions he’s been a part of at W&L because of the combination of heavy dancing and vocal requirements.

“Chicago” is being mounted on a two-story set, designed by scenic director Shawn Paul Evans, assistant professor of theater, complete with two winding staircases. Davies’ intricate choreography to famous numbers like “Cell Block Tango” and “All That Jazz” will be danced on a 9-foot high, 40-foot wide platform. The set allows the performers to get close to the audience; what is usually the orchestra pit is now a staircase that leads right into the first row.

W&L’s production is showcasing students of all academic backgrounds. Roxie Hart is played by biology major Duvall. “‘Chicago’ is the type of show that singers, dancers and actors vie for, get excited about and dream of doing. I’m very excited about getting to do it here at Washington and Lee,” said Duvall.

Velma Kelly, Hart’s main rival onstage and in the courtroom, is played by senior studio art major A’rese Emokpae. Recognizing that comparisons to the 2002 film adaptation are inevitable, Emokpae says, “Forget what you saw Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellwegger and Richard Gere do. Contrary to popular belief, the play and the broadway show came before the movie. It’s different from what you’d expect, but I think it’s even better! Nothing beats a live performance, kids!”

Lambert has dreamed of razzle-dazzling the audience in his role as Billy Flynn for years, and through the rehearsal process, has created a sense of unity, not just for the show, but also for the cast itself. “Billy Flynn has been one of my dream roles forever and I’m very excited to perform it with such a talented cast and crew,” he said.