“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. You are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery—all those things we hold dear to our hearts,” the narrator called out.
So begins the classic American musical, “Chicago,” Milton High School Theater’s fall production that plays this week.
The work is Ebb and Bob Fosse’s adaptation of a 1920s-era play written by a journalist and based on crimes she reported on in her paper. It follows two murderesses, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, as they fight for acquittal while simultaneously vying for stardom in Chicago’s vaudeville scene.
“It’s a swanky kind of show about getting to the top and doing whatever it takes to get there,” junior Alex Jackson said.
She plays Liz, a “merry murderess” who killed her husband for chewing his gum too loudly. Liz is held in the same jail as protagonist Roxie Hart, played by senior Laura Lazzaro.
According to Lazzaro, Roxie Hart is a confident, manipulative and advantageous character. Hart kills her paramour after he tries to cut ties with her. She spends the duration of the play working to free herself from jail and achieve fame.
It was fun to assume her persona, Lazzaro said, because it’s very different from her own: “Acting is like going to a different world,” she said, “ It’s an escape from reality.”
Indeed, in this “reality” Lazzaro is married. Her husband, Amos Hart, played by senior Skyler Austin, reels in the wake of her crime and manipulative tendencies.
“He’s sort of a lovable dope that no one ever notices, in a way,” Austin said. “He’s the only one with pure intentions and constantly gets taken advantage of by his wife and those around him.”
The actor says he can relate to Amos’ feelings of insecurity. But according to director Paul Curtiss, this is the very nature of acting.
He said because plays are written by humans, characters inevitably have human traits.
“There’s always echos of familiarity,” he said. “Even in a murderer.” Curtiss believes it’s not difficult to see how taking things “two steps too far” can motivate people to do bad.
Jackson said she can identify with the impatience merry murderess Liz exhibits, even if she doesn’t carry the same volatility. In fact, she identifies with her character’s drive and ambition. As a dancer, Jackson said she understands Liz’s desire to get to the front of the stage.
For all three students, challenge and triumph came in the form of learning the musical’s many dance numbers. According to Curtiss, “Chicago” “is a dance show with a story intermixed.” MHS alumna Keely Agan helped choreograph the show and got the student actors in step.
“Keely really helps a lot,” Lazzaro said. “If she wasn’t there, I would probably be failing [and] on the floor the whole time.”
Beyond picking up dancing skills like the Charleston, Curtiss said his students learn empathy through their acting experience.
“We go through this life in these really small bubbles of existence,” he said. “When you do a play, you are asked to go outside of that bubble of safety or comfort and take on another person through their eyes.”
MHS Theater will present “Chicago” from Thursday, Nov. 15 evening through Saturday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door and cost $10/adult, $5/student and $25 for families.