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‘Chicago’ — murder and all that jazz

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Christina Stock Photo Jessica Haynes is seen here during rehearsals on Thursday. Haynes has been cast as Roxie for Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company's production of the musical "Chicago."

Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre brings a new style of theater to Roswell

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company’s production of the musical “Chicago” is going to be an immersive event on both weekends, Nov. 1-3 and Nov. 8-10 at the Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell Performing Arts Center, 52 University Blvd. Showings will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

The musical is set in the roaring ‘20s Chicago and the audience will be transported back in time, where chorus girl Roxie Hart murders a faithless lover and convinces her hapless husband, Amos, to take the rap. When he finds out he’s been duped, he turns on Roxie. Convicted and sent to death row, Roxie and another “merry murderess,” Velma Kelly, vie for the spotlight and the headlines, ultimately joining forces in search of the American dream: fame, fortune and acquittal. It is a time when gangsters became stars and sensationalized stories of murder, corruption and greed made headlines.

“For the first time ever, we’re going to make this the most immersive experience that Way Way Off-Broadway guests ever had,” director of the musical, Tony Souza said. “My concept of the show is built around, ‘you are coming and watching this action take place in a theater in Chicago.’ As soon as you come into the lobby, you will be greeted by people in character. The lobby is going to be decorated. We’re going to have, hopefully, a bartender serving ‘mock’tails — also known as colored water. As soon as you walk through the door you’re there.

“Once you get into the theater, we’ll have a jazz band playing on stage. We are encouraging people to come dressed in costume of the ‘20s.”

The musical “Chicago” was one that Souza hoped to direct for a long time. “I personally have wanted to see it staged with this company and directed by me for years. Really since I saw a local California production back in the early 2000s.

“I have an appreciation for the show because as a performer, I enjoy watching stuff that I can’t do,” Souza said and chuckled. “That inspires a little bit of different creative energy from me in terms of instead of the acting part of it — the performance part of it — I see the staging part of it, the lighting part of it, the directing part of it. So really, I’ve been wanting to direct this show for a number of years and I am glad we finally made it on a schedule.”

Souza said that the theater company originally had intended for the musical to be its bonus show in 2018. The bonus shows of WWOB are the shows performed between seasons, and usually chosen because of interest from the director, choreographers and actors.

“Because of scheduling and budgeting requirements, we had to reschedule it for a main stage version of it,” Souza said. “It has worked out much better, because instead of rushing it we’re able to take our normal three months schedule and throw all our resources at it. We were able to hold open auditions for this one instead of having closed audition for a bonus show. It just really worked out much better in our favor.”

Souza said that the actors — despite not being professional dancers — picked up on the unique style of the original director and choreographer, Bob Fosse, very fast. “The cast just took off with it. By opening night, this show is just going to blow your mind,” Souza said.

With the musical being set in the wild days of Chicago, Souza is not worried that it is a little naughty. “That is kind of the secret of theater,” he said. “You can go and get involved with material that is maybe a little out of your comfort zone, but in terms of the art form, it makes it a little bit more accessible. There is a class to this show. Yeah, it is a little sexy and it’s a little risqué but it is always made really classy in the style of a burlesque versus something more lewd. I appreciate that energy and we’re not hiding from it. You can’t stage ‘Chicago’ and shy away from that.

“What I am most proud of with this particular production, and I probably am biased because I have taken a lot of my creative energy into this, but I think this is Way Way Off-Broadway’s most original staging of a show. ‘Chicago’ is kind of universally interpreted however you want to. I am really proud of the fact that this is original choreography, based on Fosse movements, entirely original set design and staging and acting-wise. There is no mold that we have to follow, so I’m really excited about it.”

Asked what the biggest challenge as choreographer, Summer Souza said that it was the dancing and that the entire stage being used during the production. Also, that Tony Souza planned for putting the limelight on the chorus instead of just the leads. “For me personally too, because I am in the cast as well,” she said, “the biggest challenge is the dancing because it is such an iconic dance style. Bob Fosse is one of my favorite choreographers/directors, but he had such a unique style and look, you want to pay some sort of tribute to that in every production. It was making sure that the actors knew that when we do the dancing. I told them to make sure that there are certain hand moves or certain looks, certain things like that. And they really owned it. I am very proud of every single one of them. Especially as most of them are not natural dancers.

“There are lots of moments where this group is doing something different than this group on the stage. They are on stage the whole time. If they are not in the scene they are somewhere on the set. You will see that when you come to the show,” Summer Souza said.

Each member of the chorus was given the liberty to create his or her own character. “They got to create these unique characters and they really have done a great job with that,” Summer Souza said.

“This show does to jazz what ‘Singing in the Rain’ does to tap,” Tony Souza said. “This is the show that is the standard of jazz-style dancing. Even in non-musical applications some of these moves are still very much that style.”

One of the leads is cast with Phil Davis. This will be his third performance with WWOB. He joked that he preferred being type-cast as a benevolent character in shows, but for “Chicago” he had to get out of his comfort zone to portrait a sleazy, money-grabbing attorney.

“You have to act like that, just getting outside of my own head,” Davis said. “I am having a tough time with it personally, but it is fun. The cast is great and being with them is my favorite part in the whole thing.

“This is something that they haven’t seen in Roswell before. It is a different show. There is some edge to it, but it’s nothing that they don’t see on TV, so come and see something that is fresh and new here in Roswell. Something you are going to enjoy. It’s nothing that will freak kids out. They’ll enjoy it I think,” Davis said.

Cast as the leads are Jessica Haynes as Roxie and Summer Souza as Velma. Tarra Macias is cast as Mamma Morton, John Bitner as Amos, Jason Steward as Fred Casely, Logan Davis as Liz, Victor Bowboski as Annie, Jessica LaStella as June, Viridiana Leon as Hunyak, Devon Bullock as Mona and Christine Powell as Go to Hell Kitty.

The chorus is cast with Alex Chamberlin, Taryn Davis, Elexis DeLaRosa, Aimee Lueras, Juan Macias, Dianna Misikova, Lorraine Muyable, Jorge Ortiz, Johnny Romero and Corina Thompson.

Tony Souza said that he recommends to get tickets early. The local phone is checked for messages regularly, and the phone number for their provider Brown Paper Tickets is manned around the clock, seven days a week. “Even if you are not computer savvy, you can just call and say you want to have tickets for Chicago in Roswell, New Mexico, and they will know exactly what you are talking about and can reserve the tickets,” he said.

For more information, visit waywayoffbroadway.com, call 575-317-0157 to leave a message, or call Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006.