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Monday, October 1, 2012

THE WAIT IS OVER— "Chicago" is at Tacoma Musical Playhouse and it Will Surprise You

If your mother ever advised against jumping to conclusions, her words could apply to the latest offering at Tacoma Musical Playhouse—the award-winning Kander and Ebb musical Chicago. The theater opened its 19th season on Friday September 28, with the first of 15 performances of this popular musical, and it runs through October 21.

Judging by the roar of applause, it seems safe to say that the opening night audience loved the performance, and no wonder; Chicago became one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway, known for the perfect pairing of its spectacular score with Bob Fosse's choreography. However, if you haven't ordered your own tickets yet because you're thinking "I've already seen that," think again.

The original production of Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville opened and ran for 936 performances before it closed on August 27, 1977. Next came the 1996 Broadway revival version and the 2002 film version. Forget about those last two. Prepare yourself for a far more colorful and, in my opinion, more delightful experience, one much closer to the show's origins. 

photo by Kat Dollarhide

Last week, I interviewed Managing Artistic Director and Co-Founder Jon Douglas Rake to learn more about this production, why it is creating so much excitement, and why he persisted for a decade and a half in his efforts to obtain the rights.

Good Life Northwest: What was involved in bringing this musical to TMP?

Rake: We've been applying for 15 years. Because it's been revived and goes on tour across the United States, they are very, very selective about who they allow to do this show. If it comes to Seattle, that knocks Tacoma out, because it's within a 60-mile radius. So we just kept getting knocked out. Finally, they started allowing more major cities to do the show and we were fortunate to be granted the rights.

Even if people have seen Chicago, I hope they come see this, because it is a much different version than what has been going around the United States for quite a few years, and the Broadway revival.

GLN: How does your production differ from what most people have seen?

Rake: For the revival, they took it out of its time period, and unfortunately it loses some of that cynical and satirical attitude. And you miss that. It loses its poignancy. The movie went back a little more to the period, but you miss the vaudeville part of it. We've put it back into that period and the vaudeville.

photo by Kat Dollarhide

GLN: Can we talk a little about the connections with vaudeville?

Rake: Sure. Chicago takes place in the 1920s, and in the 1920s vaudeville was the major form of theater, along with opera and operetta and all that, but vaudeville was really going strong. So when they created this, they decided vaudeville was a great fit for it, because they were able to poke fun at society and the cops and all of that through using the vaudeville acts. When it comes to the story, they could lighten it up.

And then they decided that because there are all different kinds of acts, some of these—like Mary Sunshine being dressed in drag or the reporters being puppets—just kind of fit the way they were working on the show. The style of the music was also vaudevillian.

photo by Kat Dollarhide
GLN: Why does it mean so much to you, on a personal level?
Rake: It's one of my favorite shows. I saw the original version on tour in 1977, and it made such an impression on me. I'm surprised that after that many years have passed, I remember a lot of details about that show. And I was very young, a student in college. That was when I first saw Fosse choreography and just fell in love with it. As a choreographer, it has always been one of my favorite styles of choreography.

GLN: This is a very colorful, sparkling show with period costumes. It is dazzling on the stage.

Rake: Right. And that's what we were going for. We were going more for the vaudeville dazzle.

In the revival, the cast is in black, very sexy lingerie. There's no essence of the period at all. And there's no set at all. It's just a big staircase of the band, and the band moves forward and back onstage. And whenever there's a chari, the cast brings on a chair. It's just basically showcasing the music and the style of dance. 
photo by Kat Dollarhide
 GLN: What about the satire aspect?

Rake: Fosse was going through a really dark period in his life at the time. He was pretty upset or feeling dark about the world. He was having heart problems and woman problems, so he was going through this dark phase. So I think that's what swayed the satire of the show, how he was feeling at the time.

GLN: What special challenges did this production present?

Rake: The first challenge was teaching the dancers the style of choreography. Even if you're a dancer, if you've never done Fosse, it's a different feeling in your body, a different style and different control. So the first challenge with this cast was to teach them how to do the Fosse style.

GLN: What special rewards does it bring to you?

Rake: To see it happen is just a great feeling. To have these dancers doing the choreography I've wanted to do for years is a thrill, and to have such a talented cast as well.

And I'm really pleased with the way the orchestra sounds. It's got a great sound and the audience will have a lot of fun with the fact that the orchestra is onstage and in front of them.

We have patrons who love to come and watch Jeff conduct (He refers to Jeffrey Stvrtecky—co-founder, music director, and business manager of TMP.) And here he is pretty much in the forefront up there. They can watch him the whole time. It's a connection with the orchestra, more so than when they're always in the little pit, or separated from the show. They're integrated into it and they become part of the show itself.

Overture/All That Jazz - Chita Rivera - Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville 

Just two words from the character Velma offer the essence of my message. As Velma demonstrates, to Roxy, the double act she once had with her sister, she says, "Watch this!" Good advice. And I wouldn't get on Velma's bad side if I were you.

Note: All seating for this production is reserved, so the theater strongly recommends buying tickets in advance. Matinees sell out especially quickly. For ticket prices and ordering information call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or visit This show is NOT recommended for youth under the age of 13.

Tacoma Musical Playhouse is located at 7116 6th Ave. in Tacoma. On Fridays and Saturdays the show begins at p.m., at 2 p.m on Sunday, and Saturday Matinees also begin at 2 p.m.


Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

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