‘Chicago’ in Valparaiso
By Bob Craig Post Tribune correspondent June 2, 2011 6:04PM
If you go
When: June 3 through June 12
Where: Memorial Opera House, 104 Indiana Ave., Valparaiso
How: For reservations, call the box
office at 548-9137 or go online at
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The musical “Chicago” opened on Broadway on this day 36-years ago. It has opened for at least the second time in the history of the 118-year old Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso.
It is an odd musical, draped in legend because of its choreographer Bob Fosse and his penchant for creating emotionally charged and innovative movement. Because of Fosse’s influence, “Chicago” demands more from its performers — singing, acting and dancing — than most traditional Broadway musicals.
“It is demanding,” explained guest choreographer and co-director Drew Nellessen. “It’s hard on the body because it goes against everything you’ve been taught as a dancer.”
Nellessen knows this all too well. After graduation from Millikin University, the Valparaiso native was cast in a World Tour of “Chicago” and spent the next two years performing in the show.
“The biggest misconception about this show and Fosse’s choreography is that it’s all about sex; and it’s not,” Nellessen said. “There are underlying factors. There is always opposition, cold and hot, severe and timid, it’s about playing the opposites.”
With music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, “Chicago” is based a 1920s play by Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins. It fictionalized some of the actual crimes that she covered in that era.
The rights to the play were bought from Watkins’ family after she died in the 1960s and Fosse, Kander and Ebb put together the musical basing it on very specific Vaudeville performers and numbers.
Because of the subject matter as well as the very specific ideas of the writers and choreographer, “Chicago” is a different kind of musical.
Teaching this to a relatively young cast, making them realize that these songs and movements are about attitude and precision versus sexy, pouting looks, is the task Nellessen and fellow choreographer Amber Mills have taken on.
“The dance style isn’t necessarily hard, it’s just specific — very specific,” Mills explained. “Drew and I have a vision for the dance numbers based on the storyline and we aren’t holding back on the movements. We are confident that this cast can handle anything we give them.”
The challenges of choreographing “Chicago” become even more intense when assembling a cast of local performers with dance skills ranging from experienced to novice. Because of this, the “Chicago” cast has been working diligently on choreography since early March.
“The dancing feels more Fosse, more straight forward, not so much sexy,” explained Kyrie Anderson, who plays Velma Kelly. “The moves I can do, it’s the attitude that is hard.”
The cast has spent weeks going over the fine details of the choreography, developing that attitude and making the small, but precise, movements over and over again to be able to move seamlessly as one unit.
“The movements are so so controlled,” said Jenna Rose Underwood, who plays Roxi Hart. “Even when the dancers look like they are just throwing their arms in the air, they know exactly where their arms are being placed, how far they are to go and what they should look like. Because when you have 10 or 15 people just ‘throwing’ their arms in the air, they have to all look the same.”
Directed by Michele Craig, with co-director Nellessen and Mills choreographing, the cast of Chicago includes Anderson, Underwood, Jeff DeBoer, LuAnne Pezel, Joe Sinclair, Kelsey Dougherty, Amy Joy Storlie, April Irizarry, Katie Kern, Kyleen Linsemeyer, John Peluso, Matt McCann, Scot MacDonald, Colleen Archer, Bryce Schafer, Michael Ohm, Mitchel Pynakker, Holly Mocabee and Caitlyn Desjardins.