SD Theatre Arts students gave the audience “the old razzle dazzle” during last weekend’s performances of the hit musical, Chicago.
Featuring Bob Fosse-inspired choreography by Director of Performing Arts Erica Smith, Ms. Smith’s partner in music and incredible live band performance by Musical Director Natalie John, and with additional choreography and dance coaching by Alyssa Carnahan and Doree Clark, the SD Theatre Arts cast and crew put on an inspired show that elicited a standing ovation by the packed house, leaving the audience with smiles from ear to ear.
Director Erica Smith provides us with some interesting context for the deeper meaning behind this satirical show:
A week before opening night, the cast of Chicago sat in a circle discussing the lyrics “No, I’m no one’s wife, but, oh, I love my life and all that jazz!” I asked everyone what they felt about this quote that opens and closes the musical, and what it meant to them. Answers ranged from the emancipation of traditional expectations for females, to the brave and revolutionary act of choosing one’s own unique path, including the hard parts (“all that jazz”). The conversation went deep fast, and I credit this to the historical research our cast members had done, and to our wonderful Upper School history teacher, Amanda Tredinnick, who presented us with an inspiring and fascinating slideshow on the roaring twenties, Chicago style.
Our show is based on true stories. In the 1920s, the obsession with notoriety and fame was no different than now. One popular story emerged: young, beautiful, American women who had killed their partners became a source of fascination; and female reporters, known as “sob sisters,” would write heart-wrenching articles on the plights of these women, who must certainly have been victims themselves. Belva Gaertner was a cabaret singer arrested for shooting her married lover. It is said that she joined forces with Beulah Annan, a young married woman from Kentucky, who was arrested for shooting her lover in her apartment (much like the beginning of our Chicago). These two women were said to have set up a beauty school in their jail cell to prepare the hair and makeup of other incarcerated women for their trial dates, as beauty was said to sway the all-male juries into acquitting them.
Mary Watkins was one of the most successful sob sisters of the time. She followed these two “merry murderesses” for months and included in her articles detailed descriptions of their beauty. Eventually concerned that her physical descriptions had helped both women receive acquittals, Watkins wrote a Broadway play called “Brave Little Women.” According to Kristy Puchko of SYFY Wire, Mary Watkins “hoped this dark comedy would highlight how appearances and sex appeal had become too important in the justice system.” The play became a success, which led to a silent film and decades later to Bob Fosse’s phenomenal Broadway sensation, Chicago.
In this current version of Watkins’ stories, the question remains: were these women “innocent beauties”? Were they victims of their patriarchal times? Were they cold-hearted killers? Or were they simply taking revolutionary action and breaking out of the constrained molds that were created to control women of their era?
We will let you decide.
– Director of Dance and Theatre Arts Erica Smith