‘Chicago’ premieres at Orcas Center

Update: Due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, Chicago has been postponed for a later 2020 date.

Director Robert Hall and choreographer Tiffany Loney are back for their fourth production together at Orcas Center, the infamous vaudeville “Chicago.”

Based on true crime stories from the roaring twenties, the musical sharply satirizes an America obsessed with murder, sex and celebrity. It’s an indictment of our pop culture.

“I think Robert has a true appreciation for movement and he enjoys incorporating it into his drama,” Loney said. “We have a really good give and take. We trust each other’s process.”

The play will run Thursday – Saturday, March 19–April 4 at 7:30 p.m. and March 29, Sunday at 1 p.m on Orcas Center’s main stage. Tickets are tiered pricing at $15, $25 or $47 available at www.orcascenter.org.

This is the second major showcase the duo is executing with Martin Lund, who brings his live band-directing expertise back to center stage for his first musical since “Billy Elliot.”

“It’s the music that makes this thing great,” Hall said. “The band in ‘Chicago’ supports the story and dialogue, it’s not just backing tracks for singing. It underscores the theme.”

Think “Chicago” and bowler hats, jazz hands and long-legged women in fishnets likely come to mind. Debuting on Broadway in 1975, the beloved musical came to be known as legendary director and original choreographer Bob Fosse’s most enduring work.

Created for dance and song as much as for the story, “Chicago” follows Roxie Hart, played by Katie Zwilling, a wannabe vaudevillian star who murders her lover and is arrested, despite her attempts to convince her pushover husband, Amos, played by Clint McCune, to lie for her. In the Cook County Jail, Roxie meets her hero, the famed double-murderess and nightclub performer Velma Kelly, played by Grace McCune.

When both acquire the same lawyer, the greedy and lustful superstar Billy Flynn, played by Jon Spinogatti, tensions come to a head as they vie for the spotlight— though instead of on-stage, they’re mugging for the flash of newspaper reporters. The 2002 film version of the musical won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

“I feel lucky and humbled to work with this phenomenal cast, crew, director, choreographer and band,” Zwilling said.

The cast is rounded out by 20 other Orcas Island actors and ensemble performers. Also on the creative team: audio director and sound engineer Jake Perrine and costume designer Asifa Pasin. Grace McCune is also the choir director and vocal coach.

A year ago, Hall was researching possible new productions for Orcas Center. When he learned “Chicago” is the longest-running American musical of all timem, he knew there had to be a reason and wanted to find out why. It’s the music, he said. The show has run consecutively on Broadway in various forms since its revival in 1996. Hall said he became passionate about maintaining the original, vintage, Bob Fosse style — beefing up the show business with fedoras, rounded shoulders, tight, subtle lines and movement in unison.

Zwilling, while learning lines, choreography and transforming her look to embody Roxie’s moxie, also offered dance instruction to Grace McCune, who said, “I’d have to say the biggest form of growth I’ve experienced throughout this show is without a doubt the choreography. I have so much respect for the amount of dedication it takes to execute being a proficient dancer on stage.”

Fosse said at the 1987 Tony Awards: “It’s been said that the art of choreography is only about a 50 percent conception. The real test of your talent is getting the people in the room who are just a little crazier than you are to try to live out that thing in your head,”

Loney agreed, sharing there’s a subtle control and dynamism to Fosse’s dance style she struggled to figure out how to communicate.

“If you’re dancing like a bull, that’s not it,” she said. “For me, the challenge has been: how do I demonstrate this? How many different languages can I come up with to describe it? You can’t put on the movement, it has to come from inside. It needs to be chewy. There has to be an inner tension underlying all this movement or else it won’t work.”

Both Hall and Loney said it’s the tightly grouped syncing of the dancing that’s helped keep the cast together during long nights throughout the winter. Loney says everyone has given a huge amount to the production.

“We cannot wait for show time, and for audience feedback. We feel so proud of how far we’ve come. What nerve we have! To think we can pull this off,” Loney said.

For the majority of the show, the whole 24-person cast and 12-piece band are on stage for the audience to witness, leveling the fourth wall and delivering an elevated level of sensuality.

Perhaps no one character ties the satire together quite as well as Billy Flynn. Spinogatti is a seasoned actor who performed in the movie “Wolf of Wall Street” and toured with Saturday Night Fever as an ensemble member 20 years ago. He said he’s grateful for how supportive and genuine everyone in the cast has been.

Both Zwilling and Grace McCune are dynamic leads, having performed at Orcas Center many times. Grace McCune created and directed several “Rock on the Rock” performances alongside Perrine, and says she’s enjoying taking a break to pursue a dream role as Velma Kelly.

“Playing Velma Kelly is a type of character I’ve never played before,” she said. “In past shows, I’m usually cast as either the ingenue or comedic role. Which I absolutely love doing! Being cast as Velma pushes me as an actor to play more of a cold, deceptive type. Don’t get me wrong, Velma has heart but it’s buried underneath her stance of feeling jaded towards the world. Fame and success won’t even crack her veneer. She holds very tight to the cuff that being tough is the only way to get through life.”

Hall says Orcas Center’s “Chicago” will be different than anything Eastsound has seen before.

Bianca Cox Photo                                Above: Katie Zwilling as Roxie Hart and Grace McCune as Velma Kelly.

Bianca Cox Photo Above: Katie Zwilling as Roxie Hart and Grace McCune as Velma Kelly.