Rock River Repertory goes all out to do 'Chicago' right

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Andrea Behling
Thursday, August 7, 2014

EDGERTON—She was destined to be Roxie Hart—the name on everybody's lips.

Carlynn Zahn saw “Chicago the Musical” for the first time on Broadway when she was 15.

“I fell in love with musical theater at that moment,” she said.

Years later, she's finally playing the chorus girl who's accused of murdering her lover.

Zahn takes the stage as Roxie in the Rock River Repertory Theatre Company's presentation of “Chicago the Musical” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 15-16 and 22-23. The Edgerton Performing Arts Center will become a noisy hall that hosts a nightly brawl for this rendition of the longest-running American musical on Broadway.

It took a bit of razzle-dazzle to bring the show to Edgerton.

Getting the licensing rights was the first challenge, said Penny Hazeltine, a board member for Rock River Repertory. “Chicago” is a tough musical to get rights for, and it's fairly expensive, so bringing it to a small community theater is pretty special, she said.

After the rights were obtained, the next challenge was finding actors who could dance to Bob Fosse's original choreography, director Jim Tropp said.

“It's very difficult dancing. It requires ensemble dancing of a very high level,” he said.

The show also wouldn't work without the right actors.

“I made sure I got the right people,” Tropp said.

DeShawn Christiansen, who plays vaudevillian Velma Kelly, said she “wasn't a dancer at all” going into auditions.

“This was a little scary,” Christiansen said.

After a few long, serious rehearsals led by choreographer Michael Stanek, the cast's dancing could be considered straight off Broadway, Christiansen said.

“Chicago” follows the criminal case against Roxie, who hungers for fame in a vaudeville story of seduction, murder and showbiz in the 1920s.

Christiansen and Zahn are joined onstage by Tim Rosenthal as lawyer Billy Flynn; Jon Churchwell as Roxie's husband, Amos Hart; Haley Drozdowicz as prison matron “Mama” Morton, and John B. Boss as tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine.

Rock River Repertory's show will stay true to Broadway form for the most part, Tropp said, but the staging will set it apart. It's set up to allow the story to come out of the scenes in the Cotton Club-type speakeasy, he said.

“This show is so well written that it's so much easier as a director to do it,” Tropp said.

Rosenthal describes the musical as “a little edgier than the movie. It's got a little more bite to it.”

Rosenthal said his role as Billy Flynn was on his bucket list. Flynn is a slick Chicago lawyer who plays puffery puppeteer for his clients in court and on the front page.

Churchwell's portrayal of Roxie's bumbling husband, Amos, also lets him check an item off his bucket list.

“It's kind of been one of my dream roles since I've been in high school,” he said. “After watching the movie with John C. Reilly, he's one of my idols, so it's one of those roles I've wanted to play for a really long time.”

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