Hold on to your hats — ‘Chicago’ is coming to the Palace
Split Stage Productions will start its new season in a big way — by staging one of the longest running shows on Broadway at the largest of four community theaters where performances are scheduled during its 2017-18 season.
The company will present “Chicago the Musical” June 2 and 3 at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg, kicking off a season that also features productions of “Side Show” at Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont; “That Time of the Year” at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin, and “The Last Five Years” at the Theatre Factory in Trafford.
“Chicago,” directed by Jim Mikula, takes place during the “roaring ’20s” and deals with Roxie Hart, a wannabe vaudeville star who is arrested and charged with her lover’s murder; Roxie’s hero, famous double-murderess and nightclub performer Velma Kelly; and their mutual attorney, Billy Flynn.
The themes of the hit musical offer a satirical look at fame, justice and the media machine with a musical score featuring “All That Jazz,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “Cell Block Tango” and “All I Care About is Love.”
“The show is truly iconic,” says Rob Jessup, Split Stage Productions co-owner and artistic producer with Nate Newell. “It is a night of remarkable and recognizable music that is garnished with (Bob) Fosse’s mysterious sex appeal throughout the choreography and a message that is all too current.”
Newell says performing at the Palace Theatre presents exciting new challenges for Split Stage.
“It is a huge space,” he says. “This means that we have to fill this space with our talent on stage, and also from a production quality aspect. Sets are larger, sound requirements change and lighting is immensely different from some of the more intimate spaces that we have previously performed. All of these present challenges, but they are exciting challenges.”
Heading up the cast are Mandie Russak as Roxie, Victoria Buchtan as Velma, John Noble as Billy Flynn and Ryan Hadbavny as Roxie’s husband, Amos.
Russak of Irwin is reprising the role that she played two years ago at The Theatre Factory. She says her character is larger than life.
“The biggest challenge bringing Roxie Hart to life is justifying her 0 to 60 personality,” Russak says. “Her emotional stability turns on a dime; why else would she kill someone just for leaving her? I hope I’m not spoiling that for anyone, but it happens in the first three minutes of the show.”
She wanted to perform as Roxie for Split Stage because she says she “absolutely adores” working for the company that consistently produces excellent shows.
“Laura Wurzell, our choreographer, has such a great vision that is coming to life. Putting her personal spin on Fosse choreography is stunning,” Russak says.
John Noble of Greensburg says this will be his “fourth and final” performance as Billy Flynn. He has taken on the memorable character in a production for Greensburg Civic Theatre and in two other productions at the Palace Theatre.
With Jim Mikula as director, Eric Barchiesi as musical director and Wurzell, Noble says, “I could not resist auditioning for the Flynn role — to play a lawyer on the Palace stage one last time in this timeless American musical.”
Jessup’s overview of the rest of Split Stage’s season includes:
• “Side Show,” Oct. 6-14 at Apple Hill, directed by Jim Scriven, is based on the true story of Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, who became stars during the Depression. Told almost entirely in song, the show follows their progression from England to America, around the vaudeville circuit and to Hollywood on the eve of their appearance in the 1932 movie “Freaks.”
• “That Time of The Year” Dec. 15-17 at the Lamp, will be directed by Matt Mlynarski. The musical revue of 25 all-original Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s songs captures the warmth and humor of this unique, interfaith holiday season.
• “The Last Five Years,” Jan. 26-Feb. 3 at the Theatre Factory, will be directed by Wurzell. An emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers in their 20s who fall in and out of love over five years, the show’s unconventional structure consists of Cathy, the woman, telling her story backward while Jamie, the man, tells his story chronologically; the two characters only meet once, at their wedding in the middle of the show.
Split Stage also will present a special fundraiser event, “BBQ, Broadway and Beers … Oh My!” on July 29 at Rivertowne Brewing Co. in Export. The $20 admission includes a tour of the brewery, free pint glass, complimentary first beer and an evening of Broadway hits.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.