‘Chicago’ takes center stage for MU Theatre series

The MU Summer Repertory Theatre Program will also perform ‘The 39 Steps’ as well as two comedies.
MU students have been working during the intersession to create the performance Chicago in June. The performance will be the first of many during the summer months. Courtesy of MU Summer Rep Theatre 2011

The merry murderesses of the Crookem County Jail will be taking the stage this summer for MU Summer Repertory Theatre’s production of "Chicago."

This musical tells the story of Roxie Hart, a woman who kills her lover and tries to make her husband take the blame. While in prison, she hires lawyer Billy Flynn to defend her. Flynn makes her famous as he has done with other murderers in the past, including the famous Velma Kelly, who is in jail with Roxie.

Director, choreographer and costume designer James Miller said the musical is a look at the idea of celebrity in America.

“This is a comic look at how the media is,” Miller said. “They can turn criminals or anybody into a celebrity to the point that we forget what they did was horrible.”

MU alumnus Paige Sommerer will play the role of Roxie.

“'Chicago' is one of the greatest shows I think on Broadway,” Sommerer said. “It takes a really interesting cast to make it work. It needs strong actors, strong dancers, strong singers and it has been on Broadway forever so it’s really just a dream role for any actor to be able to play Roxie or Velma Kelly.”

Miller said this production will be different from Broadway or the movie version of "Chicago" due to the different actors.

“It’s like you go into a dance studio, and you might have some ideas of what it’s going to look like, what the steps are going to be, but it changes the minute you start working with specific bodies, and those bodies are the things that inspire you to choreograph the show,” Miller said. “We did this show 25 years ago in 1986 before it was a movie and it will be different from that one too because the bodies are different, the actors are different, the voices are different.”

Senior Steven Buehler will play the role of Billy Flynn. He said he is most excited to start rehearsing and see Miller’s idea of his character.

“I know what my ideas are for Billy Flynn, and how it is that I want to portray him but I’m sure that Jim will want to tweak my decisions a little bit,” he said. “I’ve worked with Jim a lot too and he really gives me a lot of creative freedom whenever it comes to my creative development. He sort of gives me a foundation to work off of and then he lets me build the character as I will and if I take it in the wrong direction then he straightens me out again.”

Miller said that the Summer Rep program is very popular. Twenty-two students are involved in the "Chicago" production, whereas 70 auditioned.

In addition to "Chicago", students will perform "The 39 Steps", a play based on the movie by Alfred Hitchcock where each actor plays multiple characters. The program also includes two comedy concerts with original work written by students and faculty.

The cast of "Chicago" and "The 39 Steps" will be rehearsing and performing at the same time. Some actors, like Sommerer, are involved in both productions.

“Since we’re doing two shows – one rehearses in the afternoon and one rehearses at night – it seems like we have to get it faster,” Miller said. “We may have one (fewer) week of rehearsal than we do in the fall. We have to learn it and we have to get it fast.”

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