NORTH EAST — When the coveted Bob Fosse original musical “Chicago” finally became available for Milburn Stone Theatre to license, Director Andrew Mitchell knew he had give a production worthy of the Tony Award winning play.
“We’ve been trying to get Chicago since 2012, it has kind of been the holy grail for MST as far as finding a show that we can get our hands on. This is amongst the top tier of shows we have been trying to get,” said Mitchell, who is also the theatre’s artistic director.
“We had to do Chicago justice, it had to be as big, bright and beautiful as Chicago deserves to be.”
Mitchell was helped right from the start with an overwhelming response to casting that resulted in a diverse cast of regional talent. “We had a lot of response, a huge amount of people who came out,” said Mitchell.
“We were fortunate to have such an eclectic and wonderful group of performers to choose from. It is a very balanced and exciting cast to watch.”
Set in the roaring 1920s, “Chicago” is a musical based on the book by reporter and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins. The original book was focused on high profile murders in 1920s Chicago, where the women who committed them ended up being acquitted for the deaths.
Two of the leads were earned by performers taking their first turns on the stage at the theater based on the campus of Cecil College in North East.
Fallston’s Katie Johnson grabbed the role of Velma Kelly, and Harford County native Tara Vinson was cast as Roxie Hart.
“I have done theater in Havre de Grace before, the last was Sister Act with Scottfield Theater Company, but [this is my] first [show] at Milburn Stone Theatre,” said Vinson.
“I wanted Velma, and I don’t like Roxie — but after doing this show I absolutely love her. This crazy character is the polar opposite of who I am.”
The 2018 graduate of the American Musical and Drama Academy in New York City approached the casting call for such a big show with an open mind. “I walked in and just wasn’t expecting to get anything, and when I got it (Roxy) I thought it was an amazing growth opportunity for me personally,” she said.
“I have never been in a place with a budget like this. It has been awhile, and I have been trying to get back into shows. I am trying to pursue acting professionally, so this is me doing things while I am still home saving money and getting back to New York.”
Because rights to perform shows as big as Chicago are tightly held by licensing companies, it ends up being a “bucket list” show for many performers.
“I loved Chicago when I was younger, it was my show,” said Vinson.
“I just love the dance numbers and the energy. This is definitely a dream come true. I don’t think I will ever get this experience again.”
Vinson’s cast mate Johnson echoed her sentiments about the draw of this show.
“This is the reason I wanted to get back into musical theater,” she said.
“Hearing about this audition and the show, I just wanted this role and to be a part of this show.”
Johnson works for a telecommunications company when she’s not acting. She admits that her Milburn Stone Theatre debut has been a little overwhelming and rewarding at the same time.
“This is insane,” she said. “I kind of came back in here thinking I just wanted to get back into musical theater and performing and letting chance happen. This whole thing has been once in a lifetime. The biggest challenge is getting back into the use of dancing, but it has been really exciting. I absolutely love the intimacy in this and the chemical magnetic feel that’s great with a show like Chicago.”
The excitement for “Chicago” isn’t only felt by its stars. Fans are excited as well, and pre-sales continue to grow for the show, which opens tonight.
Mitchell reflected on his excitement about staging the show and the apparent local interest in Chicago.
“You have to look at a little bit of everything, but you have a catalog of Fosse beyond Chicago to inspire you. But also, the book itself. We had the original and revival script to look at,” he said.
“We are doing great with pre-sales for this show. Every week it has continued to build and we are looking at probably a couple sellouts and that’s good, because the more people that get to see Chicago, the better.”
Fans will have six chances to see the show with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Ebb and Fosse. This staging is directed by Mitchell, with choreography by Katie Gorson and Musical Direction by Matthew Casarino. For more information about showtimes and tickets, visit the Milburn Stone website at www.milburnstone.com.
See “Chicago” Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from February 14 through 23.