When Curtain’s Up Theater Company decided to stage the musical “Chicago,” it had two choices.
“We could dumb it down,” said director Glenn Saltamachia, “or we could go for everything.”
A daunting choice because the iconic musical owns the record for longest running musical revival on Broadway and longest running musical in Broadway history, and the movie won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture in 2003.
“We decided to go for it all — the dancing, the songs,” Glenn said. “With a very talented, dedicated cast, I think we’ve pulled it off.”
You can see for yourself when “Chicago” comes to Edwardsville this Thursday through Sunday at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “Chicago,” based on an actual murder case, is a satire on the criminal justice system and the concept of the “celebrity criminal,” set in the Roaring Twenties.
Chorus girl Roxie Hart murders a faithless lover and convinces her hapless husband Amos to take the rap ... until he finds out he has been duped and turns on Roxie. Arrested and hauled off to the slammer, Roxie and another celebrity murderess, Velma Kelly, vie for the spotlight and the headlines, ultimately joining forces in search of fame, fortune and acquittal with the help of lawyer Billy Flynn.
The director credits his cast and support staff.
“We have 23 hardworking people in the cast, many not dancers to begin with, who had to learn a lot of complex moves since we started rehearsing on June 15,” he said. “The original choreography by Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, of Fairview Heights, is amazing. He has had a lifelong passion for ‘Chicago,’ and he used to do shows for the Goldenrod Showboat” on the Mississippi riverfront.
Dawn Schmid, 22, of Columbia, plays Roxie. Dawn is the color guard coach at Collinsville High School.
“She just blew us away with her acting talent, stage presence, voice and dancing,” Glenn said.
Since Roxie is a murderess, is the audience supposed to love her or hate her?
“I think there are moments for both,” Dawn said. “Roxie is a lost soul who wants to be a star. She is caught up in the celebrity but she can be really down-to-earth.”
Dawn has been in several metro-east productions, most recently as Fiona in the Take A Bow Showcase production of “Shrek.”
“I like to do it all — sing, dance, act. I really like ‘Chicago’ because I get to focus on all three,” she said.
She especially enjoys singing “Roxie” with the male ensemble.
“It’s fun because I get to dance with all these good-looking guys. There are a lot of good-looking guys in the cast.”
Kathy Piercy, of Collinsville, is Velma, the vaudevillean murderess.
“Kathy does a wonderful Velma,” the director said. “The chemistry between Kathy and Dawn was apparent the first day of rehearsal, and the audience will pick up on that.”
“I’m usually quiet,” Dawn said. “Kathy is very outgoing. It was so easy working with her that we have a great relationship on stage and off.”
Mitch Ellis-Yapp, of Fairview Heights, is lawyer Billy Flynn.
“The two girls are fighting for his attention,” Glenn said. “He is a magician with the jury. His big number, ‘Razzle Dazzle,’ is a magical number with a surprise that will blow people’s minds. I don’t want to give it away, but watch for it.”
“Everybody knows the song ‘All That Jazz,’” he said. “We knew we would fail if we didn’t do it great. I think we do justice to Bob Fosse.”
But the real showstopper is “Cell Block Tango,” sung by Piercy and five other “Merry Murderesses,” Shameem Coopotelli, Christy Luster, Kailynne McFerran, Lisa Hinrichs and Christen Ringhausen.
“The murderesses tell the stories of their crimes,” Glenn said, “letting everyone know their victims had it coming. The choreography is amazing, too.”
The set design — a series of platforms and elevations — by Leon White is simple but effective, the director said. Valerie Goldston, who is on the faculty at SIUE, “is a genius with lights. The lighting effects help tell the story,” Glenn said. “And Carol Hodson’s wonderful costuming takes you to the Roaring Twenties.”
When the curtain falls, Glenn said, “I hope the audience has had a good time. That we transported them back to the Roaring Twenties and, for a little while at least, nothing current is on their minds. That they will whistle or sing one or two of the songs for a week or so. And that everyone appreciates the passion of community theater.
“‘Chicago’ is the best show I’ve done in community theater, and I’ve directed 30 or 40. I’m very proud of what we’ve done here.”
At a glance
What: “Chicago,” a musical
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Katherine Dunham Hall, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Tickets: $15; may be purchased at www.curtainsuptheater.com, the Edwardsville Library, and Ashman’s Pharmacy in Collinsville. Do not call the SIUE ticket office.