BY RUTH RICE
Welcome to a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery.
“Chicago: The Musical” will be presented by Pitt-Johnstown’s theater department at 7:30 p.m. March 1-3 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Richland Township.
The story of prohibition-era Chicago and two rival vaudevillian murderers locked up in Cook County Jail will be the first time the theater department has done a production on the main stage since “South Pacific” held sway in 2008.
“ ‘Chicago’ is a production that I’ve always loved,” said Ann Marie Stewart, director.
“Bob Fosse is my favorite choreographer.
“The energy of the production is tremendous due to the high quality of the dance, and the music is captivating. There is a very good reason that it is the longest-running show on Broadway.”
Stewart said “Chicago” is not necessarily the largest cast she’s worked with recently, but the production challenges of the set and lighting designs are more elaborate and costly.
Getting more space than the smaller studio theater could provide is not the only reason Stewart wanted a new locale.
“As a director, it was just time for me to try something new,” she said.
“I have been working in the studio for two years and wanted a challenge.
“Blocking and movement on the main stage are entirely different challenges than working in the small studio theater.”
Stewart said getting a performance slot and rehearsal time are more difficult because so many national tours, community arts events and university events happen on the Pasquerilla stage.
“Also it requires that a director chooses a ‘big name’ show that has the potential to sell upwards of 3,000 seats,” Stewart said. “Only certain shows play well on such a big stage, so I also must take that into consideration.”
For many of the students and designers involved in the show, performing on the main stage is a dream come true.
“We cast the show in October, which is an unusually long rehearsal process,” Stewart said. “It is typically eight weeks, so we have taken this show very seriously.
“Rehearsals are going well.”
Matt Thomas is music director and Brianne Lees is choreographer.
Rehearsals are scheduled for six nights a week for four hours.
“Each director gets to work with the cast at least one night a week independently,” Stewart said. “It’s very hard work that takes great dedication from everyone involved, but the rewards are tremendous.
John Teacher, a Pitt-Johnstown faculty member, will work on set design. Judy Bingler will work on costumes.
Brian McConnell is handling sound design, and the lighting designer is Bob Steineck of Pittsburgh.
Michael Bodolosky, executive director of the arts center, is directing the orchestra pit. Katherine Steinstra is stage manager. Justin Harenchar is assistant director. Steinstra and Harenchar are students.
Stewart said that as a director, “Chicago” demands a razor-sharp precision.
“If it is going to be done well, it requires talent, dedication and focus at a higher level than other musical productions,” she said. “To achieve that, we have put in more rehearsal hours than we have done in the past, but the payoff has been worthwhile.”
Stewart had nothing but praise for her student cast of actors, dancers and singers.
“One of our leads, Emily Felton, who plays Velma, is actually a freshman, which is really rare,” Stewart said.
“The rest of our leading actors are seasoned veterans of the Pitt-Johnstown stage and really shine in their roles.”
Because of its content, the show is suggested for adult audiences.
If you go ...
What: “Chicago: The Musical.”
Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Richland Township.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 1-3.
Tickets: $22 and $25 for adults, $17 for students and $5 for Pitt-Johnstown students. Tickets sold at the door.
Information: 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or www.upjarts.org.
Group hosting dinner theater
The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Alumni Association will sponsor a dinner theater during Pitt-Johnstown’s production of “Chicago: The Musical.”
The event will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m. March 3 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center’s studio theater. Dinner will be served at 6, followed by the performance at 7:30.
The cost is $46 per person for the dinner and the show or $42 for alumni association members. A dinner-only option is available for $22 per person.
Reservations are required for the dinner theater and may be made by calling 269-2080 by Feb. 24. A reservation form also is available at www.pitt-johnstown.pitt.edu/Alumni.
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