Joanna Griffin (from left), Jeff Cooper and Paige Smith are leading a cast of about 18 actors, in the Henry Players’ production of “Chicago.” The play is being presented over the next two weekends, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center, in McDonough.
Murder. Music. Comedy. Dance.
A combination of all these elements is under way in the Southern Crescent this week, as a well-known production takes the stage.
The Henry Players is presenting “Chicago,” Friday, and again Sept. 9-10, at 7:30 p.m., each night, at the Henry County Performing Arts Center, in McDonough. A matinee is scheduled for Sept. 11, at 2:30 p.m.
The play opened Friday. Tickets are $12 for adults, and $10 for children and seniors. Adults can also get in for $2 off, if they purchase tickets from a cast or crew member, or a musician in the orchestra.
Adriana Beckner, the president of the Henry Players, is co-directing “Chicago,” with Damon Bohan. Beckner described the play, set in the 1920s, as a Vaudevillian tale which has its roots in a true story.
“It was written originally by a reporter for the Chicago Tribune,” said Beckner, 35. “She was following, and reporting on, several murderesses, who were going to trial. She got so much praise for what she had written, that she decided to write a story on it.”
The play tells the story of Roxie Hart, a woman who, Beckner said, murders her lover and attempts to pin blame for the death on her husband.
“Her husband takes it, until he finds out she had been cheating on him,” said Beckner. “Then, he decides to let her rot in jail.”
Roxie, during the production, meets a famous singer while the two are in jail together. “They end up having the same attorney, and eventually, they both get off, and they start their own show, their own act,” said Beckner.
The co-director said the R-rated play contains serious subject matter, but does not take itself too seriously.
“Even though it is about murder and greed and corruption, being Vaudeville, there’s a lot of comedy in it,” said Beckner. “The music is upbeat. They’re making a farce out of the murder, and the livelihood of what happens to these people in jail.”
The Players, Beckner said, had been trying to secure the rights to “Chicago” for several years, but were unsuccessful until this year. She credited Co-director Bohan and others on the acting troupe’s team, for working to bring the play to Henry County.
Bohan admitted he was concerned about how well the play would be received, locally. Still, he chose to move forward with the project, because he does not like to “underestimate the audience.”
“It’s something I think our viewership wants to see,” said Bohan, 48. “It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s risqué. It’s a comedic drama, or a ‘dramedy,’ as some people would call it. To me, it’s a little funnier than it is dramatic, because the characters are so overboard and overblown.”
Bohan said the biggest challenge in putting the play together, was deciding who would take on its various roles on stage.
Jeff Cooper will portray the character of Billy Flynn. Flynn, Cooper said, is a sleazy “womanizer,” who has a reputation for getting what he wants.
“In particular, he was very good at getting women that murdered, off scot-free,” said Cooper, 48.
The actor said “Chicago” continues the Henry Players’ tradition of putting together quality stage plays. “Everything is just top-notch,” he said. “It’s not a heavy play where you’re going to leave saying ‘Oh, woe is me.’ You’re going to leave thinking of the great choreography and the upbeat tunes. It’s a fun show.”
Joanna Griffin will play Velma Kelly, a woman who goes on trial for murder. Griffin said she was drawn to the production because of its dance numbers and, particularly, its music.
“The music is just phenomenal — ‘All that Jazz,’ ‘Cell Block Tango,’” she said. “For everybody who’s seen it, those songs get stuck in your head. If you have a musical that you just love, and it’s going to be anywhere near you, you have to do it.”
Griffin acknowledged that the various dance routines in the play tested her physically. She said, although the dancing represented the biggest challenge for her during rehearsals, it was also the most rewarding aspect of the experience.
“It’s a bit of a badge of honor, I guess,” she said.
Cooper and Griffin will be joined on stage by 18-year-old Paige Smith, who will assume the role of Roxie Hart. Smith said she has been “obsessed with the show since the seventh-grade.”
“I’ve had the entire show memorized since I was about 13 years old,” she said. “This character … she’s got so much freedom. You can do so much with her, and you can create so many different types of characters for her.
“She gets these wonderful dance numbers, and she gets to dance with all the very attractive guys,” Smith continued. “It’s her show. It’s all about this crazy lady, who you grow to love by the end of it.”
For ticket locations and more information, visit www.henryplayers.com.