“Chicago” comes to Vail at VMS
Vail Mountain School’s production of the iconic Broadway musical opens Friday
VAIL — “Welcome!” says an anonymous emcee in front of a drawn curtain. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts.”
She’s talking about “Chicago,” one of the longest-running and most celebrated musicals of all time. This iconic production hits the stage at Vail Mountain School (VMS) this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And while you may be reconciling images and plotlines from the Oscar-winning movie spawned by the musical, worry not. This is the PG-13 high school version.
“Chicago is a modern classic,” VMS Theater Director Tony Bender said. “It is what you think of when you imagine musical theater, and was chosen to very intentionally to build on the work the students did with ‘The Laramie Project.’”
Like “The Laramie Project,” “Chicago” pushed students out of their comfort zone with its stylistic choreography and challenging solo and ensemble vocals.
“It’s also a real growth opportunity for our younger actors who must convincingly play adults that represent the complete moral opposite of the positive character traits that our school endeavors to develop,” Bender said.
Quinn Kelley plays Roxie, who murders her lover and then tries to convince her husband, Amos, to take the fall.
“I have been wanting to play this role since the show was announced last year,” Quinn said. “I never really thought about the darkest parts of Roxie — her murder, affair, and constant manipulation. Instead, I focused on her sass and overall rudeness. Surprisingly, it has been way more fun than playing a murderer should be.”
Hayley Bill, a 10th grader, plays Velma Kelly and competes head-to-head with Roxie for her share of the limelight.
“Velma gets lots of publicity and fame because of the crime she committed, as do the other inmates in the jail,” Bill said. “She is seen as an infamous criminal and a famous vaudeville performer, but during this time period, the difference between the two is unrecognizable.”
Chicago is not so much about the moral decadence of America in the 1920s, but rather, society’s glorification of it through an insatiable appetite for scandalous news. VMS Senior, Andie Billingsley plays the principal reporter and gives a voice to the throng of journalists played by the ensemble cast.
“‘Chicago,’ in a way, forces us to look at the modern image of the 1920s with a grain of salt,” Billingsley said. The show glorifies terrible behavior, but it’s so over-the-top that it pushes the audience to look further into the time period and the issues brought up in the play.”
Sophomore, Graham Spessard, plays attorney Billy Flynn, the role made famous by Richard Gere in the cinematic version of “Chicago.”
“Balancing competitive skiing, theater and other school work is a challenge,” Spessard said. “However, it has been valuable to learn how to completely focus on a bunch of different things at the same time, and it has taught me a huge level of discipline and time management that otherwise would not be possible.”
Cameron Bill plays Amos, Roxie’s pushover husband, who is manipulated by others throughout the show. As a senior, this is his last role on stage at VMS where he has played several leads and other prominent roles throughout his high school career.
“Theater started off as a requirement for me in 8th grade,” said Bill. “Subsequently, I found a love for the stage and the process of developing a theater production. The hard work of memorizing lines, blocking and songs; the long hours of tech week; and the bonds created with peers and faculty are all things that have helped me grow as a person throughout my time at VMS.”
Shane Cole, also a senior, is the student director for the show, a feature dancer, and the judge who is the ultimate arbiter of what passes for justice in 1920s Chicago.
Seniors at VMS are required to take on a senior project and Cole’s focuses on the topic of love through the lens of Buddhism — an interesting juxtaposition to the themes in “Chicago” that has inspired him to look inward.
“The experience of balancing two very big projects is teaching me about my work ethic and forcing me to make the most of every free minute I have,” said Cole. “I am extremely proud of this and I’ve found that I feel better when I go to sleep each night after grinding away on each of these things rather than floating through the rest of my senior year and not pushing myself.”
VMS senior, Audrey Howell, served as principal student choreographer. Together with fellow dance majors Addie Strickler, Nico O’Connell and Emmie Urquhart, the group adapted Bob Fosse’s legendary choreography for the show during the first semester of this year and has been teaching it to the cast since work on the production began in January.
“When choreographing for this show, we kept iconic Fosse moves with the classic Fosse arms, walks and poses, and just placed them in different parts of the show or music,” Howell said. “With this musical, there is so much room for creative input and our own interpretation of the lyrics and music while keeping the style of music and original choreography in mind. It has been such an amazing experience to be able to work with such a talented cast and honor such an iconic choreographer.”
Tickets for the show can be purchased at vms.edu/tickets.
Stella Addis- Ensemble
Cameron Bill- Amos Hart
Hayley Bill- Velma Kelly
Andie Billingsley- Reporter, DA Harrison
Ryan Cole- Sgt. Fogarty, Male Feature Dancer
Shane Cole- Judge, Male Feature Dancer, Student Director
Cloe Cunningham- Ensemble
Amanda Dirvonas- Annie, Feature Dancer
Emma Ferer- Ensemble
Ty Fugate- Harry, Male Feature Dancer
Katy Jane Hardenbergh- Ensemble
Zoe Harrison- Ensemble
Audrey Howell- June, Feature Dancer, Student Choreographer
Bryce Johnson- Ensemble
Quinn Kelley- Roxie Hart
Jacqueline Lazier- Ensemble
Lexi Linafelter- Ensemble
Dana Loftus- Matron Mama Morton
Alison McCalley- Ensemble
Mel McCalley- Ensemble
Nico O’Connell- Mary Sunshine, Student Choreographer
Catie Reihe- Ensemble
Hannah Serbinski- Ensemble
Jessica Sherpa- Ensemble
Rachel Synder- Kitty
Aicha Sow- Ensemble
Graham Spessard- Billy Flynn
Addie Strickler- Hunyak, Student Choreographer
Eva Thomas- Mona
Emmie Urquhart- Liz, Student Choreographer
Devin Yarde- Fred Casely, Feature Male Dancer
Millie Zhu- Student Stage Manager
Kaela Loftus- Flute
Nathan Rouaud- Trumpet
Peter Littman- Saxophone
Cami Johnson- Keyboard
Sonny Nordstrand- Bass
John Verratti- Guitar/Banjo/Mandolin
Ann Hampton Callaway brings classic movie jazz to Vail with Wednesday and Thursday night performances
Her catalogue, “Jazz Goes to the Movies,” draws inspiration from “The Great American Songbook” and classic movies.