The Hippo


Aug 23, 2019








Lillie Ellars as Roxie Hart and Gracie Kontak as Velma Kelly. Courtesy photo.

See Chicago

Where: Janice B. Streeter Theater, 14 Court St., Nashua
When: Friday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 14, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 15, at 2 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 21, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m.
Admission: $12-$17
Contact: 886-7000,

All that jazz
Peacock Players do Chicago

By Kelly Sennott

The Peacock Players got record numbers at auditions for this fall’s Chicago, with 180 teens trying for 27 spots.

Needless to say, there were quite a few broken hearts. Kids had been prepping for months, ever since the season was announced last spring, and between listening to old Chicago soundtracks, they were sharpening the moves they learned at an early August audition workshop taught by artistic director Keith Weirich and choreographer Valerie Psoinos Nelson. Company alums and newbies came to audition, resulting in quite a few mainstage debuts.
Lillie Ellars, who plays Roxie Hart, wasn’t at all surprised by the high turnout. Neither was Gracie Kontak, this year’s Velma Kelly. 
“There are really very few shows that are girl-heavy,” Ellars said at a recent rehearsal. “And in community youth theater, we don’t have that many guys. So when we heard it was Chicago, which is primarily a very girl-heavy show, we were so excited because there are more opportunities for us.”
Weirich suspects the draw also had to do with the fact it’s Chicago, one of the most iconic musicals in Broadway history. It’s steamy, it’s sexy, and it occurs in Prohibition-era Chicago during the birth of jazz. John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse created the original 1975 production with reference to Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Dallas Watkin’s 1926 play. Watkins covered the real-life murder trials of Beulah Sheriff Annan (who became Roxie Hart) and Belva Gaertner (who became Velma Kelly).
Peacock has never done Chicago, but Weirich has wanted to for ages, having worked for the original Broadway casting office during the 1996 revival.
“It’s a title I’ve been wanting to get for a long time. And it’s a hard-to-get title,” Weirich said. “They held on to the rights for a while, and there’s been a tour of Chicago that’s been going on forever.”
But finally they secured Chicago, and preparations for this weekend’s premiere at the Janice B. Streeter Theater have been fun but intense. Sets and costumes will be simple, monochromatic, and the story is told with a Vaudeville flair. Production-wise, it’s a fairly simple to put on; there are no helicopters, no flying houses or falling chandeliers, growing noses or flesh-eating plants. But then, that comes with its own challenges.
“It’s raw. There’s not all this extra stuff. That’s what’s on parade here. You can’t hide anyone,” Nelson said.
“The show is really focused on the characters and their [willingness] to pretty much do anything they can for their 15 minutes of fame,” Weirich added. “The dance is really the spectacle of the show. Because it is wall-to-wall. There’s not a single scene or single sequence in this show that doesn’t involve Fosse-style dance. It’s very daunting.”
Fosse’ s choreography is iconic and precise.
“It’s been challenging for them. It’s been challenging for me. It’s one of the hardest shows I’ve ever worked on,” Nelson said. “[Fosse choreography] is so out of their comfort zone. It’s out of a lot of people’s comfort zones. The style, it’s very broken. You want them to hit a pose, but they have to make it ugly, almost. So it’s like, how do you move your body in that way?”
The teens know Chicago is a mature show and a difficult show, and they’re stepping up. Nelson said she can feel the difference.
“They’re more focused. They’re asking questions. They’re just invested. They want it to be superb,” she said. “They bring a whole new energy. They’re just so daring. You ask them to jump, and they’re like, how high? Where am I going?”
It’s not unheard of, a high school producing Chicago, but Weirich said it has raised a few eyebrows. He argues the themes are relevant, especially with modern gun violence, and the kids reflected that viewpoint.
“I think it’s more relevant now, even more than when it was set, because you see people who will kill for fame, like all the time. It’s almost normal in society, which is really sad. But I think it’s important,” Ellars said. 

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