Marcia Manna –“Chicago,” the final musical of the Moonlight Stage Productions’ season (Sept. 12-29), started with a true crime story that traveled to the page, the stage, and the Tony Awards before making its way to Vista.
It all started when Windy City reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins covered the trials of two beautiful women who shot their lovers and were acquitted of murder.
Watkins wrote a play based on her reporting and in 1926, her celebrity crime satire became a Broadway hit.
The character Roxie Hart referenced Beulah Annan, who shot her married lover when he allegedly spurned her affections.
And the role of Velma Kelly was inspired by Belva Gaertner, who put a bullet into her boyfriend after a night of drinking.
After Watkins died in 1969, her estate sold the rights to “Chicago” to a trio of talent: producer Richard Fryer, actress/dancer Gwen Verdon, and her husband, the infamous director/choreographer Bob Fosse.
Together, the team created a razzle dazzle musical, with a score by Fred Ebb and John Kander and an ensemble of dancers who embraced Fosse’s signature shimmies, shoulder rolls and jazz hands.
The original Broadway production of “Chicago” opened in 1975 and again, it was a hit that ran for two years.
But it was the stripped down revival in 1997 that garnered six Tony Awards and won a Grammy Award the following year for the album.
The revival version, which featured Fosse’s choreography and memorable songs such as “All That Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle,” came at a time when sensationalized crime was more common. The show went on to become the longest-running American musical in Broadway history.
Moonlight ‘s production of “Chicago” features performances by veterans of the Broadway and national touring shows, including Terra C. MacLeod as Roxie, Roxane Carracci as Velma, and choreographer/actor Corey Wright, who has played a variety of roles in the musical since 2007.
“The interesting thing is, originally I didn’t want to audition for the show,” Wright said.
“I thought, ‘Look at those bodies…and those veterans. I could never do it.’”
A friend decided to audition and asked Wright to go along for moral support.
“He ended up not showing up, he had a night, the night before,” Wright recalled.
“There I was, so I thought, at least I’ll get a Fosse lesson. I was doing “Dream Girls” at the Palace Theater in New Hampshire when I got the call from the casting company saying I was going to get an offer. I screamed and passed out. I didn’t know that it would be the beginning of one of the greatest journeys of my life.”
In 2012, Wright participated in a choreographic reconstruction project through The Verdon Fosse Legacy LLC, a program launched by daughter Nicole Fosse that preserves and teaches her parent’s contribution to musical theater and film.
“The movement felt so good and I was able to expand my knowledge of how the body works in order to be able to teach it,” Wright said.
“And I am fortunate to have two lead actors (Terra and Roxane) who understand the Fosse style.”
In “Chicago,” the Fosse style reflects vaudeville and social dances of the Jazz Age, using derbies, canes and a seductive approach to movement that can make a dance ensemble mesmerizing.
“My movement language is quirky and sweeping,” Wright explained.
“I like to find pockets of energy and marry it with a different type of musicality. If you give me a musical accent, I’ll more than likely use it-with an elbow, with a hip, a flip or a head nod. It’s a mix, still in the style of Fosse but also sprinkling in a little bit of Corey.”
Fosse and Verdon continue to influence dance and theater. An eight-episode series about the Broadway power couple is slated to air on FX next year. The project’s producers include Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail of “Hamilton” fame and Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams will star in the lead roles.