Stapleton’s South Green will be turned into scandal-ridden Chicago of the 1920s for the fifth annual Theatre on The Green production, Chicago, on June 4–6 at 7pm nightly.
“Chicago is full of great music and dance numbers, and we have some amazing dancers,” said director El Armstrong. “Kids will get a kick out of it, while adults will get the humor in the fact that some things never change—like our fascination with grandiose crimes.”
Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, the musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she reported on. The story is a satire on corruption in criminal justice and the concept of the “celebrity criminal.” Parts of the story—the supposed pregnancy used to speed up the trial, the sleek lawyer who helped define the media frenzy, and the acquittal of two murderesses—sound like a page out of Hollywood. But they were real life incidents covered by Watkins as a young reporter.
“Watkins had access to the women’s prison and she realized that stories about angry housewives killing their husbands sold newspapers,” said Armstrong. “She is represented by the ‘Mary Sunshine’ character in the play. She made a career out of the ‘merry murderesses.’”
Stapleton’s family-oriented production requires a few minor changes to the script. “There’s not that much adult language and behavior, but we’ve toned it down anyway,” Armstrong said. “People won’t find it objectionable. Adults will still get the double-entendres, but kids won’t ask ‘What does so-and-so mean?’ Parents won’t face awkward questions.
“I love this show. I’ve directed musicals that skip on story in favor of pretty tunes, but I prefer a story with meat. Chicago has it—in a fun, campy way.”
Theatre on The Green, a free theatre production, is produced by the Aurora Fox Arts Center. Last year’s performances drew an audience of more than 2,000.
Armstrong has directed several productions at the Aurora Fox and Denver Victorian Playhouse, and has acted and done sound design for many plays as well. He plans to give this production of Chicago the look of the original 1975 Broadway show: “The original production had the look of vaudeville vignettes. The costumes were like burlesque, with pale makeup—like traveling players. In the 1996 revival the ensemble looked like a troupe of dancers—in leotards and tights, like A Chorus Line. I prefer the vaudevillian look; the revival was too slick for me. So it’s still sexy, but not leotards and tights.”
The cast is pared down to fit this production. “The original show had a cast of 20 to 24, but we’re doing it with 14,” said Armstrong. “A few bit roles will go away and the ensemble of chorines [chorus members]—four men and four women—will play at least three roles apiece. Several play six roles. They are the busiest people in the production.”
The sleek lawyer, Billy Flynn, is played by Montclair resident Brian Harper. Harper owns Madcap Theater comedy club in Westminster and manages educational theatre school programs for Kaiser-Permanente. “I’ve done probably 2,000 live improv shows, but no scripted theatre in a long time, so Chicago will be fun,” Harper said. “I’m excited to invite our friends and neighbors.”