Cherry Hill West students find universal themes in “Chicago”

Talented cast to perform musical about fame, lust, murder and celebrity later this month

Cherry Hill High School West students prepare for the upcoming musical “Chicago” by rehearsing “Cell Block Tango” on March 4, a dance number which features six murderesses who tell their stories of how they landed in prison.

Fame. Lust. Murder. Celebrity. Shady lawyers. It’s not just for Hollywood-themed cable channels. The talented students at Cherry Hill High School West will explore those themes on the stage in their upcoming production of “Chicago.”

“Chicago” is an American musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. The work 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 the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the “celebrity criminal.”

It made its Broadway debut in 1975, and the 2002 film adaptation, starring Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger, took home the Oscar for Best Picture as well as five other Academy Awards.

When The Sun attended rehearsals on March 4, the troupe was rehearsing “Cell Block Tango,” an ensemble dance number that featured six murderesses telling stories of how they wound up in prison.

“I love women empowerment and most of the cast is women, so I thought this was my chance to get on stage and be sexy, and be what I want to be, because this show is like that, you can do whatever you want because you are a woman,” said junior Breyanna Walcott, who plays murderess June. “I’m not a dancer, I don’t dance much outside of school, but I just thought, here I am, might as well.”

Junior Megan Nutt said being part of the dance ensemble is taxing both physically and mentally, but as long as she finds that state where she’s playing somebody else, the moves she makes will naturally begin to embody that character.

“It’s especially important with this show, when you’re dancing because it’s very sexy and there’s a lot of songs where the movements are subtle but if you miss one thing, it’ll set you off for the rest of it. One of the biggest challenges is that you have to have that mentality 24/7 that you are a sexy woman in jail, essentially,” she said.

As “Chicago” revolves around women, and women’s place in the early 20th century and the consequences when women fight back against their husbands and society, the roles of men in the world of the musical end up being at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Senior Anthony DiFelice and freshman Chris Reigel will both play Amos, Roxie Hart’s milquetoast husband, who clearly gets the short end of the stick.

“Amos is a unique part, because while everyone else is doing something else, dancing or other extravagant things, he’s sort of left in the dust. It’s interesting to portray that kind of character who you see is constantly defeated. He’s a good person and that doesn’t work in this kind of society,” said DiFelice.

Reigel added, “I think it’s an interesting part to play, because he’s a nice guy and not a lot of good things happen back to him. I feel like everyone can relate to that in some capacity. (To portray such a good-hearted, downtrodden character), it just comes down to perfecting every little detail you can.”

And then there’s unscrupulous lawyer Billy Flynn, who turns all of his clients into celebrities to win sympathy and public support, played by sophomore C.J. Williams.

“He’s dirty, he’s sneaky, all he cares about is money and not necessarily real love but physical love. So getting to know my character, it was a lot of research, because you need to know basically how to be dirty, all about how to be a cheat. And it’s all still going on now, with the government, so it’s important to talk about,” Williams said. “It’s crazy to think how relevant it is. That’s what Billy’s doing, he’s taking advantage of that cult of celebrity to be famous for not really doing anything. Bad press is always good press, that’s what they say.”

“Chicago” is set to run March 22, 23, 29 and 30 at 7 p.m., and March 24 and 30 at 2 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (856) 663–8006 x1224, or visit: ShowTix4U.com.