Emma Aodhagain plays Roxie Hart in the Hawaii Children’s Theatre After Dark version of “Chicago” that opens next week.
When asked about this lead role and a woman who gets away with murder in this fast-moving, colorful, salacious musical, Aodhagain laughed and had this to say.
“She’s a piece of work.”
“She’s not right in the head.”
“She’s not exactly a villain, but she’s a terrible, horrible person.”
All of which, she said, is why she wanted this part.
“It’s fun to be able to step into that for a couple hours a night,” Aodhagain said following a recent rehearsal.
“I love this musical. I love the 1920s,” she added. “I enjoy the fact that none of the main characters are really good people.”
Not good people, but they can sure sing and dance and show their stuff and have a whole lotta fun.
Cheryl Ellwood is directing the musical that opens next week. Dolly Kanekuni is the musical director.
It’s the first time in Hawaii a full version of Chicago will be done.
“It’s look great, the cast is great, it should be a great show,” Ellwood said.
She called it a “dream come true” to direct Chicago.
She was determined to keep the “iconic moves” choreographed by Bob Fosse but at the same time, “make it our own.”
“So we’re honoring the style of the original piece but give it room to breathe,” she said.
Here’s how she describes Chicago, which was launched on Broadway in 1975 by the songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb.
“It ran for two years; then despite its razzle dazzle and satirical storytelling, it languished into semi-obscurity. Apparently, there wasn’t much of an audience for a burlesque story about merry murderesses,” she wrote.
That changed in 1994 with OJ Simpson driving his slow-moving white Ford Bronco with police in pursuit and media overhead filming it all and the following trial that commanded national publicity, start to finish and beyond.
A star, it seemed to some, got away with murder.
“Producers saw that the pump was primed — the American public was ready for Chicago,” Ellwood wrote.
It tells the story of two women, celebrities, each charged in the death of a man.
The 1996 Broadway revival of Chicago holds the record as the longest-running musical revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. The 1997 West End revival became the longest-running American musical in West End history.
“Bright lights, show-stopping songs, and toe-tapping dance numbers won Chicago Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Choreography and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The filmed version, which won six Academy Awards in 2002, including Best Picture, introduced a new set of fans to this unforgettable journey into Chicago’s sultry, storied past,” she wrote.
Ellwood is herself a dancer.
“I love Bob Fosse. I am so honored to be able to have this experience to get into this beautiful burlesque style of movement that’s so much fun,” she said.
“Our community actors have been asking to be able to do this show, as well,” Kanekuni said. “They’re very exited to be able to do it, finally.”
Chicago offers a satirical look at the justice system and how it can be affected by celebrities, publicity, spin and changing facts.
The next thing you know, suspects are stars instead of criminals.
“It’s done in this beautiful burlesque style that makes it so much fun,” Ellwood said.
For Aodhagain, who grew up in Montana, this is first time on stage in a decade and her first lead role.
She admits to feeling some pressure and being a little nervous — but just a little.
“I don’t want to scare the director,” she said, laughing.
Ellwood has no worries. She knew she had her Roxie Hart after auditions.
“I watched her go from beautiful, wondrous star and then at the drop of what go low brow and just change character right on the dot,” she said.
Others are ready for the stage, too.
Issac Worth’s character is Fred Casely.
“I am definitely playing a bad guy. I’m an absolutely louse,” he said, smiling.
Worth is both an actor and a pro wrestler who goes by “Incredible Chris Wilde.” He and “The Kauai Kid” Noa Kaho‘omana won the Unifty Championship Entertainement tag team title earlier this year and will defend that title on Oahua next Friday, Aug. 2, on Oahu.
He loves theater and the wrestling stage and hopes to be able to balance both.
“I just burn the candle at both ends,” the 31-year-old said.
He’ll be on stage for Chicago on opening night, but miss the second night so he can square off in the ring.
“This play is going to be just fantastic. It’s ruckus, it’s raunchy, it’ll be fun, a lot of fun,” he said.
Taj Gutierrez plays the jurors while Daphne Sanchez plays Velma Kelly.
“I wanted to do work that was done by Bob Fosse,” Gutierrez said. “I love his dance style, it’s very innovative. I love this show. It’s one of my favorites since I was young kid.
“I am just very grateful to be in it,” he said.
Don’t forget, this is an “After Dark” production, which means it’s not suitable for children. Gutierrez goes shirtless for the show, other than the suspenders holding up his tight-fitting pants.
It doesn’t bother him.
“It’s part of theater,” he said with a smile. “You have to do all kinds of different things to be a well-rounded artist.”
Sanchez remembers being a keiki and watching Chicago. She loves being Velma Kelly, a Vaudeville star “who gets caught doing something that’s not good.”
“No matter where she is, she always has to be the center of attention, so that’s kind of cool,” she said.
Sanchez considers herself a singer first and dancer second.
“I love her part. Not saying I’m trying to be like the star and center of attention, because that’s what she’s about,” Sanchez said. “I definitely want to challenge myself to see what it’s like to be Velma.”
Sanchez wears a short, black dress, a bit revealing, for the part. She doesn’t mind. All part of show business and taking on a character’s style.
“I feel very comfortable in my body,” she said. “ am totally OK with what I do in the show.”
“Ultimately, it’s a show about love and murder,” Gutierrez said. “In a way, it’s a very cool love story.”
Sanchez said it’s funny to see how the women get away with their crimes.
“It’s knowing the people, having the money and just being a celebrity out of it,” she said.
“You gotta love a good, dark comedy,” Gutierrez added.