"The challenge with a wildly popular musical like Chicago is to not merely copy the incredibly well known previous versions of the work," said Megan McQueen, co-director of the show and co-founder of the Scaffolding Theatre Company in Las Cruces, NM.
The production is scheduled to run through June 28 at the Center for the Arts at the New Mexico State University, whose Theatre Arts department is co-producing the show with Scaffolding.
With a libretto by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse based on the 1926 of the same title written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart, a woman who murders her lover, but then gets caught up in the corrupt legal system, media and showbiz world of the period, becoming a celebrity for her deed. Several scenes are set in a prison.
McQueen told Playbill.com, "I've seen the show on Broadway, on tour, and at other community theatres several times, and it's generally always been a copy of the revival (all in black clothing and with Fosse or Fosse-inspired dance). I watched and read 'Orange Is the New Black' and thought, wouldn't it be fascinating to highlight the themes of the show Chicago and maybe even think more about the content of the show in a fresh way if we did an all-female cast?'"
McQueen said she contacted the rights licensor, Samuel French Inc., seeking permission for the changes. "Samuel French contacted the appropriate parties and notified us that we could move ahead if we cast men in the key roles of Billy and Amos (they were concerned about changing the keys to facilitate females playing those roles). Billy is a prison guard and Amos is a custodian. This has proven incredibly fruitful. Having female prisoners carrying Velma around, having Sgt. Fogarty write on a maxi pad as his note pad, and having Velma and Roxie holding bouquets of tampon roses is all empowering. Further, lines like 'No, I'm no one's wife, but oh I love my life' have meaning in ways I'd never realized. What was it to not be cut out to be a housewife in the 1920s? What did that mean for your life's trajectory? Our set appears to have been made by the inmates, as do our props and costumes."
The 17-member cast features 11 students or recent graduates of NMSU, including Nicole Bartlett as Velma Kelly, Robert Sciortino as Billy Flynn, Marybeth Torres as Mama Morton and Valerie Mirelez as Mary Sunshine. The cast also includes numerous veterans of Las Cruces and El Paso stages, such as David Reyes as Amos Hart, Cindy Pitts as Fred Casely and Taylor Rey as Roxie Hart.
The production is collaboratively directed and music directed by McQueen and Justin Lucero. For more information or to order tickets, visit nmsutheatre.com/chicago.php or call (575) 646-5952.