NEWS FROM THE ROAD
Epsom salts, baths and massages. These are things Broadway dancers are more than familiar with, but they're even more precious commodities if, like Jasmine Guy, you're dancing the role of Velma Kelly in the first national touring production of Chicago, which opened in Cincinnati in March and is currently playing at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. (through July 5), before moving on to Columbus, Ohio (the Palace Theatre, July 8-13), and then, where else, but Chicago (opening July 22). This first of two planned touring versions of this show about two merry murderesses of the 1920's conniving their way to acquittal co-stars Obba Babatunde, Ron Orbach, Carol Woods and Charlotte D'Amboise in the role of Roxie Hart.
"When I first started rehearsals, I asked Ann Reinking [the show's choreographer], 'When am I not going to be sore anymore?' because there's usually a moment when you get over the hump," recalled Guy recently. "And she said, 'Oh, you'll probably always be sore.' But it's still a wonderful challenge and great opportunity."
Velma Kelly, of course, was originally created by Chita Rivera in the 1975 Bob Fosse Broadway production and then was re-created by Bebe Neuwirth who won a Tony Award for her stunning rendition in the smash hit revival, directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Reinking, which is still going strong on Broadway. Guy never had a chance to be intimidated by following two such sterling performances because she'd actually never seen a production of the musical before she accepted the part.
The film and television star (School Daze, the CBS miniseries "Queen," Fox TV's "Living Single" and "Melrose Place") returned to her roots in theatre (Beehive, Leader of the Pack, The Wiz) when she stepped into the role of Betty Rizzo in the revival of Grease! last year. The show's producers, Barry and Fran Weissler, who also produced the revival of Chicago, suggested to Bobbie and Reinking that Guy might be right for the part.
"I took the part on blind faith because people kept telling me I'd be a great Velma," recalled Guy, who was born in Boston and raised in Atlanta. "Since she's one tough, desperate cookie, I kinda wondered what aspects of my personality they saw in her," she added with a laugh.
In fact, Guy said that she was eager to explore other dimensions of Kelly's character, and she was given permission by the creative team to be as different from the Broadway interpretation as she felt was appropriate. "I think she's kind of vulnerable, and she has some heart in addition to a resiliency that I can really identify with," said the actress.
As for the show's reception on the road, well, Guy believes that it's dark and cynical message was a bit much for Cincinnati but that it has struck a nerve in Washington, D.C. "This is an area of the country that really does get all those sick little jokes," said Guy. "It's amazing how much the times have caught up with this show, and I guess politicians, more than anybody else, should know."