Based on a true story, Chicago is Broadway’s longest-running American musical and has won six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards, and a Grammy. It was also successfully adapted to the screen in the 2002 Hollywood blockbuster starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger. In this production, the two main roles will be taken up by Chrissy Warrington as Roxie and Francesca Scerri as Velma, who will lead a stellar cast directed by Lucienne Camilleri, and will be accompanied by a live orchestra conducted by Ryan Paul Abela.
The musical is set in the 1920s and it tells the story of Roxie Hart, a young mechanic’s wife who dreams of being a star like her idol Velma Kelly. However, she soon ends up in prison after killing her lover when he tries to end their affair. In prison, Roxie meets Velma, who has been arrested for killing her husband and her sister. And so starts the battle between the two as each tries to secure the services of the best lawyer in Chicago as well as media attention.
At first glance, Roxie Hart looks shallow and heartless, but Warrington is reluctant to describe the character as a villain. “Roxie is definitely vain and an opportunist, but she’s also very naïve. She is very self-assured in the beginning of the musical, but her confidence soon takes a beating. I feel a little sorry for her, but when you realise that she is willing to go to any lengths to become famous, it’s hard not to think that she had it coming,” Warrington says with a knowing smile.
While Roxie is relentless in her quest for notoriety, Velma has already had a taste of fame. She has the upper hand in the beginning, having secured the services of hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn and all the press coverage she could wish for. “She’s a very independent woman who knows what she wants. The only reason she’s in prison is that she will not let anyone take advantage of her,” says Francesca of Velma. “In fact, she cleverly makes Roxie her performing partner when the latter starts getting all the attention that she had garnered for herself.”
Preparing for these two roles is by no means an easy feat. There are lines to memorise and choreographies to learn, but both Chrissie and Francesca have delved deep into the characters and what makes them tick. It would have been easy to dismiss both Roxie and Velma as two vapid fame-hungry opportunists, but the Maltese actors feel there is a lot more to them than meets the eye.
“In the case of Roxie, it is obvious that there is an element of delusion,” explains Chrissie, who looked into the psychology behind her character’s actions. “At one point, she suggests that she wasn’t shown any love as a child, which would explain her choice of husband and why she killed the person whom she felt was abandoning her. She’s a complex character.”
On the other hand, Francesca feels an affinity with Velma. While Francesca is not a murderer, she sees in Velma the same drive to succeed and to be independent that she herself has. As an entrepreneur who started her business in her early twenties, Francesca understands the loneliness that Velma feels because others are intimidated by her. “I’ve been dreaming of performing this role since I watched the film as a child,” she shares. “I was mesmerised by the performance of Zeta-Jones, and when I saw the call for auditions, I knew I had to give it a shot. I would have been happy just being in the chorus, but when I got called back for the role of Velma, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. I can’t express how much this role means to me.”
Although the musical premiered in 1975 and is set in 1926, the issues explored in it are as relevant today as they were at the time. Apart from showing that the law does not always deliver justice, Chicago’s central theme is how easily the media can be manipulated and how it can, in turn, manipulate public opinion. “Nowadays we have social media that does the same for celebrity criminals as the newspapers did for Roxie and Velma, which is dangerous and terrifying,” explains Chrissie. “Both women are criminals and yet they literally get away with murder. Today we have criminals who gain exposure thanks to social media and who only care about being internet famous without feeling any remorse for their crimes.”
Francesca agrees, adding that although not all media outlets are the same, some are causing a lot of harm with inaccurate reporting. “If we learn anything from this story, it’s to be careful where we get our news and what to believe,” she says. “This is especially true with social media, where some content creators don’t check their facts and forget that whatever information they share will affect the opinion of others.”
Unlike the plain costumes and bare set used in the Broadway production, Arthaus are putting the razzle dazzle into this production. “Apart from the gripping storyline, the great music and the glamourous costumes, this production will be set in a cabaret seating style, so the audience will enjoy a different kind of experience,” Francesca reveals.
“Chicago is one of the most beloved musicals for many reasons and everyone, whether they realise it or not, knows it to some extent,” adds Warrington. “It will be a fantastic production with an incredibly talented cast. I really can’t wait to perform with them.”
Chicago plays at Hilton Conference Centre, Malta on July 28, 29 and 30, with all performances at 8.30pm. Tickets are available online at tickets.arthaus.mt. This production is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals and is suitable for audiences aged 13 and above. For more information on Arthaus, visit www.arthaus.mt.