VPR Goes Backstage with “Chicago”

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(Host) Summer theater is getting under way all over Vermont with performances of Broadway standards and recent plays. During the season, Vermont Public Radio goes “Backstage” to talk with actors and directors about the plays and the performances.

Today, VPR’s Betty Smith visits the Middlebury Community Players’ production of Chicago.

(Sound of overture from Chicago.)

(Smith) Chicago is the show that John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote after they wrote the more familiar Cabaret. Douglas Anderson is director of this production.

(Anderson) “It really is an extraordinary score, filled with all kinds of American idioms and jazz and ragtime and it tells it’s story musically. It’s one musical number after another, as a matter of fact they called it a musical vaudeville when it premiered in 1975. And I think that’s why audiences respond because it moves, there’s not a dull moment in the show. It’s number, number, number, number, number and they’re all great numbers.”

(Smith) The Town Hall Theater sits on the edge of Middlebury’s town green. The 1884 building originally housed town offices and a 600-seat theater. But in the 1950s nearly every trace of the theater was removed. Even the bell in the tower was taken out and sold. A community effort to restore it has just begun. Chicago is the first production in the space since the start of renovations. Director Anderson looked for a play with a slightly seedy quality to fit the rather rough state of the hall. Actor Sam Trudel thinks it’s a perfect fit:

(Trudel) “I’ve said that if someone was to design this wall, it would be impossible to do it as well as it looks right now in its sort of half torn apart state. It’s a fabulous backdrop for the real simple scaffolding set.”

(Smith) Perhaps the most familiar song in the show is “All that Jazz,” but the song “Razzle Dazzle” more accurately captures the theme of this musical, in which two murderesses make their way back into vaudeville due to their notoriety. Sam Trudel plays lawyer Billy Flynn, who defends them. He sings about his courtroom strategy. He says you can get away with an awful lot with the jury if you “razzle dazzle ’em.”

(Music finale of Razzle Dazzle.)

(Smith) That might just be the signature song of this production too, in which the magic of theater transforms the old building with Bob Fosse-style song and dance. If you miss Chicago in Middlebury, there’ll be two more opportunities to see it this summer, in Weston and in Stowe. For “VPR Backstage,” I’m Betty Smith.

(Signature music under host’s voice.)

(Host) The Middlebury Community Players’ sold-out production of Chicago closes on June 8.

VPR Backstage is a production of Vermont Public Radio. The production engineer is Sam Sanders. More information on summer theater in Vermont is available on this web site. Please follow the link to VPR Backstage.

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