‘Chicago’ offers smart social satire — and lessons for director
July 12, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
“Chicago” the stage musical is not so far off from Chicago the Midwestern metropolis.
Chicago is a synonym for corruption and scandal. “Chicago” revels in corruption and scandal.
So, Chicago functions as a seamless setting as murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly pursue a disposable sort of fame afforded to celebrity criminals. Prohibition serves as the backdrop for the smart satire about celebrity and media manipulation.
The razzle-dazzle musical is the latest offering from KIDSTAGE, the long-running youth education program at Village Theatre. “Chicago” is managed from opening number to curtain call by student-actors in the program.
Director Jacob Moe-Lange, a Skyline High School graduate and University of California, Berkeley, student, debuts as director on the production.
“‘Chicago’ is not a subtle show. It is a very in-your-face show about a lot of things,” he said. “What I want the audience to walk away with is, I want them to have seen the show and recognize that what happens onstage is not isolated from what happens in their own lives.”
The musical named for the Windy City peddles camp and vamp in equal measures. Theatergoers can catch “Chicago” starting July 15.
Roxie and Velma, inmates on the same cellblock in the Cook County Jail, joust for another headline, another moment in the spotlight. The drama ratchets up as the comely killers hire the same attorney, the oily Billy Flynn.
Inside each sequined and pinstriped costume, calculating characters scheme.
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“It’s not just, ‘Oh, look, there’s a bunch of actors onstage singing and dancing.’ That’s not the point,” Moe-Lange said. “The point is that they’re singing and dancing about the audience’s lives, and they’re critiquing the audience’s lives. It would be great if the audiences walk away with being a little more aware of what’s going on around in the world today, especially about the news media and celebrity statuses.”
Because the show includes PG-13 themes, such as torrid-affairs-turned-cold-blooded-murders, the cast and crew at First Stage Theatre use a stylized choreography — sensual but not risqué — as a storytelling tool.
Moe-Lange said audiences should expect a more streamlined aesthetic than the grandiose 2002 film adaptation, a blockbuster and Academy Award darling.
“It can easily be done in a manner that can be truly off-putting, but I think the way we approach these things — especially knowing that our audience is going to be a lot of families — is to make it symbolic, make it stylized, so that the people who understand it, they get it, and the message gets through, but it’s not in your face, either,” he said.
In “Chicago” and other Summer Independent productions at Village Theatre, students select, mount and produce a show. The team handles performances, direction and stage management, yes, but also costume design and set creation. The theater’s professional staffers mentor the artistic team.
The director, 20, starred as Capt. Hook’s shipmate Smee in “Peter Pan” and the wayward apostle Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Skyline, and then served as assistant director on “Ragtime,” last year’s Summer Independent show. (Moe-Lange is also the older brother of Olympic alpine skier Yina Moe-Lange.)
“Jacob has a unique background coming from our arts education wing of KIDSTAGE,” Issaquah Program Manager Suzie Bixler said. “He completed our education internship in the summer of 2009 and has been a KIDSTAGE instructor for two years. I encouraged him last year to assist Eric P. Jensen on ‘Ragtime’ to spread his wings in a different type of leadership role. I can’t wait to see Jacob’s version of ‘Chicago.’ He has a tremendous passion for the show.”
Coordinating cast and crew members to pull off “Cell Block Tango” and other “Chicago” scenes requires a delicate dance from the director, too.
“Directing entails not just putting forth your vision of the show, but it also requires you to, basically, work with 1,000 other different visions of the production team,” Moe-Lange said. “It’s really trying to put a lot of stuff together, whereas some of the positions, they have their job and that’s that. When it comes to directing, you have to take their ideas and combine it with yours, satisfy everyone and still make sure that you still get what you want. It’s a fine line that you’re walking all the time.”