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Oregon Cabaret pulls out the stops with 'Chicago'

A large cast, a two-story set, live music, period costumes, hundreds of light cues — and all that jazz — come to life this weekend as Oregon Cabaret lifts the curtain on John Kander's and Fred Ebb's "Chicago."

OCT pulls out all the stops with its 13-member cast — the biggest in OCT's history, says managing director Rick Robinson.

This Tony Award-winning musical is set in the Roaring '20s in Chicago. Roxanne "Roxie" Hart murders a faithless lover and is convicted and sent to death row. There, she meets merry murderess and vaudevillian Velma Kelly, and the two vie for the spotlight and the headlines, ultimately joining forces in search of fame, fortune and acquittal.

The alleged killers' lawyer, Billy Flynn, has a reputation for winning his cases, and he makes celebrities of his clients to win sympathy and sway public opinion.

The show will preview Thursday, July 14, open Friday, July 15, and run through Sept. 11 at OCT, First and Hargadine, Ashland. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays; 1 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25 for the July 14 preview. Tickets for all other performances are $39; $25 for bistro seating.

Tickets, information and reservations are available at www.oregoncabaret.com or by calling 541-488-2902. Dinner reservations begin at 6:30 p.m. for evening shows; brunch begins at 11:30 a.m. for 1 p.m. matinees. Appetizers, beverages and desserts do not require reservations.

"Kander and Ebb's 'Chicago' stormed onto the theatrical scene in 1975," says Trevor Bishop in his director's notes. This is Bishop's first show for OCT. He holds a master's in fine arts in directing from the University of California at Irvine and has worked on award-winning theater productions around the country.

"Written partly in response to the political doublespeak of Richard Nixon and the Watergate-era, this musical adaptation of Maurine Dallas Watkins' 1926 Broadway satire had great potential," Bishop says. "Directed by the visionary Bob Fosse, it had his typical electric staging, a wickedly smart and funny score and powerhouse performances led by true Broadway legends Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon.

"Unfortunately, it had one problem: Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban's 'A Chorus Line' stormed even louder in 1975, sweeping the year's Tony Awards," he says.

It took more than 20 years for "Chicago" to return to Broadway, with the revival winning six Tonys in 1997.

"OCT's take on the musical is a return to its historical roots, taking us back to 1924 during the bleak Depression era in the Windy City. It was a time when murder was a means of survival, when performance spoke louder than truth, and when people would do anything to be the next 'big thing,' " Bishop writes.

Watkins' original version carried the subtitle "A Musical Vaudeville," so OCT will set the show at Flynn's place, letting the women's story unfold on his crumbling vaudeville stage.

Deanna Ott plays Hart, Lavli Kayhani is Kelly and Galloway Stevens is Flynn. Music director is Mike Wilkins, choreographer is Katie Wackowski, costume designer is Kerri Lea Robbins, Craig Hudson is set and lighting designer, and Tom Freeman is sound designer.

Tamara Marston plays Cook County Jail matron Mama Morton, Katie Worley Beck plays Liz, Billy Breed is Amos Hart, Wackowski is June, Edgar Lopez is Aaron and Jake Delaney is Fogarty.

"By returning the production to its vaudeville roots, our performers and creative team get to explore the farce and comedy of the period as it relates to Roxie and Velma's stories," Bishop says. "It's delicious fun. However, we won't be shying away from the darker, seedier aspects of this world. The one that exposes the darker life of our merry murderesses where life and death are closer than you think, and celebrity tries to trump talent, guilt and the truth.

"Enter our crumbling vaudeville theater and see a Chicago you've never seen before, one that will make you laugh and, hopefully, make you consider, in the words of Kander and Ebb's famous 'Cell Block Tango,' if 'you would have done the same.' "


Left to right: Katie Wackowski, Jake Delaney and Katie Beck appear in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's production of 'Chicago,' opening Friday, July 15. Photo by Christopher Briscoe