'Chicago' comes to Largo stage
The popularity of the film boosts this show, in talent and ticket sales.
By MARTY CLEAR
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 27, 2003
LARGO -- When they first got the news, about a year and a half ago, the people at Eight O'Clock Theatre weren't sure what to think.
They had just secured the rights to produce Chicago, Bob Fosse's hit 1975 musical. About a week later, they heard that a movie version was in the works.
"It could have been good news; it could have been bad news," said Judy Becotte, Eight O'Clock's production manager.
"If it was a bad movie, maybe people wouldn't want to see our production. If it was a good movie, that would be good publicity, but maybe people wouldn't want to see the stage version if they'd seen the movie."
From all indications, it appears that the movie, a huge critical and popular success, has been nothing but a boon to the theater's production, which opens tonight at the Largo Cultural Center. Tickets have been selling at an almost unprecedented rate. An extra show has been added (on March 12) to help accommodate demand.
Strong ticket sales are always a good thing, but Becotte and others involved with the production say they're gratified that so many people will see their staging of Chicago because they're especially proud of it.
"I think the coolest thing about it is the group of people involved, both cast and crew," stage manager Betsy Byrd said. "It's the first musical I've ever been involved with where the director was happy with the number of people who were able to dance."
Often, community theater musicals attract singers and actors, some of whom can dance a little. Choreographers have to design simple dance numbers that the cast can handle.
This time, perhaps partly because of the show's renewed popularity, about 90 performers auditioned. The talent pool was so strong that the co-directors cast more dancers than they had hoped for.
"In community theater, it's hard because a lot of times not too many people show up (to audition), so you have to take what you can get," said Ronnie DeMarco, the choreographer and co-director. "I wanted to make sure we got a lot of dancers, so I did some legwork. I went to a lot of local dance schools to get people to audition."
DeMarco has long worked with Ann Reinking, the choreographer of Chicago's 1996 Broadway revival, on the Broadway Theatre Project at the University of South Florida. She gave him permission to borrow her choreography, and he said he ended up using about a third of her work.
The other co-director, Rocco Morabito, is a veteran of the original Broadway production. He did the hair for Chita Rivera, the original Velma Kelly, for about a year and a half and then worked with her on several more shows for about a decade.
"These kids we have, they have this intensity that we need for this show," he said. "They're bright, they're really bright. I can't explain it. It's just a group of people with the same vision. We haven't had a bad day in two months. I don't know how to talk about it without sounding like a religious fanatic."
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PREVIEW: Chicago runs through March 16 at the Largo Cultural Center; 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and March 12, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $18 general; $10 students. Call (727) 587-6793.
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