'Chicago' opens Friday at Peoria Players

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Perhaps it is America's fascination with the gangster era and celebrity crime, or maybe it's just the love of a good story with good music.

Either way, "Chicago" is one of America's favorite musicals and it will open Friday at Peoria Players Theatre.

(Photo by Paul Gordon) Michelle Rouland, left, portrays Velma Kelly and Lindsey Perenchio is Roxie Hart in the Peoria Players Theatre production of "Chicago," which opens Friday and plays through May 13 at the theatre at 4300 N. University St. Directed by Charles Killen, the musical will play eight performances at the theatre at 4300 N. University St. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for patrons 18 and under. Show times are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and on May 10, 11, and 12; and at 2 p.m. on May 6 and 13.

A special benefit performance for St. Jude Walks is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8. Tickets are $20 each, with $15 of that dedicated to St. Jude Walks. It is open to the public.

"Chicago" is set during the Prohibition-era in the Windy City. The music was written by John Kander with lyrics by Fred Ebb. The book was written by Ebb and Bob Fosse. It is a satire about the corruption that existed in the criminal justice system at the time.

For Killen, that satire is why he has wanted to direct "Chicago" for many years. "I love the satire of this show. We have two girls guilty of murder who get away with it and then there is the innocent one who isn't a celebrity who actually is found guilt and is hanged for it," he said.

"I've always had a fascination with true crime stories and I think that made this musical that much more intriguing to me. And it has been my favorite musical ever since I heard the music from the 1996 Broadway revival," he added.

Well-known songs from the musical include "All That Jazz," "Razzle Dazzle" and "Cell Block Tango."

Killen said he believes "Chicago" will long be a favorite because of the satire and the love for everything to do with celebrities. "It doesn't matter what the press reports about celebrities, people want to know more. They can't get enough of it. To many people those stories take precedence over anything else going on in the world, even the war. So people can relate to this," he said.(Photo by Paul Gordon) Susan Knobloch, front, one of the Merry Murderesses in the Peoria Players production of "Chicago," sings her part of the Cell Block Tango as Jessi Palkovic looks on during a recent rehearsal.

The show stars Michelle Rouland as Velma Kelly, her second turn in the role. She performed it at Eastlight Theatre several years ago.

Lindsey Perenchio, a newcomer to Peoria community theatre, portrays Roxie Hart. Perenchio moved to Peoria recently from Branson, Mo., where she was a professional dancer, Killen said.

Velma and Roxie are the celebrities who go on trial for killing others who betrayed them. For Velma it was her husband and her sister, whom she caught together, while Roxie shot her lover. Each tries to outdo the other for the attention of the press.

They are defended by suave attorney Billy Flynn, played here by Nick Tornow, making his Peoria Players debut. He'd performed years earlier as Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at Eastlight Theatre before job demands forced him to give up theater for several year, Killen said.

Jail matron Mama Morton is played by Lana Warner, who played the role at Eastlight, and Nate Downs portrays Amos Hart, Roxie's husband who pictures himself as "Mr. Cellophane."

Caleb Finley is Mary Sunshine, the reporter who covers celebrity news and crime.

Steve Rouland is the Emcee, Clifford Clark portrays Fred Casely, a role he first played in 2006 at Corn Stock Theatre, and Gretchen Wirtz-Primeau is Go-To-Hell Kelly.

The Merry Murderesses are portrayed by Susan Knobloch, Kelli Mathis, Jessi Palkovic, Ingrid Peele and Samantha Zobrist.

Jerry Ailshie is the music director and conducts the nine-piece orchestra that is on stage throughout the show while also playing keyboard.

The set, designed by Killen, is simple yet striking. It's all in black with red trim, with the Chicago skyline as the backdrop.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com


About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).