During the Prohibition era in the United States, boozers made merry by drinking smuggled hooch in clandestine speakeasies. Fittingly then, information regarding the location for the Emma Knights Productions version of the Al Capone-age musical 'Chicago' has been guarded like Fort Knox.
While Stefanie Rossi, who plays the 'vaude-villain' Velma Kelly, has plead the fifth regarding the finer details, she promises that audiences will be immersed in a fresh take on the famed story.
'Chicago' was first released in 1975 but it was its revival in the post OJ Simpson world of 90s America when the themes of the piece began to resonate more profoundly. In the decades since, the quest for fame at any cost has evolved yet again, with the emergence of reality television and social media sensations. Stefanie explains why the Broadway hit is as relevant now as ever.
“The saying 'any publicity is good publicity', that’s very much this world. It is present in all the characters, this desire to be powerful, this desire to be well off. It’s really focused on that idea of doing anything, stopping at nothing and having no moral or ethical boundaries; being willing to cross any sort of line to get yourself where you want to be.”
In this production, moral boundaries will not be the only lines crossed. It is a piece that regularly crosses the fourth wall; a technique that will be made easier by the seating arrangements at the venue.
“There’s a mixture of cabaret style seating as well as the normal theatre seating, which is going to allow the audience to be closer to the action, more immersed in what’s going on. It will allow the performers to get closer to the audience and interact with them more.”
While Velma has been played by an array of starlets, most notably Catherine Zeta-Jones in the cinematic rendering of the story, Stefanie was instructed to breathe her own life into the character.
“Very early on Emma made it clear that she wanted to make this our production, our version. While obviously I have seen other actresses in the role that I’m playing, what I tend to try and do in the immediate period leading up to performing, I try not watch what others are doing because I want to make sure that I am bringing my own interpretation of the role. Also, every director’s vision for the story and the characters is going to be slightly different.”
Adrian M. Barnes, an alumni of multiple West End productions and the possessor of over 40 years of industry experience is the director at the helm. Stefanie is effusive with her praise of Adrian.
“He’s a wealth of knowledge and experience. He’s brought all of that experience that he’s had in the West End, he’s brought a real sense of wanting it to be an actor’s piece, if that makes sense. He’s wanting us to delve deep into the characters and create detailed backstories.”
“He wants it to be dark, he wants it to be gritty, he wants it to be like what this world would have actually been like.”
The full extent of his vision will be unveiled at the end of May. Until then, we can only guess at the mysteries that await.