A packed crowd filled the recently renovated Backdoor Playhouse on Thursday night for the Tech Players’ opening performance of “Chicago.”
“I’m so happy to be here. I think all the students, people who worked here before were all very happy to be here,” director Mark Creter said.
“Chicago” is the first Tech Players production in the 63-year-old Backdoor Playhouse in two years. During that time, the Playhouse received improvements including a new stage, more comfortable seating and a lobby.
Creter said he believes “Chicago” is the perfect show to welcome back patrons.
Set in 1920s Chicago, the musical tells the story of Roxie Hart (Sy Matlock), who’s charged with murdering her lover. Roxie is sent to Cook County Jail and meets a slew of memorable characters, including Velma Kelly (Samia Anderson), a Vaudeville-loving murderer, and Billy Flynn (Josh Winscott), her wily lawyer looking to make Roxie a celebrity. Its 2002 film adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
“It’s a show that I’ve thought of for years. It’s the very first show that I saw as a teenager on Broadway, back in the mid-seventies. I was about 14 or 15. So, it seemed perfect. Then, I read the script, then I’m listening to the music and I’m thinking ‘This is a great show,” Creter said.
Creter and his cast hope audiences come ready to see a Tech Players production instead of an adaptation of the film.
“Any time you do a musical or a play where there’s been a highly successful movie – and this had a highly successful movie – it’s tough, because you don’t want to be in the shadow of it,” Creter said. “It’s our show, so if they come wanting to see the movie they might be disappointed.”
The cast consists of the Players and local actors. Chelsea Holland, who plays prison warden Matron “Mama” Morton, is a music teacher at a local elementary school.
“I’m a singer. I’m not an actor or a dancer. I’m having a blast, but in the past all I’ve done is ‘(The Vagina) Monologues,’” Holland said. “I remember finding out I was only in one song that involved choreography and I was so relieved. It was challenging, but then I found myself kind of like, ‘Aw, I wish I danced more.’ It’s been an awesome experience.”
The cast agrees the production’s mix of acting, singing and choreography is challenging, but found their characters to be rewarding. Anderson took a ballet class to prepare for the role.
“I really like that Velma gets to strut around like she’s hot stuff, because I don’t do that. I get to strut around on stage like, ‘Look at me,’” Anderson said.
“Chicago” is the only production in the Playhouse this fall, but the crew of “Chicago” is excited to be back.
“I’m so grateful to Cookeville Performing Arts Center, to Derryberry, to all the places that really worked with us the last two years that we could continue to have rich seasons of shows. But, we’re so glad to be back in the Playhouse. We’re not going anywhere,” Creter said.
Remaining performances of “Chicago” run at 8 p.m. Nov. 14, 17 and 18. Other dates include a 10 p.m. late show Nov. 16, and matinee Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. All performances are in the Backdoor Playhouse, located behind the Jere Whitson Building. Tickets are $5 for students, $12 for senior citizens and $15 for general admission.