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Murder & media frenzy meet in Port Coquitlam school musical

PoCo's Riverside secondary school mounts Chicago: High School Edition starting Feb. 20.

Friday, Feb. 21 will be somewhat nerve-wracking for Riverside secondary student Julia McGaffney.

Not only is the graduating student auditioning at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre to be part of next year’s SFU dance program but, that night, she’ll be making her début as a lead in the Port Coquitlam school’s musical, Chicago.

McGaffney is double cast with her bestie Janna Grant — also a student of Broadway Dance Canada — as Velma in the production that opens next Thursday and runs until Feb. 28.

The pair couldn’t be more thrilled as their character “is very dance-based,” McGaffney said. “She’s fierce and dangerous and classy — everything you want to play on stage.”

Drama teacher Nicole Roberge, who is also the show's director and choreographer, said she picked Chicago for this winter because she had the right cast — in fact, she'd been waiting since 2005, when she last presented it at Pinetree secondary, to remount the high school version at Riverside.

And although the narrative is based on true events from a century ago, the themes about the fickleness of fame and media hype are still as relevant today, Roberge said.

“Right now, in many circles, our world is being described as a crazy circus. That hasn’t really changed.”


Based on a 1926 play of the same name, the musical Chicago is set in the Windy City and follows the stories by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a Chicago Tribune reporter who covered the 1924 trials of two accused murderers: Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner.

In her play, Watkins changed Annan’s name to Roxie Hart while Gaertner’s character is modelled after Velma Kelly.

Their alleged killings — and the other murders that women were said to have committed during that time — became the source of a media frenzy, with speculation (after a string of acquittals) that women couldn’t be convicted of the crimes.

As a result, the plot is a satire on the legal system.

Roberge said any Bob Fosse musical is a joy to produce and, for this show, she recruited Laine Spicer, the school’s music teacher, to direct the vocal components (she also made the prison outfits).

“It has been a great pleasure to get involved in this program,” Spicer said.

For tickets to Chicago: High School Edition at Riverside secondary (2215 Reeve St., Port Coquitlam) Feb. 20 to 22 and Feb. 26 to 28, go to Tickets at $13 can also be purchased at the door on show nights. The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m.