It’s 1924 in Chicago, and 23-year-old Roxie Hart is on the stand for murder.
Velma Kelly is also accused of the same crime, in the same city.
The two characters are in the musical Chicago — based on the true stories of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, whose court trials became fodder for the sensational press — and students at Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Secondary are set to mount the high-school version next month.
Reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins captured Hart and Kelly's high-profile cases that made them celebrities, and she turned her articles into a play that would later be adapted for musical audiences.
It became one of the best-selling shows of all time on Broadway — thanks, in part, to the direction and dance steps by the legendary Bob Fosse.
Jaime Maclean is at the direction and choreography reins for the local production.
Drama teacher Shanda Walters tapped the Grade 11 student to take the chair after she proved successful with choreography for Bring It On at Heritage Woods.
“Jaime has a clear, strong vision and she’s a joy to work with,” Walters said.
Maclean adds she admires Bob Fosse's style and approach to musicals, inspiring herself to take on the challenges of both directing and choreographing.
“The story is really good, too," she said. "Everything centres on villains and fame. Everything that they do is to get their faces in front of a camera."
Emma Aizer, a Grade 12 student who portrays Roxie, said her character (played by Renée Zellweger in the 2002 film) is bubbly and wants “everybody to look at her.”
And Manuela Palmieri, a native of Brazil who takes on Velma (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie), described her character as downright mean.
“It’s a really great part because it feels like I’m embodying someone else. I’m not like her at all,” she said.
Besides the compelling narrative, the music for Chicago is also attention grabbing.
The music by John Kander, with lyrics by Fred Ebb, includes such tunes as “All That Jazz” and “Mr. Cellophane.”
For the Heritage production, the cast of grade 9 to 12 students will sing to back tracks under the guidance of Hayley Perkins.
Charlotte Beckett, who plays Mama and is a longtime student of the Lindbjerg Academy of Performing Arts in Coquitlam, said the musical will be a highlight in her Grade 10 year.
“I started musical theatre in Grade 10 because all of my friends were in it,” said Hunter Wark-Pantoja, a Grade 12 student who takes on the role of Amos Hart, Roxie’s husband.
“Now, musical theatre is like family to me. It’s been a good fit.”
After graduation in June, Wark-Pantoja said he plans to continue in theatre though he’ll be studying to become an electric vehicle mechanic.
“For both of them, you have to rely on your team to get the job done. It’s all about trust.”
“Chicago is a wonderful show and a lot of the cast gets what the show means,” said Evan Newson who plays Billy Flynn. “It’s about a city and how American culture is entertainment.”
Maclean said the story is relatable to modern times with the rise of social media.
“People can take that too seriously,” said Maclean, who, like her sister Julia, plans to pursue her post-secondary musical theatre education at Sheridan College.
“Why people want to bring that much attention to themselves is just beyond me.”
The show runs May 6–7 and 12–14 at 7:30 p.m. in the Heritage Woods Secondary theatre.
Tickets to see Chicago: High School Edition are $14/$12 through SchoolCash Online or by calling Heritage Wood Secondary (1300 David Ave.) at 604-451-8679.