Twice That Jazz

Double the mayhem, double the heat when Austin Playhouse and Georgetown Palace both stage Chicago

Unrepentant killers whose victims "had it coming." A conniving, avaricious attorney. A public thirsty for blood and the shameless media giving 'em all the red meat they want.

It's a musical, of course, and how could a show with that much greed, chicanery, cynicism, and cold-blooded murder not be a hit? Well, in the case of Chicago, it helps to have sprung from the brilliant musical minds of John Kander and Fred Ebb, who reimagined all this unsavory activity as a vaudeville show and penned a succession of songs that are just, well, killer. The success of the 2002 Oscar-winning film version and the Broadway revival, now in its 19th year, testify to Chicago's enduring appeal more effectively than a defendant coached by Billy Flynn, so with the recent release of performance rights to regional theatres, the rush is on to stage it locally. Exhibit A: productions by Austin Playhouse and Georgetown Palace Theatre, both opening Friday and running through June 28. The Chronicle reached out to the directors of the twin shows to learn how they stack up.

Sara Burke as Roxie Hart
Sara Burke as Roxie Hart (Photo by Jessica Hughes)

Austin Playhouse

Michael McKelvey, director

Why do Chicago right now?

Why not? It is the longest-running Broadway revival of all time. Kander & Ebb, "All That Jazz," "Razzle Dazzle," .... Can't get enough. Seriously, we have all been waiting over a decade for the rights to be released, which happened last spring. That's why everyone is running to do it.

What should we know about your Velma?

She [Rachel James] is sexy, sassy, sinful, and, unfortunately, always a step behind opportunity. She's a true "murderess meets underdog" story. That darn "No. 17 – The Spread Eagle" gets you every time.

Will audiences want to acquit your Roxie?

Oh yes. She [Sara Burke] has a smile that can melt the hardest of hearts, the voice of an angel (and devil), and a body that will stop traffic. How can they help but find her innocent?

Your Chicago's "jazziest" moment? 

The dance numbers [by Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique in the style of Fosse] are fantastic – creative, fun, and steamy. Our women are wonderful, but this is one of the strongest group of male dancers Austin has seen in a while, so look out for "Roxie," featuring Roxie and the Boys!

I won't ask whether your gin is cold, but is your piano hot?

The piano and the rest of this raucous crew is "en fuego." Led by Austin Haller on the keys and Trevor Detling pounding the skins, this band is going to tear it up, thanks also to the work by music director Lyn Koenning.

Chicago runs May 29-June 28, Thu.-Sat., 8pm; Sun., 5pm, at Austin Playhouse in Highland Mall, 6001 Airport. For more information, call 512/476-0084 or visit

Emily Niswonger's Velma (l) sells her story under the watchful eye of Sheree Bristol's Roxie
Emily Niswonger's Velma (l) sells her story under the watchful eye of Sheree Bristol's Roxie

Georgetown Palace Theatre

Mary Ellen Butler, director

Why do Chicago right now?

Each year for the past nine, I have requested Chicago. Last February I requested it for end of May 2015. [Theatre licensing agency] Samuel French called me a week before my season advertising deadline and told me I had the rights. I signed and returned the contract. A week later, 27,000 season brochures and 34,000 playbill shells were printed. A week after that, I received info that another theatre in the area had also been given the rights in the same time frame. Samuel French asked if one of us would change dates or shows, but I couldn't without having to redo the advertising for my whole season. I truly believe that both theatres will do an excellent job and audiences will be pleased regardless of where they see the show.

What should we know about your Velma?

She [Emily Niswonger] is amazing. Both my Velma and my Roxie [Sheree Bristol] bring a fantastic look and energy to the show.

Will audiences want to acquit your Roxie?

Absolutely not. If the story is told correctly, the audience gets a solid look at the machinations of the shallow and entitled. Without Billy Flynn, our Roxie would hang.

Your Chicago's "jazziest" moment? All of it. I mean that. From the beginning, my creative team has worked as a tight unit. Vincent Sandoval, our professional choreographer, brings "hot" to every movement. He was the dance captain and a performer with the first national tour of Fosse for three and a half years. This was produced by Ann Reinking, who hired Gwen Verdon to teach the "vocabulary of the Fosse dance" to the tour cast. Vincent has a total understanding of how the movement connects to the music and all of it is part of the show fabric. He has been an inspiration and a joy to work with.

I won't ask whether your gin is cold, but is your piano hot?

Our band is fantastic. We have the whole band right onstage with us, on risers to the left and right of the playing areas. A large staircase flows from the platformed stage deck up past the band. Great visibility and sound.

Chicago runs May 29-June 28, Fri. & Sat., 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm, at Georgetown Palace Theatre, 810 S. Austin Ave., Georgetown. For more information, visit

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Chicago musical, Chicago, musical, Broadway revival, Austin Playhouse, Georgetown Palace Theatre

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