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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Chicago’

No Refund Theatre returns with the final production of its spring catalog. This week, the organization presents “Chicago.”

Directed by senior and NRT President Sam Austin, “Chicago” tells a story of love, murder, and jazz, and it premiered on Broadway under the direction of Bob Fosse. When young jazz performer Roxie Hart murders her lying lover Fred Casely, it seems as though the sudden fame is enough to propel her to stardom. Dream within reach, Hart shines in the newfound spotlight, much to the dismay of former starlet Velma Kelly.

As both women vie for the eyes of Chicago, they compete for the best lawyer, story, and chance at avoiding the hanging noose for their crimes. Tears, gunshots, and kicklines ensue, and a dramatic theme emerges to the tune of vaudeville’s blaring saxophone: Fame is fleeting, and that’s just show business, baby.

Bringing Chicago to No Refund Theatre, Austin selected the script with the intention of challenging what the club could do. 

“It was the fact that people have said that we can’t do it,” Austin said. “People said that we can’t do “Rocky Horror”, we did “Rocky Horror”… The same people said we cannot do Chicago, so I’m doing Chicago.”

Chicago first premiered on Broadway in 1975, returned to the stage in 1996 in a revival, and won six Tony awards across its tenure.

“I hope that the audience has a great time, and it introduces this funny, amazing show to more people,” Austin said.

As a full-length musical with intense technical elements, costuming, and choreography, putting on the production ushers in a new era for the club. Large-scale ensemble numbers include No Refund Theatre’s rendition of classics such as “All That Jazz,” and “Cell Block Tango,” choreographed by seniors Emily Stedina and Muggs Leone.

“This is a ‘Fosse show,’ which I’ve never gotten to tackle before but always wanted to,” Stedina said. “Me and Muggs collaborated on a lot of different things, and it’s cool that even though we are all operating under the Fosse umbrella, to see our own personal styles in each of our own individual numbers is really cool.”

Embracing the originality of Chicago’s score, Leone recalled his love for Fosse style in Chicago.

“Doing this show was really fun to revisit and get to learn dances that I had learned a long time ago, and put my own spin on them,” Leone said. “With a show like Chicago, it’s really easy to just have fun with it.”

Building up the original depth of Chicago, Austin incorporated elements such as dramatic lighting and also utilized the space of Forum 111 to create an immersive experience. 

“When you’re in a setting like Forum and you have the aisles you can walk up, how do you not use them at least once in a show?” Austin said. 

Artistic choices also include unity in costuming, as the cast appears in varied black, dance-inspired pieces to tell the fast-paced story smoothly and without distraction.

“A lot of it is modeled after the Broadway production. It’s black box style,” Austin said. “The focus needs to be on the people and not on the surrounding area.”

As a villainous performer against the cold-hard truth, senior Lauren Bauer discovered different traits of vanity and desperation within her character, Velma Kelly. 

“It’s fun to play these darker roles…you have the find the confident line but also be rude and stuck up, and sometimes it’s a hard thing to balance,” Bauer said. “I think that is the thing I worked on most through the entire process.”

Playing alongside Velma as enemy turned sidekick Roxie Hart, senior Lindsey Sabo enjoyed reconnecting to her roots of dance in her final theatrical performance.

“I danced for 15 years,” Sabo said. “Chicago kind of holds a special place in my heart… Doing something like Fosse is very cool because I hadn’t done anything that technical in a while, so getting to do it was just awesome.” 

Emphasizing community within the production, senior Will Lehmann shared his perspective as an NRT veteran previously seen in “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Rock Holliday“. 

“I know that I have loved soaking up all the talent that this cast brings,” Lehmann said. ”So, I hope the audience takes away the same thing.”

Playing the role of Billy Flynn, the persuasive, in-demand lawyer desired by every female defendant, Lehmann reflected on the endless joy of his final experience in the club.

“I think that this cast has really brought out the best in each other,” Lehmann said. “In the different numbers, I don’t think any one of us would sound as good without the others, so it’s been really, really fun to work with everybody and kind of watch that all come to fruition.”

Playing against the brooding Billy Flynn as the humble, invisible Amos Hart is Olly McCloskey. As the husband of fiery Roxie Hart, Amos barely gets a word in edgewise, and even when he’s heard, remains invisible as “Mister Cellophane.”

While a dismal fate results for poor Amos, McCloskey’s time in Chicago could not have been farther from his character’s experience.

“They were very accepting and very nice to me, and it was great to have my shot,” McCloskey said. “I’m so thankful to the directors and assistant directors who took a chance on me.

Gaining both an outlet to perform and lifelong friends, McCloskey emphasized the importance of the club as both a theatrical pursuit and space of inclusivity. 

“I’m going to be sad to see people graduate,” McCloskey said. “I think that not being in this club would be really missing out.”

In tradition, the musical stays true to the club’s larger mission on campus. 

“What I love about every NRT show is that you’re just performing it for your friends,” junior Ella Bradner said. “Every crowd, you just have your best friends in the audience, so I’m really able to just sing to my best friends and just have a good time.”

Grateful for moments with the club’s community, Austin shared a final reflection. 

“It’s bittersweet,” Austin said. “I’m honored that I was given the final show of the year as a senior, as the president of the club, and it being a musical,” Austin said. “It’s so fun, and it feels like it’s the right way to end my theatre career.”

Three performances of Chicago will play at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22, in Forum 111. A content warning is in place for gun violence, loud noises, and brief sexual content.

As always, all No Refund Theatre productions are free of charge.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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