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Raven's "Chicago" is Headed for Hitsville

Enthusiasm overwhelming for staged musical, and along with Raven Players recent successes with "Rumors," "Cats," "Doubt" and others, they’re on a roll.

 

NOTE: This story was updated on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012.

Sunday's matinee performance of at the in Healdsburg was completely sold out -- the first time ever for a performance, said troupe member Audie Foote.

"It was the biggest crowd we've ever had," Foote said. Directed by John DeGaetano, the show about 1920s-era Chicago features a stellar cast and amazing choreography by Stacy Arriaga of Vacaville.

Next weekend is the last weekend for the show at the Raven, which was granted exclusive Bay Area production rights this year after a number of years of trying.

The role of Roxie Hart, the saucy adultress who murders her lover and gets sent to prison, is shared by two actresses: Katie Neuberger and Katy Kaul.

Kaul, an expert singer and dancer who played on Sunday, will star again on Feb. 19. Neuberger plays Roxie on Feb. 17 and 18.

 For ticket information, click here.

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With the opening of the Raven Players production of just 24 hours away, the energy and excitement at the dress rehearsal was palpable.

Actors raced about in full costume and make-up. Tech crew swarmed over the set making last-minute adjustments. The 12-piece orchestra members under musical director Les Pfutzenreuter assembled in the pit, nervously fingering their instruments and examining the score one last time.

Then Patrick St. John as the narrator takes the mic at Stage Right to welcome the audience – and the first problem is exposed. “Is there supposed to be a spot on him?” someone asks.

“There’s no cue! How do we light this!” comes from the lighting booth upstairs.

Eventually a spot does find the actor, St. John delivers his lines, and the play begins.

But no one seems too concerned. That’s what dress rehearsals are for, and the cast and crew have been to bring the multi-award winning “Chicago: The Musical” to the stage of Healdsburg’s Raven Theater. The show starts tonight, and continues for the next three weekends. And if my preview of the first two scenes is any indication, it’s headed for Hitsville.

Before the dress rehearsal got underway, I sat down with several of the production’s key personnel to talk about the show. Their enthusiasm was almost overwhelming, and along with the Raven Players recent successes with "Rumors," "Cats," "Doubt" and other plays, they’re on a roll.

It turned out that even getting the rights to perform “Chicago” was a coup. “Only 5% of theater groups who request the rights to the play get granted,” said director John DeGaetano, who also directed the Raven’s “Cats,” “Miss Saigon” and the “2x5” revue among others. That last show featured songs from “Chicago” and “Cabaret,” both written by the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Although the original musical version of “Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville” was staged in the 1970s, and widely performed in small theater groups for 20 years, the 1996 revival “Chicago: The Musical” was even more successful, and that show’s producers have been reluctant to dilute the Broadway show’s draw.

What enabled the Raven Players to get the rights? “Perseverance!” said board member Pam Skidmore at once, and “Persistence!” echoed producer Beneicka Brown.

“When they say ‘can’t,’ that’s an inspiration for us!” said Skidmore.

“Technically this is the first Northern California performance of the play in 20 years,” chimed in Audie Foote, a board member, stage manager and sometime actor. Like most of the Raven Players, he’s a multi-tasker who dons what role the production calls for.

Another such is Dick Bertapelle, a local winemaker and board member who is making his stage debut as Sgt. Fogerty in the play. “It’s very different from the stage,” he said. “You notice a lot more details about the entire production. It’s quite a lot of work!”

Director DeGaetano vows this production is being staged differently than the original, the revival or even the movie. “This is not the movie,” he insisted. “Throw away your preconceptions!”

A key component is sure to be in the choreography: the original production had the infamous Bob Fosse in charge, the revival had Ann Reinking doing choreography.

Choreographer for the Raven Players is Staci Arriaga, who has choreographed shows from San Francisco to Eureka. From my two-scene preview, she makes the most out of the limited stage space and simple set design – and gets the most from her talented hoofers as well.

One unusual aspect of this production is the double-casting of the key role of Roxie, played by both Katie Neuberger and Katy Kaul in this show. “We always have understudies, but this is a bit different,” said Skidmore. “It’s just too important a role to risk losing a key player, so we have two of them!”

“Which should give the audience motivation to see the show twice,” I interjected, a proposal that was greeted with enthusiasm by the talent at the table.

Although the Raven Players seems like a network of friends – there is usually some redundancy in players, cast members hang together on Facebook, etc. – auditions are open to the public, and “almost always” a newcomer is added to the show, said Foote.

In fact auditions for the next Raven Players show is this weekend, between performances of “Chicago.” The show will be “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and auditions are Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday noon at the theater. With the several key African-American roles, producers hope that actors from outside the town come to try out.

“Actors like to act, dancers like to dance – if you build a stage and give them a show, they will always come to the audition,” Foote added. “We’re talent friendly. The cast doesn’t get paid, so they chose to come to be part of the show.”

“The show you see is the tip of the iceberg,” said Foote. “There’s so much going on underneath or behind the scenes. That’s the real show.”

That said, producer Beniecka Brown has the final word. “I can’t imagine anyone seeing this show and not enjoying it.”

Tickets are on sale at in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, Pages on the Green in Windsor, online at raventheater.org, and at the door.

Roland A. Martinez February 29, 2012 at 02:30 AM
This was one of the best musical performances I have ever seen. Tressa was so amazing, that days, even weeks later, I still have the vision of her performance in my head, and her voice in my ears. ...and to the whole cast, "Brava!!!!!" I am looking forward to watching more and more from all of you. -iz bizkit

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