"Chicago" high kicks it to Harvard

HRDC mounts a production of Chicago, the crime-and-comedy musical with a mobster mentality and a jazz soundtrack. Music director Robert Capodilupo ‘19 talks about the history and the show which runs Oct. 19-27.

By Gareth Anderson '19

After several attempts to get the rights to the acclaimed Kander-and-Ebb musical, Chicago, the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club and Harvard College Musical Theater are presenting the show Oct. 19-27 at the Loeb Drama Center. Whether you’re a fan of the Richard Gere–Renée Zellweger–Catherine Zeta-Jones film version, or you love the Broadway show that’s been wowing audiences since the ‘70s, or you simply need a quick jazz fix, it’s got all that jazz. Indeed, that’s the name of the most famous song in the musical. (Watch famed Ute Lemper and the original London cast in 1998 perform All That Jazz – yes, Bob Fosse choreography! – in this video.)

I asked Robert Capodilupo ‘19, music director of the show, about all things Chicago. The following is an edited version of our conversation.

Robert! Thanks very much for taking the time to chat about Chicago. Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at Harvard.

"Chicago" cast members Isa Lapuerta '19, Sophie Bauder '21, Ryan Kapur '20, Renata Watson '19 and Leah Marsh '19

My pleasure. I am a senior in Quincy House, studying government with a secondary in economics. Currently, I’m working on a thesis about opioid prescribing policy in the U.S. On the side, I play bass in the Harvard Monday Jazz Band, I write a column for the Harvard Political Review and I play music for shows.

And you also play for a band?
That’s right, it’s a local Harvard band called The Water CycleYou can catch us playing in Allston, in the Cambridge area, and occasionally in Brooklyn.

You’re obviously a very musical guy. How did you land the job of directing music for Chicago?
Chicago is one of my favorite shows, and I liked it since I was in 8th grade and saw the film. Last spring, I was fortunate enough to become the music director of this production. It was a good match, as my background is in jazz, and the score of Chicago is rooted so much in the 1920s big-band tradition.

What has the experience been like music directing a show with such a vibrant score?
It has been a good time. I’m biased, but the band sounds great. I’ve also been tasked with teaching the cast the vocal score, which has been a new experience for me as my background is strictly in instrumental music. It has been a neat challenge to gain experience on the vocal side of the job. I’ve also had a good team around me: My assistant music director, Colton Carter, has been a great help.

Let’s chat about the production more generally. Why did the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club choose Chicago, and why now?
We’ve wanted to do it for a long time, since I was a sophomore. We’ve tried to get the rights to it on many occasions, but this was the time it finally worked, and we’re taking advantage of it. The show itself is so catchy. It all comes down to the score. Great music, lot of solo parts. The trumpet book in particular is amazing. Also, I think what separates Chicago from other shows is that the band is featured in the storyline. In a lot of productions, the band is on stage, although we chose not to do that.

And the entire cast and crew are Harvard students?
The entire cast is all Harvard students, the band is all Harvard students, save one Berklee player. Our director, Ryan Kapur, not only has choregraphed and directed the entire show, but is in the ensemble himself, and has done it all in two months.

What are your thoughts about the musical scene at Harvard?
It is really a cool space for music. There are so many students who are invested in music and musicals, so many students who want to pursue music – in some capacity – after college. It gets you excited about the future, seeing these people now, and wondering where they will end up in the next one, five, 10 years. Harvard is a great place for musical theater. Also, we’re fortunate to have funding from the OFA and to be in partnership with the American Repertory Theater.

Final question, Robert. What song should audience members look out for when they see the show?
My favorite song is the last one, Hot Honey Rag. It’s a big dance member that ends the show, and the band feature is amazing. The melody gets tossed around, and it is so idiomatic of the 1920s Dixieland jazz, which is my favourite type of jazz. I hope the audience enjoys it as much as I do

Chicago runs Friday October 19-27  at the Loeb Dram Center Main Stage. The 2 p.m. matinee on Oct. 21 is free with HUID. Ticket info is here.