"Chicago" taps the razzle dazzle of Club Oberon

by Simon de Carvalho '14

This week, HRDC's Lady Gaga-inspired rendition of the classic musical "Chicago" arrives at Cambridge’s Club Oberon, making it the first all-student production to run at the theater.

Kander and Ebb's "Chicago" is the story of the Cook County Jail women’s block and its murderous inhabitants, including Roxie and Velma, who battle for media attention in prison. It is also a tale of love, fame and murder.

I spoke with Ryan Halprin ‘12, who both choreographed the musical and plays one of its lead roles, Roxie’s dim-witted husband Amos.

How big of a role has the fact that yours is the first all-student show at Oberon played in the way you approach the show both as an actor and choreographer?

The fact that we are pioneers is both daunting and exciting. I've done my best to visit the space frequently and plan ahead as much as possible to allow space for revision. I think there is definitely a pressure to bring something new to the show, because the space is so unique and warrants special treatment. As an actor, my approach has been slightly more traditional: Amos is a pretty classical character, and because we are aiming to maintain the intent of the original production, I'm not doing anything crazy in that regard.

What are some benefits of the space?

While the stage itself is small, we are using a lot of playing spaces. In fact, in addition to the stage, there are really five other separate areas where performers will play throughout the show. We are also constructing a runway that juts out of the stage to create a fashion show-like atmosphere. Moreover, Oberon has one of the more sophisticated lighting systems in the area with a total of 11 moving lights, and thus we have the capability of making the show feel like a nightclub.

Any challenges?

The sound is tricky, because the space is pretty intimate, and so keeping the band at a level that allows the actors to be heard poses a challenge. Also, there isn't much backstage space, but that's not a big deal. We are really excited about being in the space!

How do students like the space? Do they feel like it's a more "professional" venue than usual?

The thing is, we aren't actually allowed to be in the space much until our opening day because there are shows happening up until the day we open. The cast hasn't been in the space much, but we are all excited about it. We will all be getting up close and personal with the audience, in a non-obnoxious way, so the whole experience will be a blast. The fact that we have one day of tech (as opposed to two weeks) really does make the show seem like a more professional endeavor. Also, our light and sound are being done professionally.

What makes a show like "Chicago" suited to this venue?

A lot of "Chicago" is about giving into temptation, and even more of it is about what we will do with fame. The first scene actually takes place in a nightclub during a show, so the half-club/half-theater vibe supports this meta-theatric atmosphere. Similarly, the crazy lighting capabilities allow us to follow the actors like cameras, so the entire building is one big paparazzi. In a nutshell, we can preserve the sleazy, naughty feel of the show and just add modern elements on top of it.

Do you feel like the show/choreography is different at this venue than if you did it at one of the more usual venues?

Yes. The lack of one big stage and the implementation of multiple playing spaces gives way to a much more interactive, dynamic show that would be harder to achieve in a more traditional space.

Finally, do you have any favorite moments from rehearsal?

The entire rehearsal process has been a blast—we have such a diverse cast with people who are from all around Cambridge. I think my favorite moments have been when a cast member accidentally comes up with some movement that is brilliant, and we get to include it in the show. That's just one example of how much teamwork has gone into this show.

The HRDC’s production of "Chicago" runs for four performances Monday, December 6th through Wednesday, December 8th. What few tickets remain are available here.

[Caption: Ryan Halprin '12]