BY BILLY SUTER
AFTER having long kept my lips zipped, it can finally be revealed that Durban-born Samantha Peo and Johannesburg’s Carmen Pretorius will head the cast of a new South African touring production of the sexy and sassy Kander and Ebb musical, Chicago.
The razzle dazzle production about merry murderesses – featuring such hit songs as All that Jazz, Cell Block Tango and Mister Cellophane – will be in Johannesburg and Cape Town next year, after seasons in New Zealand and China.
The multi-talented, all-South African touring cast, band and crew begin rehearsals in Johannesburg this month ahead of the international tour.
The South African leg of the tour, in association with BBC First, will see Chicago at Artscape, Cape Town, from March 15 to April 14 next year, then at Montecasino’s Teatro in Johannesburg from April 20 to May 26. Ticket prices range from R200 to R500 and booking is now open at Computicket outlets.
The new production will star Peo (Cabaret, West Side Story, Strictly Come Dancing) as Velma Kelly and Pretorius (most recently seen as Maria in the touring The Sound of Music) as Roxy Hart. Ilse Klink (Mamma Mia!, Show Boat, Isidingo) will portray Mama Morton, “the countess of the clink”, while Craig Urbani (The Sound of Music, Rock of Ages, Scandal) reprises the role of devious lawyer Billy Flynn in South Africa.
Jonathan Roxmouth (Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Sweeney Todd) will fill the role of Billy Flynn in New Zealand and China.
Also returning to the show in principal roles are KJ Haupt (Rocky Horror, Carmen, Phantom of the Opera) and Grant Towers (Funny Girl, Sound of Music, Avenue Q).
Ensemble members from Chicago’s 2005 and 2008 seasons who are returning to the show are husband and wife, Ferdi Gernandt and Diani Gernandt, and Tandi Gavin as the Hungarian murderess, Hunyak.
The remainder of the Chicago ensemble features Lesego van Niekerk, Raquel Munn, Natasha van der Merwe, Brittané van Loggerenberg, Jenna Child, Alexandra Girard, Jarryd Nurden, Michael Fullard, Hugo Madeleyn, Craig Arnolds, Thamsanqa Njoko, Sibusiso Mxosana, Darren Greef and Stephan van der Walt.
Originally staged in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 2005 and again, owing to popular demand, in 2008 at Montecasino’s Teatro and Artscape, Chicago has been enjoyed by more than 210 000 local theatre-goers.
Produced by Showtime Management in association with Barry & Fran Weissler and David Ian, Chicago has a combined South African and international creative team including associate director, Tania Nardini, and Re-creation of New York Production Choreography by Gary Chryst, both of whom have staged Chicago across multiple continents.
Award-winning musical director Bryan Schimmel (Jersey Boys, Annie, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) will lead the 11-piece orchestra.
“We are delighted to have most of the original company for our return, and I believe the tremendous talents of each and every member in the company will take this all-South African production to even greater heights in 2019,” says Hazel Feldman, Chicago’s South African producer.
“From its unique choreography in the style of Bob Fosse to its sizzling score and intriguing plot, performed by some of this country’s most talented performers, makes it one show not to be missed.”
The winner of six Tonys, two Oliviers, one Grammy, two Baftas and six Academy Awards, Chicago is the longest-running musical revival in Broadway history and truly is “The sharpest, slickest show on the block” (The Times, UK).
The musical has everything that makes Broadway and the West End great – a universal tale of fame, fortune and all that jazz; one show-stopping song after another; the sexiest, most sensational dancing and a sharply sophisticated set which incorporates the live orchestra.
It’s no surprise that this devilishly delicious musical has brought cheering audiences to their feet all around the world, from Australia to Argentina, from Spain to South Africa.
An estimated 31 million people have seen Chicago, which has played over 32,500 performances worldwide.
The musical was first created by the legendary Broadway trio of John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (book/lyrics) and Bob Fosse (co-author, original director and choreographer) in 1975.
It was based on a 1926 Broadway play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a journalist from the Chicago Tribune ,who had covered the sensational trials of two women, both of whom were accused of killing their lovers whilst under the influence of drink and jazz.
Kander and Ebb enjoyed a collaboration that spanned four decades, defined musical theatre on Broadway and earned them numerous awards.
Bob Fosse was one of Broadway’s biggest and brightest creative stars, renowned for his innovative and spectacular staging, with the emphasis on exhilarating dance sequences. He turned out one hit after another from the 1950s to the late 70s and is the only director so far to have won an Oscar, two Tony Awards and an Emmy Award in the same year, 1973.
In November 1996 a revival of Chicago opened on Broadway produced by Barry & Fran Weissler, and a year later they opened the show in London’s West End.
The rest, as they say, is history, as Chicago is currently playing its 22nd year in New York, where it holds the record as the longest-running musical revival and the second longest-running musical in Broadway history.
In the West End, Chicago ran for 15 years, where it also became the longest-running musical revival as well as the longest-running Broadway musical to play there, and recently returned to London in March this year; currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre.
The show’s global success has seen it reach some 36 countries, and it has been translated into 11 different languages.