Actresses take on Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart in Arts Center's production of 'Chicago'

abredeson@islandpacket.comJune 20, 2013 

  • The hit musical "Chicago" will be on stage June 21 through July 28 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island. Tickets are $44 for adults and $31 for children.

    Details: 843-842-ARTS; www.artshhi.com

  • The hit musical "Chicago" will be on stage June 21 through July 28 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island. Tickets are $44 for adults and $31 for children.

    Details: 843-842-ARTS; www.artshhi.com

Jessica Lea Patty was introduced to musical theater at age 16, when she enrolled in a summer camp led by Ann Reinking. Reinking had choreographed the Broadway revival of the musical "Chicago" in the 1970s.

Caitlin Carter had been Reinking's assistant and was the dance captain in the show's revival.

It's no wonder that the two Broadway stars work so well together on the set of "Chicago" at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. Patty is playing the role of Velma Kelly, and Carter is playing her rival, Roxie Hart, in the local production, which runs through July 28.

Carter said she and Patty are on the same page stylistically.

"When we get into a room and start working together, we know exactly what to do and the style of the show," Carter said. "We were trained very well by Annie, so it's a pleasure to work with (Patty)."

Carter said she learned the show from Reinking, who learned it from Bob Fosse, who directed and choreographed the show in 1974 and also wrote the book.

"Of course, everybody knows there's a very specific dance style that (Fosse is) known for," she said. "And I'm very fortunate that that got passed down to me by Ann Reinking, who learned it from him."

That dance style also was passed down to Patty, who said Velma Kelly is her dream role.

"I have wanted to play Velma Kelly since I was 16 years old," Patty said. "What more can you ask for? When the revival came out in '97, I was enamored, and I had to play that role. And I finally now am getting to play it."

Patty said she loves her character's spunk.

"She has no sensor," Patty said. "She's got such spice, and she's so feisty, and it's really fun to go onto a stage and let it all go. ... I kind of get to let my inner sass come out."

Set in the 1920s, "Chicago" is a Vaudeville-style show with a lot of singing, a lot of dancing and a lot of dark humor. The musical tells the story of Kelly and Hart, two cellmates fighting for the limelight. Hart is locked up for killing her lover, and Kelly is in for shooting her husband, who was cheating on her with her sister. Hart hires a lawyer who turns her from a criminal to a celebrity.

"It's a really smart show, very well-written, very well-structured, and it's pretty timeless," Carter said.

"The message is how our society has sort of made celebrities out of people we really shouldn't be making celebrities out of."

She said the purpose of the musical is for the audience to have fun but also to get them thinking a little more. Hanging on to every word a murderer says in a trial can actually turn that criminal into a star for committing a heinous crime.

At the same time, she admits it's fun to play the part of an evil character. "It's always fun to play kind of an unethical, amoral character," she said.

"It's wickedly fun. And (Hart has) some great numbers. She's a sexy, fun, amoral girl. And I get to play that every night. ... Then I get to go home and be a good person again."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at www.twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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