Neuqua Theatre brings ‘Chicago’ home


Johnathan Pontarelli

The featured poster for this year’s production.

With this year’s school musical, “Chicago,” soon approaching on Apr. 27-29, the cast and crew have been hard at work preparing for their big show. Making it’s fame on the Broadway stage as the 2nd longest running musical of all time, and receiving the Academy Award for Best Picture for its 2002 film revival, “Chicago” follows 1920s vaudevillians Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly as they await their trials for murder and fight for the national fame that may keep them from facing their ultimate punishment. While many people may think of the risque dance scenes from the 2002 movie or 90s Broadway run, Jonathan Pontarelli, the director and head of Neuqua Theatre, distinguishes otherwise.
“Originally Bob Fosse developed and created the show as a director, writer and choreographer. His original musical is what we’re doing. They did a revival of it and that’s when it was like everyone’s dancing in their underwear and it was ooh a little taboo. So that version is what people think, and that’s not what the show’s actually about.”
Neuqua Theatre’s 2022-2023 slate has featured diverse, different shows than one may be familiar with in high school theater, but keeping the selections for the annual spring musical fresh can be difficult. Pontarelli maintains the creative cycle, selecting different styles and stories.
“Last year [Grease] was more like a rock, pretty upbeat kind of show, and this year’s rotation we were thinking ‘what could be a good challenge for the kids and a different style that maybe they’re not typically accustomed to.’ When asked about the special features of this year’s production, Pontarelli cited the display and dance-dominated nature of the musical. “I think the spectacle of it, and the songs are so catchy. Yes, it’s a heavy dance show and yes, there’s a lot of cool costumes but the songs are really good. They’re really great, really catchy, they’ll stick in your head.” Working with professional choreographer Tiffany Krause, the dance sequences are sure to be elaborate.
The prominence of dance in this year’s play is certainly different than most of the plays put on by Neuqua Valley. The cast and crew of Chicago have had their different approaches to the mastery of this new challenge. Sophomore Bridget Loughrige, playing Velma Kelly in her first lead role at Neuqua Valley, has embraced the laborious efforts of such a task. “Working in a lead role has been difficult, but beyond fun… For more practice, making sure to take notes on all aspects of my own performance has been the most helpful, and makes me able to prepare myself even more.” The memorization of nearly 2 hours of singing, dancing, and speaking is certainly a daunting feat, but one that Loughrige and the cast have worked through by continuous rehearsal, “Working daily on acting, singing, and dancing repetitively has been the most crucial way to memorize everything,.” she continued.
Neuqua Theatre veteran and Sandy in last year’s production of ‘Grease,’ Amy Wang has taken on a leadership role throughout her involvement with theatre. This year she’s taken another role as a dance captain of the play. She shared her thoughts on the added spin of the dances, “The acting goes hand in hand with the dancing, and it’s honestly easier to do both simultaneously than to perform them apart. Therefore, we really emphasize during rehearsals how crucial it is to perform every musical number from the get go.” she added, “Because everyone comes from various dance experiences, the process can take a while. However, when the dances are clean and sharp, it makes such a difference and it’s so worth it.” While every actor and actress bring their different skill sets to the table, the teamwork from all levels of the production come together to make it work.
The support and camaraderie between the cast was felt from fellow debut lead Hamza Naqvi as well., “I can say with full confidence that it has taken a ton of dedication, determination, discipline and of course, hard work… but I wouldn’t describe the experience as difficult, as I enjoy coming to rehearsals everyday and performing my heart out alongside all of my extremely talented cast mates!” Like every Neuqua activity, the friendship and bonding throughout the respective process is evident. As a first year theatre participant, Naqvi has enjoyed his time with the cast thoroughly, “It truly is the highlight of my day,” he added when asked about his introductory theatre experience and practices.
When asked why students should see the show, Pontarelli offered an insightful commentary about the show’s message., “It’s important for every audience member to have takeaways with any production. Whether you’re going to have fun, which you will; or you’re going to learn something along the way, this play is about how people and the media can manipulate how we as citizens think about a certain subject… I think it’s really about like ‘hey if we hear something we need to really pause a second and do more research.’ That’s totally what the show’s about. That was in the 1920s and boy have we evolved from there. I think that’s something people will take away from this.”
Whether you’re watching for a casual fun time with your friends, or are looking to sink your analytical teeth into the underbelly of the show, ‘Chicago’ will provide the audience with plenty of mind stimulating activity. Be sure to come see the show, and you can get your tickets at