Turn down the house lights. It's finally happening.
The Arkansas Repertory Theatre is making its grand re-entrance into the Little Rock arts scene with the iconic, bombastic, sultry show "Chicago." Ahead of the show opening this week, we sat down with some of the "Chicago" team to hear all about the costumes, the music and the emotion of such an important performance for The Rep.
Here's our conversation with director and choreographer Ron Hutchins and cast members Joi Hester, Sydney Ippolito, Erik Joshua Clack and Rachel Perlman.
Opening night for "Chicago" is Friday, Feb. 22. For tickets and more information, click here.
What's it like to be part of the comeback show for The Rep?
Sydney Ippolito: It's super exciting because all of us have worked here before, so it's really nice to be coming back to a place we love and be able to be a part of that renaissance.
Joi Hester: Everybody's pitching in — not just from the cast, but also the community — and it just feels really good.
Ron Hutchins: You can't lose when everybody's on your side. We're all in the same car making it move forward and there's no turning back, no rearview mirror. … People reached out from all over to make sure this place stayed open. That's important. That makes us wear this responsibility proudly.
Rachel Perlman: As a cast, we're always trying to tell a story the best way we can, but being here during this reopening season, there's this underlying something else that's just sparkling in everyone. You can feel it.
Erik Joshua Clack: Even from ron's opening speech the first day, we all knew this show's importance. But it's not a pressure, it's more of a confidence. We know that with everyone's support, we're going to put on something great, and we really, really want it to be something great for this community. It deserves it. We have a responsibility to this community to bring something special.
RH: I had a wonderful relationship with Cliff Baker, who was really like a mentor to me. He taught me collaboration, the art of trusting myself, even down to the way I mark my pages. ... He will always have a footprint in my life as a man and as a professional, and I'm proud of that. I couldn't ask for a nicer man or a nicer company. I've always felt like this was home.
This show is iconic, especially among performers, but how has it surprised you this time around?
EJC: I think all the great theater literature always has a story to tell, and if it's a great story, it's always going to apply to your life. Here you have crooked politicians, you have people that can't be trusted, you have one honest character in the whole show and he's the one that gets picked on. The show is a classic for a reason, so we owe it to tell it well.
RH: At first I was nervous. I almost felt like who am I to come in and dabble with the footprint that's already been set? ... But the thing that stuck with me is that it's a vaudeville show. We started to think about how we could make this show our own with maybe a vaudeville or burlesque flare. It's all about sprinkling in the different aspects people know and embellishing on what's already been set before us.
JH: We're basically taking the best parts of all the different versions of "Chicago" and making it something really unique. That's really exciting as a performer.
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What is it about "Chicago" that gives it staying power?
EJC: The music. It's timeless. "All That Jazz" will get stuck in your head for sure. But even the story itself, there is so much thought and character and plot development; it's just such a smart and an intelligent book. So many new shows feel thrown together, more focused on the spectacle and how many pop songs they can throw into a Jimmy Buffett musical.
RH: And we root for the twisted people, too. It sounds horrible, but there's something endearing in the comedy world when the villain takes the gun off the wall and shoots her husband because he says she's been screwing the milkman. It's not realistic, and it's awful, but the way it's written, it makes you laugh.
SI: I mean, this obviously isn't something you would do, but maybe you thought about it in a "what if" kind of way, and now you get the gratification of watching someone else act it out in a weird, funny way.
JH: As a dancer, this type of music just makes you want to perform. I get to dance hard and do all the tricks because this is the kind of show that allows for that. I love it.
RP: And the fishnets, the jazz hands, the bowler hats — all of those elements that people relate Broadway to — you get all of that in "Chicago." Ron is doing a good job at finding a balance between the vaudeville and burlesque elements and the Bob Fosse elements that people know and recognize and love.
What's your favorite costume and number?
RH: I just want to wear everyone's costume. The men look handsome but rough. The women are just stunning. [Costume designer] Trish Clark has outdone herself.
JH: It's all true to the time. … There's a lot of fringe, so anytime our hips move the slightest bit the costumes just fly. My favorite number is "Cell Block Tango" because it's so iconic. You get all the stories of these women, and my character's is funny because they all at least have a reason for killing someone, but mine is just because it was a Tuesday.
SI: My favorite costume is my Go to Hell Kitty costume. She's in a long red dress with a fur stole and a fascinator and she's just divine. But my favorite number is "All That Jazz" because as soon as you hear those first few notes, your heart just goes up into your throat with excitement.
EJC: For the guys, a lot of times they "Chicago" it in a conceptual way where we're all wearing black the whole time and that's it. This time there's a lot more costume pieces, but one thing that stays cost constant is this mesh black shirt. We're spending lots of time at the gym.
RP: My favorite is probably the "Razzle Dazzle" costume. There's this feather bra with rhinestones and rhinestone tights — it's going to be a "wow" number for sure. So far my favorite number is "Cell Block Tango." It's just a dream number as a dancer to be fierce and angry. It's total girl power.
What would you like to say to the people of Little Rock before the show?
JH: This is everything that you put effort and money and care into, so just sit back and relax because you're going to be thoroughly entertained.
RP: I hope they know there's a lot of love and soul and sweat and tears and hard work that went into every piece of this production.
RH: My job is to make sure Little Rock knows its hard work was not in vain. People busted their butts for this theater. We are part of this community whether we're residents or not. It's a vibrant community, and we're committed to keeping it that way. We're not going to let you down. Welcome home.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.