Theatre Memphis will open Broadway's longest running American musical, Chicago, on the Lohrey Stage March 9, 2012.
Modeled after real life stories, the plot of Chicago is set in the roaring twenties. Chorine Roxie Hart murders a faithless lover and convinces her hapless husband to take the rap...until he finds out he's been duped. She and another "Merry Murderess", Velma Kelly, manipulate their lawyer and the system as they vie for the spotlight and the headlines. They ultimately join forces in search of fame, fortune and … acquittal. With the book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, the original production opened on Broadway in 1975 and the current production debuted in 1996 and won seven Tony Awards® including best revival of a musical, best direction and best choreography. The music by John Kander and Lyrics by Ebb have played to over 6000 Broadway audiences since the revival opened.
The Theatre Memphis production features two local women as the lead characters who made it their mission to perform in this show. Lindsey Roberts, a former company member at Playhouse on the Square and now an Executive Recruiter for Vaco Logistics, set her eyes on playing Velma the second she heard the TM 2011-12 season announced. "I actually related to that character," Roberts says. "There is a toughness that is portrayed in the script that I knew I could handle. But it was the vulnerability that wasn't written that intrigued me and made me start honing my skills to nab this part. I went into the auditions to take no prisoners to play that prisoner," she laughed.
Roberts has a real familiarity with the show, too. She has been dancing to the soundtrack since she was three years old while following her sister to Martha Scott Dance Studio classes taught by Memphis legend Otis Smith. She actually learned the routine to "All That Jazz" – the show's opening number - when she was finally able to join the "big girl" classes. It was a recital number every year and she never stopped loving it. Her desire to play the role of Velma really developed when a long-time friend surprised her with Broadway tickets to Chicago and she felt Velma had been written just for her. Even with all the history and extra effort, the audition process was still a competition for the starring roles. "Just like the script," she continued.
According to director Amy Hanford, Roberts "nailed it" and had a leg up throughout the audition process because of the obvious work and research Roberts had done. Hanford was faced with literally dozens of women who were vying for the Velma and Roxie parts yet the other female lead character, Roxie, was a bit more of challenge to cast. "There were so many wonderful ladies who came prepared to play Roxie," Hanford recalls. " We had to start thinking about relationships, chemistry, size and so many other criteria that goes into creating these complex – but needing to be entertaining - characters. And we wanted to get it right. So we held callbacks and just asked the ladies to step it up every time they came in … and ultimately our Roxie rose to the top." That turned out to be Alexis Grace, a top 11 finalist on the American Idol season 8 and current morning DJ host at Q107.5/96.1FM.
After her American Idol experience, Grace decided to hone some skills of her own and sought out acting lessons. She was referred to Theatre Memphis for its adult outreach and education programming and connected with then Artistic Director of Theatre Memphis, Kell Christie. Christie, now teaching theater at Houston High School and pursuing a degree in Divinity, took on Grace as a private student and began with the basics. "Alexis had so many natural skills. She is a natural performer. She just needed to be told to trust her instincts and get some stage time," Christie said. "I am so proud of her for really pushing herself to go after such a demanding role as Roxie."
Grace says she was as determined as anyone to be cast in Chicago and worked with laser-visioned focus to win the part. "This is the next step for me. I've learned so much along the way … and I've tried to draw on the challenges life throws at you and be a stronger person, a better performer … make wiser choices," she related. "Just like Roxie, you get back up if you're knocked down. That's how you get to the top and reach your goals."