A look at the choreography of TJ Drama’s blockbuster production, Chicago.
by Sinjin Jones
photo by Manuel Perez
Turn, lift, jazz, square, Charleston, grapevine, jump, and chase; choreography is the glue that holds any musical together. From the opening number, All That Jazz, to Hot Honey Rag and the closing scene, the murderous city of 1920’s Chicago is a dance-filled place.
“Choreography is really important and we spend a lot of time teaching it to people,” said Lead Choreographer and Teacher Carole Fulkerson. For this musical Fulkerson choreographed 13 dances. With everyone from the Company (those who act as singers and dancers in the musical along with a bit of acting) to the Leads (the stars of the show) needing to look professional, choreography was no easy task.
“It’s really difficult to learn all of the dances and then to remember them,” said Dance Lead Allyson Hussey, “but we know that they’re going to look amazing in the end so we’re willing to put in the work.” Lunges, lifts, and spins all grace the stage of Chicago and the cast put a lot of work into it. “We spend at least an hour a day dancing,” said Hussey. “It takes dedication but we know it’s going to turn out well.” Some days, the cast spends up to four hours in the Dance Room learning new choreography. “With big dance numbers like We Both Reached for the Gun and All That Jazz, it’s difficult because there are so many people learning it at the same time, but those end up being the best because everyone is involved and people can feel the excitement.”
Fulkerson choreographs in a very interesting way. She can be seen hurriedly scribbling notes in her script as the actors are on stage. “You can tell that she is passionate about what she does,” said actor Chris Wolter, who plays Amos Hart. “It really helps when our choreographer is into what she’s doing; it makes everything more fun.” The first step is listening; she listens to a recording of the song numerous times in order to get it down. Next she takes advice and sets out the moves in counts of eight, immediately following which she teaches the students without, and then with the music. “After choreographing, we have to move it to the stage so that we can get a sense of space.” The final step is adding the orchestra (which will be one of the biggest bands in TJ musical history) in order to get the cadence correct. “The recording is never completely accurate to how it will sound with the band so we need desperately to practice.” The only step after that is to perfect.
“I like what I do,” says Fulkerson, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.” As the curtain prepares to open on Chicago tonight at 7 pm and the actors put on their character shoes (ideal for dancing on stage), the dances will no doubt be the highlight of the show. And All that Jazz!