Former soap star Verity Rushworth is taking on the role of Velma Kelly at the Curve, Leicester, in a brand new production of Chicago. As the show’s memorable opening line states, it’s ‘a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery’. Bit like an episode of Emmerdale, really.
Born in West Yorkshire, Rushworth joined the popular TV soap aged 12, playing Donna Windsor, and stayed with the show for ten years. But she’d always had musicals in mind.
“Mum took me to see Cats when I was five and I was hooked from then on. My birthday treat was always a trip to London to go see a show. I trained from the age of three right up to my musical theatre diploma, so the full works.”
Post-Emmerdale, she won the role of Penny in the Hairspray in 2009 (her West End debut) and went on to play Maria in the touring production of The Sound of Music. Since then she’s done a range of things with parts in Annie, Merrily We Roll Along, Departure Lounge and the jukebox musical Carnaby Street.
And now that variety continues with Chicago. Based on the 1926 play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, the musical is of course a dark satire on justice in the jazz age, the story revolving around two publicity-seeking murderesses, Roxie Hart (played by Gemma Sutton) and Velma Kelly. And Kelly is not exactly the Julie Andrews type.
“She never feels any remorse for the crimes she’s committed. She’s very me, me, me, self-obsessed. I think she’s definitely addicted to alcohol, if not more. She has one of those addictive personalities.”
It’s a cynical show full of cynical characters. What’s remarkable is that Kelly still manages to win over the audience. ‘Razzle dazzle ’em’, it seems, and you can literally get away with murder.
“There’s so much comedy in the script. All this bitterness comes through, but it’s not aggressive or angry. It’s through gritted teeth and jazz hands and smothered with a bit of sparkle. If you get the comedy right, the likeability will come with it.”
Of course, a touch of rouge helps too. The original story was inspired by a real-life crime case but, having done her research, Rushworth is happy not to be too historically accurate.
“In the Maurine Dallas Watkins play there are some pictures of the real Velma and she looks a bit rough round the edges, put it that way. Not a lash in sight, no red lips. Nothing like that. So we’re going with the glam version.”
Audiences will have become familiar with the successful 1990s Broadway revival of Chicago which re-created the original Bob Fosse choreography and ran in the West End for more than 15 years. This new production, directed by Curve artistic director Paul Kerryson, will feature new choreography by Drew McOnie.
“It’s definitely jazz and of the era, the 1920s – charlestons, vaudevilles – but there won’t be the particular [Fosse] hand movements and wrist rolls. Drew is renowned for taking things to the absolute extreme, so you’ll see shapes that you haven’t seen before with Chicago. And possibly someone in the air and people flying around!”
One thing that won’t change is the classic John Kander and Fred Ebb score (book by Ebb and Fosse), including ‘All That Jazz’, a song chock full of irresistible vamps and period detail. In fact, all the numbers were written in imitation of specific vaudevillian stars from the era such as Texas Guinan and Helen Morgan. For Rushworth, getting the right vocal style was, again, an opportunity for something new.
“As a singer you have to prepare your voice for everything. With Hairspray it was really twangy pop and high belt, and then the soprano is what I developed for Annie and The Sound of Music.” For Chicago, another kind of voice was needed, as she explains: “It’s all in a much lower range: belty, jazzy, ‘lower larynx’ as we say. This role is going to be a real juicy challenge for me in all areas.”
As for her future in musical theatre, she still has one or two ambitions left.
“The role I would really like to play is LOUISE IN GYPSY, PLEASE. WITH IMELDA STAUNTON. Feel free to write that. In capitals.”
Consider it done.
Chicago runs at the Curve, Leicester, from 29 November 2013 to 18 January 2014 (press night is 4 December).
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