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Bob Fosse Jazz Style Emulated Well in NHS’s ‘Chicago: Teen Edition’

(Photo courtesy of Nicholas Shotwell)
Noblesville High School students Sean Wood (as Roxie) and Gabbie Manns (as Velma) perform during rehearsals of “Chicago: Teen Edition,” on stage Thursday through Saturday at NHS.

I watched a little of the rehearsals for Noblesville High School’s fall musical, and the show is amazing.

The singing, the dancing, the acting. Very impressive.

“Chicago: Teen Edition” is quite a bit the opposite of Disney’s “High School Musical” that was on the NHS stage in 2021.

“Chicago” is set in the jazz age and based on a 1926 play of the same name by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a reporter assigned to cover 1924 trials of two murderesses.

NHS choir director John Neubauer is music director for the all-student show, which is on stage at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at NHS. Tickets are still available but selling fast.

Neubauer said “Chicago The Musical” is a “great musical.” that he has seen twice on Broadway, where it’s the longest-running American musical. “It remains a stellar piece.” (“Phantom of the Opera” would be considered a British musical and is the longest of all time, he said.)

While the show is about deception, crime and murder, keep in mind this is “Chicago: Teen Edition.” So it is a little tamer.

Neubauer said, “The high school version eliminates some swearing, and some of the darkest humor is eliminated or lightened. But the story is intact, and the spirit of the show remains.”

The cast is costumed appropriately for this production, Neubauer said. And that means primarily a black color palette, like the Broadway musical.

(Photo courtesy of Nicholas Shotwell)
Noblesville High School student Colin McCabe (as Amos Hart) performs during a scene of “Chicago: Teen Edition,” on stage Thursday through Saturday at NHS.

He said, “It is different from other recent (NHS) productions with its more adult themes. But we have not focused on them. They are, however, part of the story. Gotta tell the story.”

The 1975 musical has music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Ebb and Bob Fosse.

“I would say emulating the Fosse choreographic styles is the most challenging for the students,” Neubauer said. “Fosse style is well known and closely associated with ‘Chicago.’” (Fosse is best known for sultry hip rolls, smooth finger snaps, turned-in knees, sideways shuffle, rolled shoulders and ‘jazz hands’ with props, such as bowler hats and chairs.)

Shantel Morris is the show director and lead choreographer. “Shantel has done an incredible job of pushing the students to capture as much of that as possible,” Neubauer said.

Morris isn’t alone in her choreography role. New NHS assistant choir director Julianne Fowler, is also a choreographer alongside Morris and who has extensive choreography experience, and she has taught several numbers herself. Plus assistant choreographers Stephenie Knoll, Bailey Mann and Jeanne Wade have helped with specialties like tap dance and some comedy numbers. “Everyone worked as a team,” Neubauer said. NHS Miller Girls Dance Team under the direction of Mann is also performing for “Razzle Dazzle.”

About 90 students auditioned for the show in August, and rehearsals began immediately after the show was cast with 53 actors. (There are also 43 crew members, and 25 pit orchestra members who learn and perform 34 songs. Read Tuesday’s Times edition about the orchestra).

At the auditions, “in addition to acting, singing and dancing talent, we were also looking for personality, variety and a willingness to take chances,” Neubauer said. “‘Chicago’ is not typical. The presentation and choreo are not typical. So the kind of student that will thrive in that atmosphere is also a little ‘edgier’ than usual.”

CUT Chicago 8: (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Shotwell)
Noblesville High School students Maddux Morrison and Kate Boice dance during a scene of “Chicago: Teen Edition,” on stage Thursday through Saturday at NHS.

Morris agreed. “The audition process is always tough, but everyone grows from it whether they are cast or not. We tell students to audition as much as possible all over town as it prepares them on how to better their personal expression and brand for all things in life,” she said.

Morris has been a part of the NHS musical directing team for more than 10 years and has served as choreographer as well as acting co-director on previous shows in the past. “We sit down as a team each year and discuss who runs point based on the show content and who has capacity to direct in any given year,” she said. In the past 10 years, besides Morris and Neubauer, the show’s technical director Greg Richards (NHS theater, public speaking and English 10 honors teacher) has directed as well as Debbie Wittstein (retired NHS music teacher) and Ryan Shelton (youth theater director and former elementary school teacher).

Prep work for “Chicago” began with summer intensive workshops that covered a handful of dance combos as well as dramatic workshopping to understand the history behind the show since it is based on a true story in a specific time period, Morris said. “We knew that Fosse technique would be foreign to the majority of students and wanted to give them a full perspective of the show content and expectations so they knew how best to prepare.”

Rehearsals for the show began in August, not long after classes began. “We started with a read-through and sing-through of the entire show and gave broad expectations of the dedication and concentration the students would need to have to make this a grand success,” Neubauer said. “After that, we dove into teaching music. Students were simultaneously working on their lines. Once some of the material was in the students’ brains, Shantel began staging everything. The choreography and the blocking work together seamlessly. The staging and the choreography feed each other and drive the story forward.”

(Photo courtesy of Nicholas Shotwell)
Noblesville High School student Mason Kebrdle (as Billy Flynn, one of Chicago’s most effective defense attorneys) sings and dances with the dance ensemble during rehearsals of “Chicago: Teen Edition,” on stage Thursday through Saturday at NHS.

Each school year, Neubauer and his artistic staff “bat around lots of ideas and take stock of what show we believe will build student interest, be supported by the community and also inspire the students to strive,” he said. “We also have to work within the confines of our auditorium, budget, and available personnel.”

Typically, Neubauer would be the show director, but he’s handed the duty off to Morris this year. “Shantel has such a clear vision of what she wanted this show to look like, sound like, feel like. So she’s taking the reigns. It’s wonderful,” he said.

Morris’ first time seeing “Chicago” was a national tour when she was a teen. “I was mesmerized,” she said. “The choreography and styling was completely different from any classical training I had as a dancer as Fosse seemed to break all the rules, which I loved.”

Morris and Neubauer agree that “Chicago” is an “in your face” piece of satire.

“This form of art is a hard pill to swallow when the audience is made aware that we, as society, play a part in sensationalizing and therefore potentially encouraging bad behavior from rogue individuals out for instant fame, Morris said. “‘Chicago’ may appear that it celebrates people making bad decisions when, in fact, the intent is to showcase the ugly nature of how society still gives a platform to people, like Roxie and Velma (the co-lead female roles), who use their bad behavior for the spotlight. Crime, unfortunately, still sells.”

Neubauer said, “Can’t wait for the kids to unleash their talents and bring this to life.”

Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com. Thanks to The Times freelance photographer Nicholas Shotwell, who spent the evening on Monday capturing the moments through two dress rehearsal run-throughs. Also, extra, extra, read all about it. When you go to the show, watch for a fake Chicago Tribune newspaper, created by The Times’ own managing editor Joe LaRue!

Want TO GO?

What: Noblesville High School’s fall musical, “Chicago: Teen Edition.”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Where: Noblesville High School Auditorium, 18111 Cumberland Road, Noblesville.
How much: $10-$15, reserved seating.
Tickets and online and in-person silent auction: nhscpo.org

Meet THE CAST:

Velma Kelly, Gabbie Manns; Roxie Hart, Sean Wood; Billy Flynn, Mason Kebrdle; Amos Hart, Colin McCabe; Matron ”Mama” Morton, Cass Henson (understudy Kat Logue); Master of Ceremonies, Roux Carney; Mary Sunshine, Sarah Rolinson; Sergeant Fogarty /Martin Harrison, Nick Adams; Aaron / The Judge / Mikhail / Dance Captain, Maddux Morrison; Fred Casely / Charlie, Nick Sizelove; Go-To-Hell Kitty, Kat Logue (understudy Addie McMillan)r; Harry, Gray Black; Court Clerk / Bernie, Ray Kenley; Juror, Mason James; Liz, Lauryn Kinzie; Annie, Charlotte Wiggins; Ezekiel, Nolan Campbell; June / Dance Captain, Savannah McClure; Wilbur, Nathan Dorris; Hunyak, Kate Boice; Mona, Mia Feigel; Alvin Lipschitz, Josiah Smith.

Ensemble: Addie McMillan, Alaina Wadsworth, Amelia Wiggins, Angela Reyes, Anni Abrahamyan, Annalycia Melendez, Blake Valentine, Brenner Zebrauskas, Cai Cook, Carmen Cremer, Corinne Mitchell, Ehren Knerr, Ellie Seago, Else Miller, Evelyn Summers, Hailey Kirkpatrick, Hannah Ropte, Hope Siktberg, Ivory Jones, John Bush, Katy Luna, Kenzie Wood, Lilah Cross, Maci Clumb, Maddie McIntyre, Marissa Wagner, Miranda Ricardo, Olivia Snyder, Paige Moorman, Parker Wood, Prue Mahurin, plus the NHS Miller Girls Dance Team under the direction of Bailey Mann