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Tonight … the curtain goes up on Bishop’s community theatre production of the Broadway hit ‘Chicago’. There is a palpable energy in this little Eastern Sierra mountain town in anticipation of this year’s Playhouse 395 show.

Community theatre and the arts in general are a true sign of a healthy, vibrant community where individuals from all walks of life are brought together by a love of performance and creativity.

Every culture in the world has a unique style of song and dance and traditions are most frequently celebrated by singing and dancing. Our modern cultures don’t often allow for spontaneous outbursts, but organized theatre provides a valuable outlet for creative energy and social gathering.

Playhouse 395 has been a vital part of the Bishop and Eastern Sierra communities for over 20 years. It began in the early 1970s and entertained audiences and instilled a love for performance among the community’s youth until the late 1980s. In 2006 the organization saw a resurgence of interest and energy and was re-established with the mission, “To provide exceptional theatrical experiences and education through the gift of the performing arts.”

Today the organization is a catalyst for performing arts in the region and an avenue for members of the community to polish their craft and expand their skills as singers, dancers and actors.

Community Volunteers

A show such as Chicago, and the many productions that Playhouse 395 has presented in the past, requires a major investment in time by many people to bring it to the stage. Everyone who participates in the show does so as a volunteer.

This show has close to 100 local residents (a handful of whom reside in towns as far away as Ridgecrest and Fallon, NV) who have willingly given hundreds of hours of their time in preparation for and presentation of this well-known musical.

A cast of 34 actors ranges in age from 19 to 78 with many of these women and men full-time employees in local businesses in Bishop and the Eastern Sierra. Some are seasonal workers for agencies such as the Forest Service & National Parks and others are small business owners of the stores and services that operate in our community.

The production team of show Director, Associate Director, Producer, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Director, Stage Manager, Costume Coordinator, Orchestra Director and numerous helpers in each of these areas is also made up of volunteer community members. Each of these persons brings skills and experience in stage, song and dance to this production, but most of all they all bring a love of theatre and deep commitment to creating a quality production.

There are also many more people behind the scenes who have built sets, sewed costumes, designed lighting, sourced props, created décor, sold tickets, coordinated front of house box office and ushers, and do hair and make up. A small, but incredibly resourceful and disciplined group of volunteers makes up the stage crew and it’s safe to say that without this group … the show could not go on.

One of the things that we are especially proud of here at Playhouse 395 is our orchestra. These talented musicians also volunteer their time to learn the score, rehearse independently and with the cast and crew as show time draws near, and perform with us every night for 10 nights during the run.

The names of all those involved in this show are too numerous to list here, which is why I have not named any. However, the level of professionalism is clearly evident in this production and I encourage everyone, residents and visitors, to come a see this fabulous live theatrical performance.

We’re going to ‘razzle dazzle’ you!

Danielle Kuhl as Roxie Hart

Danielle Kuhl as Roxie Hart – photo credit: Bob Rice

Chicago in Theatres

Chicago originally opened on Broadway in 1975 and ran for 936 performances until 1977. In 1979 it debuted on the West End and ran 600 performances.

Chicago was revived on Broadway in 1996, and a year later in the West End. According to Wikipedia, “The Broadway revival holds the record as the longest-running musical revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. It is the second longest-running show in Broadway history, behind only The Phantom of the Opera.  The West End revival ran for nearly 15 years, becoming the longest-running American musical in West End history.”

The musical is based on a dramatic play by Maurine Dallas Watkins who was a journalist in Chicago during the prohibition era. She reported on the crimes and criminals of the day and fictionalized two women charged with murder (whom she referred to as “jazz babies” in her reportage). She created a composite character of their lawyers and caricatures of the men associated with these women. Her play opened on Broadway in 1926.

Today the rights to Chicago: The Musical are given to a very limited number of companies and Playhouse 395 in Bishop is one of only six venues on the west coast approved to stage the production this year.

A real scoop!

Ron Valenzuela as Billy Flynn with Danielle Kuhl as Roxie Hart

Ron Valenzuela as Billy Flynn with Danielle Kuhl as Roxie Hart – photo credit: Bob Rice

Choreography: A Tribute to Bob Fosse

When Bob Fosse (award-winning dancer, choreographer, director and actor) originally approached Maurine Watkins in the 1960s for the rights to produce a musical adaptation of her play she refused him. After her death in 1969 her estate sold the rights to Fosse and the musical was born.

Fosse was an innovative choreographer and his trademark dance style is simple yet brilliant. He was well known for his use of hats and gloves and “jazz hands” are a hallmark of his style.

My dance training began at age 5 in the ballet studio and as a teenager and adult I progressed into contemporary dance. Choreographing big musical song-and-dance numbers in the style of Bob Fosse for this show has both challenged and thrilled me. An added challenge has been to work with women and men from our community whose dance training and experience is, for the majority, little to none.

I ardently believe that just about everyone can dance. All that’s needed is a good ear for rhythm, some physical coordination and … most of all … a willingness to learn! Dance steps can be taught. So armed with this belief and the trust of a truly sensational cast of guys and gals we set out to create a tribute to Mr. Bob Fosse.

We think we’ve done it!

Jennifer Collins as Velma Kelly

Jennifer Collins as Velma Kelly – photo credit: Bob Rice

Tickets

Chicago runs for three weeks in March at the Bishop High School Historical Theatre. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets, at the Inyo Council for the Arts located at 137 S. Main St. in Bishop, and at our Bishop Visitor Center at 690 N. Main St., Bishop.

The show opens tonight Friday, March 4th at 7pm. All show times and dates are listed on the Playhouse 395 website.

Support our local community theatre here in Bishop and see how this wonderful eastside town comes alive onstage and … All That Jazz!

Hotcha!

Hotcha!

About the Author: Gigi de Jong

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Gigi is “crazy mad in love with Bishop.” Since moving here in 2006 she has made it her mission to participate in as many of the outdoor activities as possible. She learned to snowboard, improved upon her very average climbing skills, took long hikes, has driven up and down innumerable mountain roads and 4×4 tracks, cycled and occasionally tumbled down mountain bike trails, taken to the roads on a bicycle or motorcycle – sometimes for fun and sometimes to commute, and completed her first attempt at a triathlon this year. She spent 10 months touring the western US and Canada on a bicycle and after 4,000 plus miles returned to Bishop – for the beauty of the place and the spirit of the community. “My soul belongs here,” she says.

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