After commencement, Christine Freije ’13 never thought she’d be back at Holy Cross directing another Alternate College Theatre (ACT) production. Two years since directing “Spring Awakening” as a senior, Freije returns to take on “Chicago,” an equally ambitious and well-known musical. The production will run on Feb. 4-6 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 6-7 at 2 p.m. in the Fenwick Theatre, and promises to address contemporary themes of celebrity culture and issues of justice with timeless songs, theatrical storytelling, and cutting dialogue, says Freije. We sat down with the alumna-director to get an inside scoop on all things “Chicago”:
Is it true that “Chicago” will be a bit bigger than usual Alternative College Theatre (ACT) productions?
The show demands that everything be a little bigger than usual. There are seventeen people in the cast, an extensive backstage crew, a fairly complicated set with pieces flying out, some extra lighting instruments, and tons and tons of costumes. My team and I have pretty big ambitions for making this show look great.
The play was originally staged in 1975, but continues to be a cultural favorite. Why do you think it still resonates with contemporary audiences?
There’s a lot about the world of “Chicago” that continues to resonate today. The plot, as I see it, follows Roxie Hart, a selfish, desperate aspiring starlet as she rises to fame on the support of her bad behavior and then sees that fame suddenly dissipate. We live in a world today where fame is more attainable than ever. We are inundated with reality shows, where men and women are encouraged to be their worst selves for our entertainment. A homemade Youtube video can launch someone, literally overnight, into national public consciousness. However, because the media and public attention move so quickly, fame has become more difficult to hold onto than ever before.
It’s also a play about the way issues of justice, of guilt and innocence, and of morality get pushed aside in favor of spectacle, distraction, and the manipulation of public opinion. In a presidential election year, at a time in which issues of criminal justice are prominent in our collective consciousness, I think that these ideas of public performance and how it relates to truth and fairness continue to be really relevant.
Is there added pressure considering the musical’s popularity?
There is some added pressure because the show is so well known. People will definitely come into this production with certain ideas and expectations based on their past experiences with the show. But it’s also exciting to be working on a show that is so beloved by so many.
How are you tackling the challenge?
The great thing about working in theatre is that you can steal like crazy and still come out with something unique. That being said, I first returned to the script and the score and tried to figure out what I thought the show was about. I tried to focus in on the main drive of the plot, the themes and images that pervade the script, and the way the characters go after what they want. After that, I went back to the secondary materials—videos and pictures of past productions, Maurine Dallas Watkins’s play upon which the musical is based, Rob Marshall’s film version. I tried to do a substantial amount of research, to collect a lot of ideas and images that might be useful, and then I was able to pick and choose sources of inspiration that suited my vision of the play.
What is one of your favorite scene, song or line in “Chicago”?
There’s this moment in Act Two that I love—Billy Flynn says to Roxie, “You’re a phony celebrity, kid. In a couple of weeks, nobody’ll even know who you are. That’s Chicago.” It’s become a joke among the cast and I—whenever I give them a tough direction or make a dramatic change, I say “That’s Chicago” to really put a button on it.
“Chicago” will be held during Winter Homecoming. Are you excited about being able to welcome alumni back? Are any of your friends coming back to check the production out?
Yes! I love that the timing worked out that way. A lot of my friends are planning on coming back for the show, particularly people who did shows in the theatre department or with ACT. This whole semester has felt like a kind of homecoming for me, so it will be exciting to have other alumni back as well.
What do you want current students to walk away with from working on this production?
I hope that I can help the students appreciate the experience of working on this show and the ACT community. Making theatre has been an amazing experience for me both during and after college, but I’ve never had anything close to the kind of supportive, strong group of friends that I had as a student through ACT. It’s something really precious.
Tickets to “Chicago” are $10 for members of the Holy Cross community, $15 for the general public, and can be reserved by calling the ACT box office at 508-793-3536.
My wife and I saw the show last night. It was wonderful. Everyone did such a great job. Thank you.