“Chicago” recently celebrated its 20th anniversary on Broadway in March. It’s now the longest-running American musical in Broadway history and you can see it right here in the Triangle next week when the touring production comes to the Durham Performing Arts Center with performances Friday, May 12th through Sunday, May 14th.
This a musical that tells story of murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, and treachery set against the turbulent backdrop of prohibition era Chicago. The musical is based on a play of the same name by reporter and playwright Maurine Dalls Watkins who covered the 1924 trials of accused murderers Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner for the Chicaog Tribune. At the time the press and public became mesmerized by the subject of homicides committed by women.
The story centers around nightclub sensation Velma (Terra C. MacLeod) who murders her philandering husband, and Chicago’s slickest lawyer, Billy Flynn (Eddie George) who comes to her aid to defend her. Things get complicated when Roxie (Dylis Croman) ends up in prison as well for murdering her lover. Billy takes on Roxie’s case as well and turns it into a media circus. Velma is not happy to see Roxie, who is stealing not only her limelight but also her lawyer and neither woman will be outdone in their fight against each other and the public for fame and celebrity.
The Cook County Jail cell block Velma and Roxie are sent to as they await trial is presided over by the corrupt Matron “Mama” Morton (played by veteran Roz Ryan). Mamma runs a tight ship and keeps a list of those who owe her favors and those who have fallen in line and are on her good list. She helps Velma become the media’s top murder-of-the-week and acts as a booking agent for Velma’s big return to vaudeville.
Ryan is a Broadway and Hollywood veteran and I reached her by phone last week and had a wonderful conversation with her where she shared about what it is like to play this iconic role and traveling he globe with the production.
How long have you played Mamma Morton?
I’ve played Mama Morton on Broadway and in the touring production off and on for more than 18 years now. I never get tired of playing Mama. I started after auditioning for the first national tour. Spent a few years on Broadway then hot the road with the tour. I kind of view the role as Mama as mine.
How did you land the audition to play Mamma?
It really is a Cinderella story. I was performing in Detroit and a musical director saw me and had me come in for an audition. I hadn’t seen the show at that point. So it was new to me when I was signed for the job. I saw it and a week later I was on stage performing in it. Ever Since then over the past 18 years, I’ve become the reliable ‘go to’ girl for the show.
Playing such an iconic role for so many years, how do you keep it fresh?
It’s a little different each night. The character and performance is never exactly the same. Depending on the city you are in or the crowd in the theater there may be a different energy from night to night and performance to performance. My character gets to talk directly to the audience at some points during the show and that allows me to ad lib a little so I can always keep it fresh!
Where are some of the favorite places you have traveled with the show?
Oh we have been all over the world from Dubai to Australia. We are getting ready to visit Japan, Korea and the Philippines. They are all wonderful. One of my favorite pastimes is to scuba dive and take pictures of dolphins and whales. I’ve actually gotten quite good at photography. One of the benefits of traveling is not just seeing these wonderful places, but it provides me the opportunity to scuba dive in exciting locations. I actually received my scuba certification in Australia!
Do you have any other projects coming up you would like to highlight?
Well, I am always up to so much. Right now Chicago is my focus. But don;t forget I do a lot of voice-over work for cartoons and I love that too! Ultimately though I focus on the task at hand. I don’t make plans. God makes plans for me and I follow his plans.
CHICAGO opens at DPAC on Friday, May 12th and runs through Sunday, May 14th. For tickets visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/mamma-mia-1.