School News
April 1, 2019-  “Welcome.” says an anonymous emcee in front of a drawn curtain. “Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery—all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts.” 

She’s talking about Chicago, one of the longest-running and most celebrated musicals of all time. This iconic production takes the stage at Vail Mountain School this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 5-7. (Click here to purchase tickets) And while you may be reconciling images and plotlines from the Oscar-winning movie spawned by the musical, and questioning how this fits within the VMS mission to “Develop Character, Seek Knowledge, and Build Community,” worry not, this is the PG-13 high school version.

“Chicago is a modern classic,” says VMS Theatre Director, Tony Bender. “It is what you think of when you imagine musical theatre, and was chosen to very intentionally to build on the work the students did with The Laramie Project. Chicago has pushed the students out of their comfort zone as well, but in a different way, with very stylistic choreography as well as challenging solo and ensemble vocals. It’s also a real growth opportunity for our younger actors who must convincingly play adults that represent the complete moral opposite of the positive character traits that our school endeavors to develop.” 

The cast, crew, and live band includes more than 40 students and faculty members from grades 9-12. 

Quinn Kelley plays Roxie, who murders her lover and then tries to convince her husband, Amos, to take the fall. “I have been wanting to play this role since the show was announced last year, says Quinn. “I never really thought about the darkest parts of Roxie—her murder, affair, and constant manipulation. Instead, I focused on her sass and overall rudeness. Surprisingly, it has been way more fun than playing a murderer should be. Roxie is needy and in some ways pathetic, however, I’ve enjoyed overplaying all her faults, and taking this crazy different personality and making it my own.” 

Hayley Bill, a 10th grader, plays Velma Kelly and competes head-to-head with Roxie for her share of the limelight. “Velma gets lots of publicity and fame because of the crime she committed, as do the other inmates in the jail,” says Hayley. “She is seen as an infamous criminal and a famous vaudeville performer, but during this time period, the difference between the two is unrecognizable.”  

Chicago is not so much about the moral decadence of America in the 1920s, but rather, society’s glorification of it through an insatiable appetite for scandalous news. VMS Senior, Andie Billingsley, plays the principal reporter and gives a voice to the throng of journalists played by the ensemble cast. “Chicago, in a way, forces us to look at the modern image of the 1920s with a grain of salt,” says Billingsley. The show glorifies terrible behavior, but it's so over-the-top that it pushes the audience to look further into the time period and the issues brought up in the play.” 

Sophomore, Graham Spessard, plays attorney Billy Flynn, the role made famous by Richard Gere in the cinematic version of Chicago. In addition to his work on stage, Graham also trains and competes with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Big Mountain Team. “Balancing competitive skiing, theatre, and other school work is a challenge,” says Spessard. However, it has been valuable to learn how to completely focus on a bunch of different things at the same time, and it has taught me a huge level of discipline and time management that otherwise would not be possible. This constant movement has also taught me to be a quick thinker and has helped me to find my passions.”

Cameron Bill plays Amos, Roxie’s pushover husband, who is manipulated by others throughout the show. As a senior, this is his last role on stage at VMS where he has played several leads and other prominent roles throughout his high school career. “Theatre started off as a requirement for me in 8th grade,” says Cameron. “Subsequently, I found a love for the stage and the process of developing a theatre production. The hard work of memorizing lines, blocking, and songs; the long hours of tech week; and the bonds created with peers and faculty are all things that have helped me grow as a person throughout my time at VMS.”

Shane Cole, also a senior, is the student director for the show, a  feature dancer, and the Judge who is the ultimate arbiter of “justice” in 1920s Chicago. Seniors at VMS are required to take on a senior project and Shane’s focuses on the topic of love through the lens of Buddhism—an interesting juxtaposition to the themes in Chicago that has inspired him to look inward. “The experience of balancing two very big projects is teaching me about my work ethic and forcing me to make the most of every free minute I have,” says Cole. “I am extremely proud of this and I've found that I feel better when I go to sleep each night after grinding away on each of these things rather than floating through the rest of my senior year and not pushing myself.”

VMS senior, Audrey Howell, served as principal student choreographer. Together with fellow dance majors Addie Strickler, Nico O’Connell, and Emmie Urquhart, the group adapted Bob Fosse’s legendary choreography for the show during the first semester of this year and has been teaching it to the cast since work on the production began in January. “When choreographing for this show, we kept iconic Fosse moves with the classic Fosse arms, walks, and poses, and just placed them in different parts of the show or music,” notes Howell. “With this musical, there is so much room for creative input and our own interpretation of the lyrics and music while keeping the style of music and original choreography in mind. It has been such an amazing experience to be able to work with such a talented cast and honor such an iconic choreographer.”