Chicago - The Musical
Chicago for lunch
By Shezanne Socher
Amra-Faye Wright (Velma Kelly)
Amra-Faye has performed on both Broadway and the West End during her much-celebrated career. From humble beginnings in the Eastern Cape, she has now worked extensively in South Africa and overseas. First cast in Chicago in 2001 during the UK tour of the production, Amra-Faye has finely tuned her role as Velma Kelly to perfection.
So does she consider herself a celebrity yet?
"Definitely not. None of us earn enough money," she replied with a laugh.
"Although I often lie when I'm abroad and tell people I'm very famous in South Africa."
Pleasantly surprised by the Cape Town audience, Amra-Faye hopes Johannesburg audiences will also pick up on the subtle nuances within the show.
"Capetonians got almost all of the subtleties. They were a very sophisticated audience."
London is so cosmopolitan it can be a bit of a problem to pick up the more delicately nuanced jokes in the show. With the Americans they were big and vibrant."
Craig Urbani (Billy Flynn)
Craig Urbani, reportedly the back-stage jokester of the show, agrees as he too can boast a fruitful career abroad. But after ten years playing roles in big name productions such as The Buddy Holly Story, Grease, Fame and Hair, this local talent has returned home.
"It was a move of the heart, not of the wallet or the career. I had no idea what I'd do when I got back but it's worked out well and I haven't regretted it at all," said Craig with a prolific grin (either heartfelt or caused by indigestion from his Asian Chicken Curry that arrived at the table around this time).
Probably most recognised for his role as Alec Mathews in Isidingo, Craig admits that he is probably not as suave in real life as his sweet-talking Chicago character, Billy Flynn.
"I suppose I do give off an element of coolness, even when I don't really have it all under control. Billy uses subtle manipulation and you have to be believable onstage but in real life I have to admit that I'm probably not as suave."
A definite ladies man, Craig says he doesn't need to use pick up lines when it comes to the fairer sex.
"I just go like this," he said cocking his head and lifting an eyebrow.
And the worst pick up line he's ever heard?
"How about nice legs, what time do they open?"
And with lines like this it's no surprise that he spends his spare time at friend's houses with his trusty guitar and a bottle of wine.
The cast, who at this point were in a fit of laughter, are well aware of Craig's antics both in front of an audience and backstage.
"Between Pierre and Craig, there's a different live performance every night backstage," said Ilse.
Ilse Klink (Matron Mama Morton)
Ilse Klink, who wowed audiences with her interpretation of Matron Mama Morton at the Jozi opening of the show, is an accomplished South African singer and actress as well as popular television personality.
Ilse adds her own unique flair to this character after having played the role in both the 2005 and 2008 seasons of the South African production.
Also well recognised for her various television roles, Ilse describes how enthusiastic her fans can be.
"I was at a bank and this guy walked up to me and said jy's daai celebrity! Ek recognise jou tande."
So does she ever use her celebrity status to her advantage?
"Yes I have before. For example if I go to visit someone in hospital and the nurses are ignoring them or they need something I will ask for it for them and usually make it happen."
And what does this local talent plan to do after Chicago?
"I'd like to work with Lionel Newton, James Ngobo, and James Bawthwick — hint hint, nudge nudge." So, as it would seem, plans to further her already successful television career should already be in the cards.
Samantha Peo (Roxie Hart)
Also at lunch was Samantha Peo who, a little quiet during lunch, plays the much-coveted role of Roxie Hart.
Sam's petite build stands in contrast to her intense stage presence and powerful voice. Indeed, "The name on everybody's lips is gonna be Roxie."
Sam has starred in many musical productions both locally and abroad including West Side Story, Hair and The Wizard of Oz.
She is excited to be playing Roxie again after the successful 2005 run of the show. She loves working with Hazel Feldman (the South African Producer of the show).
"Hazel is lovely to work with and she buys us lots of presents! She knows I'm madly into creams and body lotions so she always buys me tons of those."
Staying fit is a prerequisite in this business. Sam admittedly "ate enough for six" while in Cape Town but apparently does work out quite a bit to stay in shape.
"She works out a lot in the gym and does yoga," said Craig (admiring the fruits of her labour).
The dancers and big band style orchestra further compliment the cast and together, they really do put on an amazing show. So for everyone who was just going to rent the movie and call it a day, you may want to reconsider. The show includes songs that did not make it onto the silver screen (although probably should have), making it new, fresh and heaps of fun.
Q & A
How do you stay fit for this demanding role, in terms of your daily diet and exercise regimes?
Craig Urbani: All I do is walk up and down steps in the show so I don't really need to do anything. My outfit helps a lot! I wear a nice baggy tuxedo.
Amra-Faye Wright: People always ask this question and I never know how to answer it! To do the show, its not just about getting on stage, we do a really thorough warm up although actually doing the show every night helps. When I'm not performing I get fat! We tend to eat what we like because the food we like is healthy anyway! Ilse was actually pregnant in the last show and nobody could tell.
Samantha Peo: I agree, as actors, even when we're not in a show we need to stay in shape.
Ilse Klink: I don't have an exercise routine. I just move my hips from side to side in the show.
Have any of you ever dated a celebrity?
Craig Urbani: No, I haven't. But to me they were all celebrities.
Amra-Faye Wright: Quite a few but I'm not actually going to say who
Ilse Klink: Would we want to? (Laughs)
Who in the industry, either locally or internationally, would you most like to work with?
Craig Urbani: I'm working with a lot of them now! But I'd also like to work with Kate Normington because she is so funny.
Amra-Faye Wright: I'd really like to be directed by Paul Griffith (who recently directed Chess). Internationally Id like to work with Bette Midler because that's the direction I'd like to go in.
Ilse Klink: I agree with Amra, Chess absolutely blew me away!
Acting is a full time job and you must be exceptionally busy with production deadlines. Do you ever have any free time to yourself?
Craig Urbani: We do get free time but we can't fall into the habit of not sleeping all night and then sleeping all day because then you get the feeling that you're only doing the show instead of living life.
Amra-Faye Wright: There are periods when you're not working and these are the times when you actually should be enjoying life but you tend to worry about the next working job
Samantha Peo: Sometimes you plan a holiday and you need to rearrange your life around a new show but we do obviously have some free time as the show only runs in the evenings.
Ilse Klink: Yes we do. It's such a freelance kind of job so we're not working all the time.
The Chicago score is incredibly catchy. Have you ever caught yourself singing them in the shower?
Craig Urbani: Absolutely! You never sing your own songs though but mostly other peoples! I'm on over half an hour into the show so I'm always singing other songs when I'm waiting backstage.
Samantha Peo: We're all creatures of habit so yes I definitely have before.
Ilse Klink: Yes. Me and my baby is one of our favourite songs. We also tend to do each other's dialogue; it's almost a kind of warm up!
Any pre-show quirks?
Craig Urbani: I have a ring that I play with all the time and if I don't have it I feel incomplete!
Amra-Faye Wright: I'll never walk under a ladder in the theatre.
Samantha Peo: Sometimes we have different hair days and struggle with it for hours right up until the last minute which bugs me.
Ilse Klink: I have to try and get my hair higher and higher each night.
Dealing with autographs and fans is often very tiring, ever been rude to a fan that asked for your autograph?
Craig Urbani: No, I'm never rude to anybody unless they're rude first. Also I tend to get "oh you look bigger on TV" or "you look older in real life" etc. quite a lot.
Amra-Faye Wright: You do get the odd fans. One time a famous actor was around and a fan literally shoved me aside to get to the bigger celebrity!
Samantha Peo: It also tends to be more of a TV thing. People think that they know you personally from television shows. I actually did the familiar from TV thing' once. I saw an actor that I had just watched in a supermarket and said, "Hi how are you" even though I really didn't know him.
Ilse Klink: I've had somebody be physically abusive! They'll grab your arm and push and pull you all over the place! They don't seem to understand that we're real people with actual lives and we're not just actors. People can also have absolutely no tact, so yes I have been rude to a fan before but they were rude to me as well.
Craziest thing anyone has ever done/said to get your attention?
Craig Urbani: A lady in London had my face printed on a shirt! It was literally a full-face print of my head on her shirt and then she sat in the front row every night. I would watch my facial expressions change every time she moved.
Funniest thing that has ever happened onstage?
Craig Urbani: I've forgotten lines, fallen over, the set fell on me, my pants split. Once we had a power failure but my microphone still worked so I had to narrate to the audience what would be happening in the show if the lights were on.
Amra-Faye Wright: One night, in between scenes, I had just arrived at my dressing room when I heard a part of the production that was a cue for me to be onstage so Ilse had to kind of cover for me by saying something like "if Velma was here now she'd do this or that".
Samantha Peo: Yea, you should definitely not laugh at people for forgetting their lines because the next night it will be you!
Ilse Klink: I've had tons of those! Forgetting your words is probably the most embarrassing though.
Play it Again !
Author: Jennifer Smith, 14 August 2008
I must have been asleep as only once the show was at an end did i see and hear all the excitement.
Please could the promoters play Chicago again, I'd definately love to see it.
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