It may seem there’s nothing to it, but they simply cannot do it alone!
The sassy duo of Murderer’s Row, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, are two of Music Theatre’s most iconic roles. Roxie has been portrayed by performers such as Gwen Verdon, Ann Reinking, Renée Zellweger, and Michelle Williams; and Velma by Chita Rivera, Caroline O’Connor, Bebe Neuwirth, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Next on this impressive list are Australia’s own Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Alinta Chidzey.
I have spoken with both these brilliant bombshells earlier in the year – Alinta ahead of Chicago, and Natalie just after the Brisbane run. However, they are currently in the thick of their final leg of Chicago in Melbourne. We had a quick chat to see how the national tour has been going, and what excites them about these iconic roles.
You’re now playing in Melbourne after successful seasons in Sydney and Brisbane. How has the run been overall?
Alinta: It’s electric… the band and the cast are phenomenal. Everyone is super strong and triple threats given their all. There’s so much laughter from the audience, and we crack each other up!
Nat: No we don’t, we’re very serious [laughs] No look, I think to be part of such an iconic show with a cast that is genuinely so lovely and supportive, it’s rare. It is. Everyone pretends “oh, we love each other!” but it’s so phenomenal to be part of this environment. No egos, lots of fun, lots of laughter, but a lot of hard work. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a cast that takes care of themselves so much. Maybe it’s because I come from Rock and Roll [laughs]. It’s been a pleasure. It’s exciting for me to be bringing Roxie to life, and still now, I still explore things and find things I never had in the beginning.
Alinta: And different audiences bring out different things for you. You know, the jokes land in different areas in different cities. And show to show, from matinee to an evening show, you get different responses and that keeps us alive, doing 8 shows a week, multiple times. It can be tough, and to get the energy from the audience in that respect is wonderful.
Do you think life would have been different if Roxie and Velma were in the modern age? How would they react to all the social media?
Nat: I think Roxie would love it. She’d be so excited she was plastered everywhere. I don’t know how she would handle bullying or trolls… I think she’d probably be quite affected by that.
Alinta: I think they’d get some trolls on board. Morals as well, killing your husband and sister. Maybe a little daunting to see what you’d get back from the press.
And what’s the vibe amongst the cast like?
Nat: We have a ritual [before each show]. We all go backstage and put our hands in the middle and say “pineapples,” which is a bit random… and that came out of pineapples being a part of the show. During the rehearsal we were so delirious and tired… pineapples became this ongoing joke. It was my line… “is this pineapples? Are we going from pineapples?” so it became that instead of “good luck” or “chookas.”
Alinta: And it’s a really great group atmosphere. I think we all connect so well together. There’s no weak link.
Nat: Also if swings and understudies are on, we make sure to really connect and catch each others’ eyes. It’s good.
How has the audience reaction been overall?
Alinta: I’ve had so many people come and say they just felt so great leaving the theatre. They’ve laughed, enjoyed themselves. and so many say they’re going to come back again.
Nat: And so many have come back. Second and third times, and that’s bizarre and amazing.
What is the best part of playing such strong and powerful female characters?
Nat: It’s not just one thing, I have to say. It’s getting to play a character of my dreams, for sure. It’s getting to work alongside Alinta, Casey, Jared, Rodney, we had the beautiful Tom Burlinson and now Jason, and then the ensemble. It really has been, creatively, so inspiring. And also our creatives, they’ve brought something so fresh to this production in particular that I don’t think anyone’s really seen. And that’s what we keep getting told by audiences. It’s still relevant but it’s fresher.
Alinta: They [the creatives] said “bring yourself, your version of the character, not a carbon copy.” That made us feel relaxed at the time. and I think for me, young performers coming to see strong women on stage… I’ve had so many young girls in particular say “I want to be like that.” It’s inspiring for them, and I think that’s a gift that we can give that’s really important, for young performers to see us play these powerful roles.
Nat: Even if they’re naughty! [chuckles]
Chicago is currently playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre.
For tickets and more information, please visit the Chicago Australia website.