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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

All that Jazz: RHS Presents "Chicago"

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Photo credits: Tom Russo Photography and Courtney McManus

A group of very talented students at Rutherford High School will razzle and dazzle audiences with the RHS Spring Musical, Chicago: High School Edition on March 6, 7 and 8th in the RHS Auditorium. Under the direction of Ms. Courtney McManus and Mr. Matthew Vaccaro, the students have been working hard on rehearsing for this exciting upcoming production since December. This is Rutherford spoke with Courtney, Matthew, and three of the students (Tierra Sherlock, Julia Alati, and Christina Scanlon) who are part of the cast of this show.

TIR: How did you end up choosing Chicago for the RHS Musical this year?

Courtney McManus: For as long as we’ve been working on the high school productions, the students have been requesting Chicago: High School Edition! From a director’s standpoint, this has been on our shortlist of dream shows for a long time. As a director, it is a chance for our students to challenge themselves to play characters they may not have had the chance to before. It was a challenge to find the balance between “classy and edgy” in a show that is stereotypically too mature for them. From a choreographer’s standpoint, Bob Fosse’s choreography is simply iconic and a Broadway staple. His choreography is so entwined with his own story, so it has been interesting to find the bits and pieces of his life woven into this musical through dance and storytelling.

Matthew Vaccaro: This was a crazy dream show Ms. McManus and I had thought about doing for years. After the success of Mamma Mia!, we looked at all of the shows we could do and looked at the talent we had this year and knew it had to be this one. While the show on Broadway can be considered "risque," the students have handled the High School version with such maturity and poise that the show feels more like a tribute to 1920's Chicago than the Broadway version.

TIR: How many musicals have you directed at Rutherford High School?

CM: I have worked on four RHS productions. I started as an assistant director on High School Musical, and have since had the pleasure of working on Cinderella, Mamma Mia!, and now Chicago. Spring musical season is my favorite time of year!

MV: This is now my third show at the High School, but 9th in district. It has been one of the best experiences of my life. Working with these talented students makes doing this a blast.

TIR: What do you enjoy about directing musicals at RHS?

CM: My favorite part of directing musicals is watching our students’ final bows. At that moment, their expressions say it all. The sheer pride on their faces after a successful performance is the best feeling. It is a testament to the months they have put in. Their emotions are evident on stage and speak to how close they have all become, how they’ve created a support system within the cast. I especially enjoy honoring our seniors with their final bows. After all of their hard work and dedication, they deserve those extra moments to soak in the RHS spotlight.

MV: The connection you make with the cast. When you are spending every day together for more than 3 hours a day, you become a family. It is something I have preached since starting on this crazy theater ride in 2014. Theater brings out the best in everyone, things you never even knew you had. It’s because of this that theater allows people to connect with individuals they never thought they would connect with and creates a family-like bond. We have alumni who are always coming to help out with the shows, students who come to every show, and cast members who dedicate their days to making this the best experience. My favorite part, besides the family-like aspect, is how the audience feels at the end of a show. The town always supports us every year and getting to feel their excitement on show days and their reactions after a show are amazing.

TIR: What should audiences expect to see when they come to see “Chicago”?

CM: Our students have been working hard to maintain the essence of Chicago. The long hours of character work, choreography, and music rehearsals have paid off. Our audience should be prepared to see the satirical perspectives of Bob Fosse and Maurine Dallas Watkins (the playwright of the original 1926 play) come to life on stage. You will be familiar with the Broadway classics, such as “All That Jazz” and “Cell Block Tango”. As always, this cast has thrown their hearts into the production. It will be a performance you will not forget. Join us on a journey back to the 1920s!

MV: Audiences should expect a thrilling show with unforgettable choreography and song. This is one of the most talented casts that we have had the pleasure of working with. They are stunning to see on that stage. This is not a show anyone is going to want to miss!

Tierra Sherlock (Senior): Audiences should expect something that has never been done at RHS. This is definitely the most technically difficult and mature show that we’ve ever done. It has been an exciting experience so far and I can’t wait to see how everything turns out!

Christina Scanlon (Senior): Chicago is definitely a beat change from last year; it’s a more mature musical but it’s a challenge we’re excited for. There are some familiar faces but there are also some new faces who bring a lot to the stage this year.

Julia Alati (Junior): As they come to see Chicago, audiences should expect humor for all ages, advanced style fosse dancing, wonderful costumes, talent beyond compare, and a lot of jazz hands (laughs).

Julia Alati, Tierra Sherlock and Christina Scanlon told TIR more about Chicago and musical theater at RHS.

Tierra Sherlock and Julia Alati

TIR: What is your role in Chicago?

TS: I play Roxie Hart.

CS: I am in the ensemble of Chicago.

JA: My role in Chicago is Velma Kelly.

TIR: How many musicals have you done at RHS?

TS: This is my fourth musical at RHS!

CS: This is my fourth musical at RHS and 6th in the Rutherford school system.

JA: I have done three musicals at RHS which include Cinderella (Dance Captain), Mamma Mia! (Donna Sheridan), and Chicago (Velma Kelly).

TIR: What do you enjoy about being part of theatrical productions at RHS?

TS: What I love most about doing the shows at RHS is the sense of commitment the cast has. We all have the common goal of putting on an amazing show and I love seeing us all work together to make that happen! Also, everyone in the cast is hilarious so I always appreciate laughing every rehearsal.

CS: The RHS theatre community is so welcoming. When we step foot on the stage, we leave behind any of the labels or expectations we carry through the hallways; we’re just people who love theatre and get to bring a new world to life.

JA: What I enjoy most about the musicals at RHS is the family dynamic. Everyone in the drama program creates such a special bond that’s hard to find in other aspects of high school. Having such a great connection with the entirety of the cast creates such a safe and fun space to rehearse and perform.

To purchase tickets for the Friday or Saturday night or Sunday afternoon performances of Chicago: High School Edition, please visit the website.

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