06/25/2014 12:00AM ● Published by Kerri Regan
Encore Performance by James Santos
James Santos earned a reputation in the North State for creating imaginative, larger-than-life productions that rivaled anything you’d find in the big city. Then he was recruited by Cirque du Soleil, and his family left Redding for Las Vegas.
This summer, he’ll treat theater fans to an encore when he serves as the guest artist, choreographer and co-director for the smash Broadway hit “Chicago,” which opens July 10 at Shasta College.
“It all came together, and here we are producing one of the best shows ever written,” says Santos, founding director of A Cascade Christmas and The Dance Project. “I want there to be a lot of clarity, a quick pace, lots of energy.”
“Chicago” will be co-directed by Dean Munroe, and Dr. Elizabeth Waterbury will conduct a full orchestra. Scenery and costumes will be created by David Fraser and Hilary Fahey. It’s being produced through Shasta College’s theatre arts department, which stages two main productions during the academic year and a summer theater.
Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, the musical tells the story of rival murderesses Velma Kelly (played by Eilyne Davis) and Roxie Hart (Rebecca Moseley), who find themselves on Death Row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows. They get some help from prison matron Mama Morton (played by Obioma Officer) and slick lawyer Billy Flynn (Wade Riggs). The original Broadway production opened in 1975, and holds the record for the longest-running American musical in Broadway history.
“The material is a bit risque in places, but it has great music, it’s lighthearted and not too heavy,” Santos says. “It’s a really strong cast. There are definitely some people who haven’t been in shows for a while — they’ve been working as teachers or parents or out in the community, and they’re coming out of the woodwork for this.”
Santos was artistic director of Cirque du Soleil's “Dralion,” then took a promotion elsewhere that allowed him to be home with his family in Las Vegas. It wasn’t the right fit for him, so he left that company about a year and a half ago. “I took time to be with the family, but I started missing my creative outlet,” he says.
He and Munroe directed several shows together many years ago, so they teamed up to make “Chicago” happen. They took two weeks to rough out the show in mid-June, and have been spending the remaining time cleaning and perfecting it, Santos says. While actors learn their lines, notes and dance moves, the orchestra rehearses, sets are crafted and costumes are constructed.
“Everything is being built right there in those departments,” Santos says. “It’s so great that you can walk down the hallway and see what’s going on. It makes the job easier, and that stirring of energies coming together creates the buzz.”
The set will include a street of speakeasies and saloons, and the orchestra will be behind the street. “It’s part of this atmosphere of creating this sense of Chicago,” Munroe says. “It’s not very often, especially in the local area, that musicians and dancers and singers come together in a live performance... We’re actually going to make the orchestra part of the show. It’s going to be a challenge for the orchestra, and I hope that makes it more interesting for the audience.”
The pair looks forward to watching the curtains rise together once more.
“James has just been wonderful. He’s really taking the bull by the horns,” Munroe says. “It should be a pretty exciting situation for the next few weeks until we open. It’s actually a little scary — high schools spend six to eight months putting their show together, we usually take six or seven weeks putting our shows together, and here we're taking four weeks putting ‘Chicago’ together.”
For Santos’ part, it’s been a thrill to return to his roots. “It’s exciting to be coming back home,” Santos says. “Shasta College has always been such a nurturing environment for theater people in Redding.”
7:30 pm Thursday through Saturday from July 10-26,
2 pm July 13 and 20
Shasta College Theatre
Tickets $12; $10 for students and seniors
Purchase tickets at www.cascadetheatre.org or
call (530) 243-8877