How BC’s Production of ‘Chicago’ is Responding to the Las Vegas Shooting

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The cast of the Boston College production of Chicago sent a statement to The Heights about how, in light of the shooting in Las Vegas last week, they are handling scenes in the musical that depict gun use. Read the full statement, by director Michelle Miller, BC ’98:

Though first written and produced in the wake of Watergate in 1975 and set in the decadence that sprang from Prohibition in the 1920s, the musical Chicago has a timelessness that endures, wildly entertains and when you look past its cleverness and glitter, disturbs. It is a savage satire of the glamorization of crime and the ill-gotten gains of infamy, media spin of pain for profit, and the circumnavigation of justice for an easy payoff and immortality in a few lines of ink. Chicago frequently breaks the fourth wall and makes the audience an active participant in the action. It is a show that tantalizes with sequins, iconic tunes, incredible dancing and if you pay attention: deftly shines a spotlight on hypocrisy. Chicago is a show about a lot of things, it is not, however, a show about guns.

On Oct. 2 I gathered my incredible cast of Chicago here at Boston College to talk about the tragic events that had occurred in Las Vegas the night before. It was important that we, as men and women for others, address what happens to our human family when one man perched on the 32nd floor over a crowd of 22,000 decides to extinguish the lives of 59 people and injure over 500 more. We spoke about remembering the heroics of those who rushed in to help, praying for those mourning the loss of loved ones and figuring out how we, as a cast could come together and foster more gentleness in the aftermath of such horrific violence. Much like those the audience cheers for in Chicago, a deranged man in a luxury sniper nest achieved a sort of grotesque fame. The answer on the larger scale of supporting those fighting to heal is still fleshing itself out, but in terms of our production, small gestures decided upon by cast and creatives was made unanimously. I make this statement on behalf of, and with the permission of my entire cast and crew.

There is a musical number that often uses Tommy Guns, the granddaddy of the arsenal employed in Las Vegas, as props through an elaborate dance sequence. We first decided to change the look from a realistically aged plastic prop so they could not be mistaken as a real gun. Then we addressed one of many examples of breaking the Fourth wall, where two of the women mime spraying the audience with bullets while laughing. This piece of choreography is not specified under our licensing agreement as necessary and though considered iconic felt in bad taste in light of current events to not only my creative team but the students portraying two of the “Merry Murderesses” as the show calls them. Elizabeth Koennecke, who plays Roxie Hart, and Taylor Tranfaglia, as Velma Kelly, both admirably expressed heartbreak at the events and a desire to soften a menacing posture that felt glib and insensitive. Those of us at the helm agreed and are as proud of their compassion as we have been of their immense talent and dedication.

I have always loved the music of Kander and Ebb, what they achieved through their unique voices and the integrity of their message over many decades of creative partnership. There are many elements of Chicago that challenge me personally as a service driven Boston College alum and educator as it is difficult watching fresh-faced students step into the cynical, sexually charged world of this clever, cutting paradigm of American Musical Theater. It would be a disservice to the writers, a violation of contract, and a dereliction of my directorial duties to alter any aspect of the script and its contents to make it more palatable, and therefore no such changes were made. We can ask “Whatever happened to class?” as the song says in Act II but the glitz with the grime are as important as the sweet to the sour. It is meant to provoke and entertain, in equal measure. My deepest hope is, when the applause dies down, and the memories of the fabulous design courtesy of the Theater Department fades, that our show is a springboard to those who see it to discuss and reflect upon how we can find our way back to civility, unity, and to once again value integrity over infamy.

Michelle Miller, BC ’98, Director of Chicago

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor