Hear all that jazz in ‘Chicago’ at the Ray Evans theater

The cast of the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association’s production of “Chicago” rehearse a scene Monday evening at the Ray Evans Seneca Theater. Performances begin tonight.

SALAMANCA — The Ray Evans Seneca Theater will feel more like home to a Jazz Age speakeasy than a musical stage when the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association (CCLAA) presents their production of “Chicago” starting this weekend.

For the past couple months, singers, dancers, musicians and actors have been rehearsing in the theater to deliver a night straight out of 1927 and a story full of impressive song-and-dance sequences and a clever satire on the criminal justice system and celebrity in America.

Director Todd Wagner said the preparations have gone extremely well, “probably the smoothest of any show I’ve done here.”

“‘Chicago’ is an amazing show. It hasn’t been done in this area for 27 years,” he said.

One reason for the smooth production is a cast full of community theater veterans. Wagner said much of the cast has participated in past shows with the CCLAA, and work well together and with the crew.

“There’s a very small number that haven’t performed a lot,” he added.

Wagner said one of the most challenging aspects of the show has also been one of his favorite surprises for the show opening. Although the show starts at 7:30 or 2 p.m., depending on the day you go, he encourages everyone to come an hour early for a special look at the stage before the lights go down and the curtain goes up, which will reveal quite a spectacle for the audience.

The product of director/choreographer Bob Fosse, “Chicago” opened on Broadway in 1975, with casts including Liza Minelli and Chita Rivera during its run. It was nominated for 13 Tony awards for its original production and was the winner of seven 1997 Tony awards for its revival.

Keeping with the Fosse tradition of phenomenal choreography, Wagner said the dancing is more complex than any show they’ve done in the past decade. However, he said the choreographer make everyone on stage look like trained dancers with plenty of experience, even if they don’t have much at all.

“It’s a huge, huge dance show. It’s a very complicated dance show,” he said. “Everyone has been very cooperative with rehearsals as much as you can be.”

The CCLAA production is choreographed by Rudi Andalora with musical direction by Luke Yerpestock and the orchestra led by Ruth Fuller.

There are about a dozen people in the orchestra, which will play a score featuring many Broadway favorites like “Cell Block Tango,” “We Both Reached for the Gun” and “All That Jazz.” Wagner said the music has a similar feel to “Ragtime,” which the CCLAA did in 2010. He said the music eras are close to each other with that early jazz sound.

Wagner noted the recent FX miniseries “Fosse/Verdon” aired when they began rehearsals, so anyone who watched that got a glimpse into this show. For those who saw CCLAA’s production of “Pippin” last year, Wagner said watching “Chicago” will be a similar experience, due to the theatricality and spectacle of it, as well as a lot of similar cast and crew members.

“Some great stuff is going on,” he said. “If you liked ‘Pippin,’ you will absolutely fall in love with ‘Chicago.’”

The show will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10, 16 and 17 and at 2 p.m. Aug. 11, 17 and 18 at the theater at 10 Main St., Salamanca. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door or through Showclix.

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)