‘Chicago’ musical hits National Theatre with Virginia natives as Roxie Hart, Velma Kelly

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Chicago' at National Theatre (Part 1)

Growing up in Northern Virginia, Katie Frieden dreamed of performing at National Theatre.

Now, that dream becomes a reality, as the iconic musical “Chicago” hits Broadway at the National on Tuesday and runs through Nov. 27, celebrating 25 years of its national tour.

“I’m so excited to be coming to Washington D.C.,” Frieden told WTOP. “I’m from the Northern Virginia area outside of Alexandria. I grew up listening to WTOP on the way to school, my dad driving, I’d hear ‘Traffic and Weather together on the 8’s and when it breaks!'”

Frieden attended Hayfield Secondary School and dance school at Metropolitan School of the Arts in Kingstowne, Virginia, where her dance studio took a trip to National Theatre.

“I particularly remember seeing ‘Newsies,'” she said. “I saw it in high school, a member of our dance studio was cast in it, and I remember as a dance studio we went to go see him in ‘Newsies’ and I just remember going, ‘Oh, wow, that’s so cool, I hope someday I’ll be able to do something like that,’ and here I am, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Frieden plays the flashy role of chorus girl Roxie Hart, who murders her lover in 1920s Chicago and heads to death row, where she meets former vaudeville star Velma Kelly, who infamously killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together.

“One of the most special things is that my Velma Kelly, Logan Floyd, who is so brilliant in this production, is also from the Northern Virginia area,” Frieden said. “They grew up more in the Chantilly area, so the fact that we’re both coming together as co-stars in this production and bringing it back to our hometown is so special. They are just absolutely brilliant.”

Both sassy characters hire the sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn as they compete for glitzy publicity in an attempt to earn their freedom from prison and avoid their death sentences.

“How they operate in jail and how they operate to get out of jail through wit and humor and their razzle-dazzle charm,” said Frieden. “The men ‘have it coming,’ and it portrays the women as these really strong female characters where you can sympathize with them even though they are these murderesses, so it’s brilliantly written.”

Based on the 1926 play by crime reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, “Chicago” first became a musical in 1975. It was directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse with songs by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics), including “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” “When You’re Good to Mama,” “Roxie,” “Mr. Cellophane” and “Razzle Dazzle.”

“My personal favorite song and number is ‘Razzle Dazzle,’ which my character isn’t even in, but oh my gosh, the choreography is stunning in it, but the lyrics in it are so clever, so witty,” Frieden said. “It’s so nuanced in how Billy Flynn is creating everything around him and controlling the press, the media, spinning everything into this beautiful story.”

The original cast included Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn, D.C. native Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly and Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart. The production earned 11 Tony nominations, but didn’t win any, perhaps because it was so ahead of its time in reshaping Broadway.

“The Fosse choreography is so intriguing and so enticing, everything is turned in,” said Frieden. “It really pulls you in, versus big kicks and big things that are in your face, it really draws the audience in, especially with the revival version by Ann Reinking in 1996. They really stripped it down, everyone wears black, a very minimalist set.”

The 1996 Broadway revival won six Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, while the 2002 movie version won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

“One of the most beautiful lyrics in this show is … ‘In 50 years or so, it’s going to change you know, but oh it’s heaven nowadays,'” Frieden said. “This show was first created the 1970s talking about the 1920s saying how this show is still so relevant 50 years from the 1920s — and here we are in the 2020s, 50 years from the 1970s, and it’s still so relevant.”

She also acknowledges the symbolism of Fosse dying in D.C. in 1987.

“One thing I was thinking about coming to the National Theatre is the historic symbolism,” said Frieden. “Fosse had his heart attack outside of the National Theatre right before he passed away, so the fact that we’re bringing back his work to that place is really full circle.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Chicago' at National Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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