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August 1, 2013

Murder & Music: Annisquam Village Players staging 'Chicago'

A story that made newspaper headlines nearly a century ago and has ripped up stages around the globe comes to Cape Ann next week.

The Annisquam Village Players opens its musical production “Chicago” in Gloucester next Tuesday.

Maurine Dallas Watkins, a Chicago Tribune reporter, wrote about two unrelated murders in 1924, in which two women, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, were suspects. One was a cabaret singer accused of killing her lover and the other accused of killing her husband. Watkins wrote a play about the cases two years later, which ran on Broadway. The story evolved as it became a silent movie, a romantic comedy film, and a Tony-Award-winning Broadway musical, which inspired the 2002 Academy Award-winning film of the same name, which took the Best Picture prize.

Now one of the oldest community theater troupes in the country is bringing its own magic and special effects to the show, which is set in Prohibition-era Chicago. A satire on corruption in the criminal justice system, the story evokes the idea of the “celebrity criminal.”

The show features newcomers and long-time members of the acting troupe, including educators, businessmen, and children who play “newsies,” who are selling newspapers on the streets. The songs sport the titles “Cell Block Tango,” “All that Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle,” with dances choreographed by Donna “Deej” Viau.

In his day job, Terry Sands, one of the directors, just happens to be a land court judge. He, along with Mary Curtis, are orchestrating the nearly 30 actors, singers and dancers into their own version of “Chicago.”

When Sands applied for the right to produce the show, he soon received an email reply from New York, informing him that only 1 of 30 applications receive the rights.

“So the odds were not good and we started looking at other works,” Sands said. “Two months later, I emailed them back, explaining that we needed an answer so we could plan — and the next morning we got an email that we got it.”

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