The revival of Chicago has been playing on Broadway for more than 25 years, with 10 national tours to boot. Set in the 1920s, Chicago is the story of two gritty and passionate vaudevillian murderesses, Velma and Roxie, doing their best to one-up each other and achieve notoriety. To do so, Velma enlists the aid of saucy, sultry prison matron “Mama” and devilish lawyer Billy Flynn—but Roxie will not be outdone by her rival.
The current tour, coming to the Van Wezel at the end of November, features some new cast members: Christina Wells as Matron “Mama” Morton and Logan Floyd as Velma Kelly.
“There were no small moments leading up to this one,” Wells, a 2018 semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent, says. At 19 years old, after being rejected at an audition for not fitting into pre-made costumes, she put her dreams on hold and went to college, eventually becoming a wife, mother of two boys and a nurse. But after her sons went to college and Wells and her partner divorced, she pivoted back to her first love: performing on stage.
By that time, the body positivity movement seemed to have finally found a foothold in show business. “The Greatest Showman film helped things along, with the song ‘This Is Me,’ sung by Keala Settle," Wells says. "Also, model Ashley Graham showed that it was cool to be fat."
With her success on America's Got Talent, Wells began using her platform to speak out against bullying, body shaming and rejection. She continues that mission today.
“Audience members come up to me after the show loving what I’m representing up there on stage,” she says. And backstage, “I feel seen,” she says. “My dressing room is on the same floor as the stage, and there are handles installed to help me get up the stairs. There's a place for everyone.”
Logan Floyd, who plays Velma Kelly and identifies as non-binary, is not new to showbiz or the latest Chicago tour. They landed the tour pre-pandemic, shortly after moving to New York City and auditioning there.
“I went to the audition originally for an ensemble role,” Floyd says. “After several callbacks, I realized that I was going in for the role of Velma.”
Floyd’s portrayal of Velma is not the same as it was pre-2020. Returning to the tour post-shutdown meant taking a newer approach to their character.
“It was a wonderful restart,” Floyd says. “Especially after the pandemic, returning to acting felt like a really nice deep breath. I was different than I was when I first played the role. It's a testament to the original Fosse material—there's so much room to [put your own take on the character], outside of what the creatives bring. The place I’ve landed is that gender is something that can be played with."
Although not perfect, Floyd thinks this tour indicates that the theater industry may be more open to inclusion and diversity.
“I’m not a director or choreographer yet,” Floyd said, “but as far as our rehearsals for the Chicago tour, I was lucky to feel safe. There was room in which to create and make mistakes—to try, surprise, choose.”
Of course, the process has its ups and downs for them personally. “Sometimes I really need my pronouns to be known," Floyd says. "But the cast has been incredibly supportive. There's been questions and I appreciate that."
Check out Chicago at the Van Wezel, Nov. 29-30.